Thursday, May 14, 2009

Never Gnocchi Again!

First Ever Daring Cooks Challenge - Ricotta Gnocchi

I had a wonderful vacation in Italy in 1999 (so long ago!) which included a week in Tuscany, attending a cooking school. We cooked in the morning, ate the results in the beautiful garden for lunch, did field trips to fascinating places in the afternoon and were provided with splendid dinners in the evening. All the wine you could drink (not much, in my case), Italian food which was fresh and creative - what more could one ask for?

The food we were taught to prepare was, for the most part, mouth-watering and worth the effort we put in. One exception: gnocchi. A lot of effort for a result that was not anywhere near as wonderful as the other meals we made. My friend, Carol, and I agreed: no more gnocchi. Just too much trouble for too little reward. If only I had heeded this decision!

The Zuni Cafe in San Francisco is well-known for the incredible food it serves to people. I have not been there, but have accepted that it is widely respected. I even have the Zuni Cafe cookbook, from which the April Daring Cook challenge was taken. The cookbook describes the ricotta gnocchi as ethereal, or was it ephemeral? Constantly requested, many toothsome variations, depending on season. Just be sure to use fresh ricotta, not that pedestrian supermarket stuff.

Okay, so that meant making my own ricotta because fresh is not readily available. Simple - some whole milk, some cream and some vinegar and then wait. It took some time, but was not difficult and the product seemed pretty good to me - delicate, not a lot of flavor, but creamy. I followed the Zuni recipe for the gnocchi, which is pretty simple. When the dough? batter? whatever failed the cooking test (ie, it dissolved in the hot water), I looked at the proposed remedy - add 1/4 tsp vinegar - and decided there was no way that would work. I resorted to Marcella Hazan's recipe for spinach and ricotta gnocchi, which uses flour, and added a couple handfuls of flour. That seemed to help. The gnocchi at least retained some shape when I formed them, even though they were still pretty sticky. This is the picture of the uncooked gnocchi.


Not things of beauty, but at least a semi-appropriate shape. I refrigerated them for hours, hoping they would become firmer, and then cooked them as instructed in simmering water.


When I tasted them, I was ready to throw them out. Nothing - weird texture, no flavor, totally unappealing. My husband, who must have been very hungry, said they weren't that bad. I added LOTS of proscuitto, parmesan, and peas and we gave it a try. He had seconds, but I think that's because the proscuitto and parmesan were good. I tossed the leftovers and I will make the same resolution: Never gnocchi again!

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