Friday, August 28, 2009

Gnocci seems like a good place to start

I have so much to tell you about but I'll start with things that I promised updates on last week before I went to New Jersey.

The first and most headline worthy food-related thing I did was make ricotta gnocci using homemade ricotta.

I have made ricotta gnocci only once before. I have made potato gnocci several times. The first ricotta gnocci attempt was okay. The recipe I used called for toasted bread crumbs to be mixed in with the ricotta. This ingredient is supposed to be a binder to help keep the individual gnocci together. But I thought it overpowered the delicate flavor of the ricotta and the gnocci just tasted like toast. Of course, I may have over toasted the breadcrumbs, but whatever. I don't want toast flavored gnocci.

Mario Batali, Mr. Italian himself, has a pretty good and easy enough recipe in his Molto Italiano cookbook. I decided to give it a try. Now, Mario's recipe does not call for homemade ricotta. In fact it calls for "1 1/2 pounds fresh goat's milk ricotta, preferably Coach Farm, or regular ricotta." Hmm. I had never seen goat's milk ricotta the the grocery store. Maybe a place like Whole Foods would have it, but I rarely go to WF anymore as I have Trader Joe's and a basic grocery store very close to home. (But I do LOVE the WF at 2nd Ave and Bowery. It's huge and splendid. It's only 4 subway stops away, so if I do have the yen to go, it's actually pretty easy to get to.) Since I don't have goat's milk ricotta and Mario said that "regular ricotta" - read boring ricotta - would be okay, I decided to use the freshest ricotta I could get - homemade. I knew making ricotta was simple but I had never actually looked up how to do it.

Duh. It's crazy simple.

Here's what you need to do:
1) Warm one gallon whole milk to 185 degrees.
2) Off the heat, add lemon juice (or vinegar) until milk curdles. (At least 1/3 cup of the acid but use more if curdling doesn't start immediately. I started out with fresh lemon juice, but then squeezed in a bit more.) Add salt. Gently stir and then let sit for a few hours.
3) Drain by straining through cheesecloth set in a colander.
4) Set colander in a larger bowl, allowing ricotta to drain further in the refrigerator, at least overnight.

Ta dah. That's it. From my one gallon of whole milk, I got 10 ounces of ricotta. I have no idea if that's the yield I was supposed to get or not, but I think that's a decent amount. It did feel like I was trowing out a bunch of whole milk when I drained it, though. However, it was way short of what Mario's ricotta gnocci recipe needed, so I did have to supplement with store bought. I picked a store bought ricotta that only listed three ingredients: milk, salt, and lemon juice. I avoided the ricotta with other ingredients such as stabilizers.

Now it was time to follow Mario's instructions, which were very easy. The only thing I would change is the size of the gnocci. He instructs to use two tablespoons of dough per gnocci. That seemed a little large to me and took longer to cook, so I'd do smaller ones next time. Overall, this was pretty good but I had difficulty nailing down the cooking time. Gnocci is tricky to cook - if you overcook it, it just turns to mush but if you under cook it, it's doughy. After I took the gnocci out of the boiling water (this had to be done in batches because you don't want to crowd the pot), I put them in a frying pan that had the sauce. We opted to go simple and have an olive oil and garlic sauce. I finished the sauce off the heat with fresh basil and grated parm-reg. The pan frying helped finish cooking the gnocci and gave them a delicious little crust. Mario's recipe didn't include this step but we really liked the flavor and texture the gnocci gained by a short pan fry over high heat. We also reheated the leftovers this way.

And now the pictures! Yes, I documented the ricotta and gnocci making process with Steve's help.

1. Milk warming
2. After lemon juice was added, milk curdling.
3. Draining the ricotta.
4. Gnocci dough before I mixed it.
5. Rolled gnocci.
6. Gnocci hands.
7. Finished.

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