11:03 am: For the very first Daring Cooks Challenge, we are making Ricotta Gnocchi from The Zuni Cafe Cookbook, and I'm beginning to feel like I've cursed this recipe before I've really even started.
The first time I read through the recipe, I thought it was quite similar to the gnocchi I made for HHDD quite some time ago. The method of forming the gnocchi struck me as different, but it was not until my second reading today that I noticed that there is no flour in the Zuni Cafe recipe, other than flour to roll the gnocchi in. That puts me in a completely different mindset about what I'm about to deal with, but I think I can handle it.
The first step in the recipe is to drain the ricotta for a long time. Two cups of it, or approximately a pound. Well. I bought my ricotta at Fresh and Easy yesterday. It's not truly fresh ricotta, recommended for this recipe, but it's a big step above "normal" store-bought ricotta. The ingredients list reads, "Pasteurized whey, milk, citric acid, salt." Not too bad. It comes already draining in its own little strainer. I took the recipe's warnings seriously, though, so it's currently draining. The problem is that I have not one pound, but 12 ounces. Twelve ounces that do not look like a cup and a half. More like a generous cup. I guess I'm making a half-recipe and hoping for the best.
1:45 pm: After almost four hours of sitting in a strainer with a couple pounds of weight on top, my ricotta has given up not one drop of liquid other than what the towel has absorbed. I'm calling it dry and thinking ahead to the next step.
4:41 pm: Creamy. Lemony. Delicate. Almost like an air-filled, savory, bite-sized lemon cheesecake. Truly. Delicious.
I just bit into my test gnocchi and I am in heaven. This is nothing like the previously mentioned ricotta gnocchi. Those took some chewing. These melt on the tongue, or maybe even before that, on the lips. I chose to flavor them with a little grated lemon peel (one of the recipe options) and very finely ground black pepper. I think Husband would probably like them as is, but he has texture issues (doesn't like mushy foods), so I'm thinking I might pan-fry my gnocchi with butter and a tiny bit of sage.
I have to completely rethink the dinner menu. I had planned to serve these with asparagus tips in an asparagus cream soup. But that is too much for the delicate flavors. So now, just the butter and sage, I think. Asparagus on the side, maybe, but perhaps these will just be an appetizer by themselves.
6:37 pm: Husband has this belief that I sometimes take something perfect (like a recipe I've made over and over again) and tweak it in some way that makes me (and sometimes him) not love it as much. He says that tonight is a prime example.
Here I had these fluffy blobs of perfection and I, well, maybe "ruined" is too strong a word, but I made them into lesser beings. Instead of melting on the tongue, they had a tough outer surface. Think deep-fried milk skin. Not so good. And the airy middle had shrunk in on itself to form a denser, sponge-like center. Not good, either. Tasty as all get out. Pretty for the picture. But not the wisps of lemony perfection they had been.
Someday, I'll learn.
All in all? A good start for my Daring Kitchen experiences. I'll make these again and serve them straight out of the boiling water. Because right now, the only witnesses to my lemon-pepper clouds of joy are me and Little Girl. And nobody's gonna believe a two-and-half-year-old on this one.
5:06 pm: With two days left before the reveal, I am reliving my gnocchi experience. The ricotta is drained, strained, and mixed with the other ingredients. I am sticking with the lemon zest and black pepper flavors, but these gnocchi will see only boiling water.
Yesterday, I made some veggie broth with veggies from a friend's garden. I will liven up the flavor with lemon juice and herbs and serve the gnocchi in the broth. The plan is that I will find enough energy to clean and cut to ribbons the spinach I also received. If I do, I'll put a mound of lightly sauteed spinach in the middle of the bowl of broth, with the gnocchi around it.
Simple, delicate flavors for a warm evening. That's the plan.
8:23 pm: The adventure is over. For now. I like making these, so I will probably pull out the recipe every once in a while. I think they'd make a perfect starter at a dinner party, but also a relatively painless supper for just the family. With all the different saucing possibilities, they are very versatile.
So, of course, the plan changed for dinner tonight. The broth wasn't a very pretty color, so I added some pureed tomatoes along with the lemon juice and zest. Light, but flavorful. I didn't find the energy for the spinach and the tomato took me in a different direction anyway, so I served them with a little feta cheese and basil in the middle of the bowl.
The gnocchi were as airy and luscious as my first, unfried test gnocchi. The flavors of the gnocchi and broth were balanced. I was happy.
As a coda to the experience, I required Husband to give me three adjectives to describe the gnocchi. He pulled out the thesaurus. He made a three-column list with 15 options. He crossed some out, circled others, second-guessed himself. He decided he required alliteration. But I am giving him the last word in thanks for his patience during my very first challenge with the Daring Kitchen:
Soft. Subtle. Satisfying.