GadZucchs!

2014.May.18 Sunday · 3 comments

in Casa SaltShaker, Food & Recipes

As some of you who follow me on various social media know, I’ve been playing around with “zucchini gnocchi”. Not zucchini flavored gnocchi where, as one friend suggested, I dehydrate and powder the zucchini and add it to regular ones, but those where the zucchini basically takes the place of the potato. In truth, despite being referred to as gnocchi in both English and the original recipes in Italian, these are really more of gnudi, or malfatti, with the zucchini filling in for the more common spinach or chard. But who am I to argue with tradition?

Zucchini gnocchi
Zucchini gnocchi
Zucchini gnocchi

I tried out several recipes from around the internet, from a range of sources, and considered many more, though most of them were just minor variations. What all of them had in common were five base ingredients – zucchini, ricotta, flour, egg, and salt. From there, they varied. Not widely – some recipes had additions of herbs, or a secondary cheese like parmigiano, some had spices – pepper and nutmeg being most common. Lemon peel showed up in a couple of versions. The type of flour varied, from pastry flour to bread flour, but for the most part, none of the recipes specified, and that’s where a lot of the playing around actually came in, because the type of flour makes a huge difference in the final character of not only the gnocchi dough, but the final gnocchi. In the end, the biggest question turned out to be, pre-cooking or not pre-cooking the zucchini, by how much and what method – I vote for a short cooking time, it helps get more of the liquid out.

Zucchini gnocchi

Shaping was a question. Though most of the recipes suggested a fairly traditional gnocchi shape with the ridges and all, I found it impossible to get those to work our well – none of the doughs have that smooth, almost soft clay like texture that holds a shape that intricate (and interestingly, very few of the photographs demonstrated that the ridging would really hold other than superficially). Mostly I think that’s because of the bits of zucchini and the slight graininess of ricotta. In the end, if making a smaller batch, I’d probably opt for a fairly simple hand-rolled football shape, though when the quantities get larger and the timing gets short, a small melon baller with one of those release handles makes perfect sized, if spherical, gnocchi.

Zucchini gnocchi

I finally settled on this method, though I’m sure it will be subject to tweaks down the line:

600 grams zucchini
300 grams ricotta
200 grams cake flour, i.e., lower gluten
1 whole extra large egg, lightly beaten
1½ teaspoons salt
½ teaspoon each white pepper and nutmeg

I will say that the best results came from pressure cooking the zucchini, dry. I didn’t think it would work, I mean, where’s the moisture coming from to build up the steam, but it turns out, it works. I simply cut the ends off the zucchini, leaving them otherwise whole, put them in the pressure cooker and over medium heat, cooked them. Enough steam comes out of the zucchini themselves to build up the pressure, and once the pot starts to whistle, cook three minutes and then off the heat.

However, not everyone has a pressure cooker, and bluntly, it’s a slow process. And, I found a much more modern approach that worked so close to nearly as well as to make no real difference, which was to first blitz the zucchini in a food processor (or grate by hand, either works better than the shredding disk of the processor), until it’s in pieces let’s say about the size of aquarium gravel (it’s the only thing I can think of at the moment that’s about that size). Then put the zucchini in a bowl and microwave it on high for three minutes.

Now comes the most important part, draining it. I found that tossing the zucchini with half the salt and leaving it in a tea towel in a colander to drain for about 20 minutes worked best (some of the salt will be lost with the liquid). At the end of the 20 minutes I add the ricotta to the zucchini, because it needs to be squeezed out too, and then twisted the towel up and squeezed the life out of it until I got as much liquid out of both as I could. The most you get out, the better the final texture and the easier the dough is to work with.

Once it’s all squeezed out, mix it with the other ingredients, which should result in a soft, just barely sticky dough, form it into your gnocchi shapes – if you lightly flour your hands before each one it helps prevent sticking and makes them easier to shape. Cover them with a cloth and refrigerate for at least an hour. You can go straight to the pot, but I found the texture better if they sat. By the way, it’s not a bad idea to have a small pot of water simmering at the beginning and test out the first gnocchi you form, just to make sure it holds together and tastes right. If it doesn’t hold together, you should add a little more flour. For the size I made, this recipe made four dozen gnocchi.

Cook in boiling salted water. When they float to the surface, they’re cooked. Toss with a little olive oil and then serve with your choice of sauces.

Zucchini gnocchi
With a quick tomato and garlic sauce.
Zucchini gnocchi
This version more or less fell apart, though still tasty, and was served with a simple brown butter and grated cheese sauce.
Zucchini gnocchi
We had zucchini gnocchi accompanying a whole lot of things over the last few weeks, I don’t think Henry ever wants to see them again. Here, with roast chicken, rocoto cream sauce, and black eyed peas.
Zucchini gnocchi
In the end, and this appeared in this week’s dinners, served with our salsa nieve andina (a cilantro, parsley and anchovy infused fish veloute) and topped with a little salad of cilantro, mesquite smoked trout, chilies and fried garlic chips.

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