Gnudi- the ‘gn pronounced like gnocchi’s, is a dish I absolutely adore to make. In Florence, I also work assisting cooking classes. Thanks to the patience of lovely mamma cooks, I learned a few recipes for peasant dishes like this: Spinach and Ricotta Gnudi. Peasant food…how can that be? It is pretty decadent- pure cheese and spinach with usually a butter sage sauce or a simple garlic, basil tomato sauce. Unlike the states, these kinds of ingredients are pretty blue collar and are essentially sort of scraps. Ricotta leftover whey from more noble cheese production. Spinach, grows easily and is available most of the year. Grated aged cheese like pecorino is also a humble simplicity as it comes from local sheep and is used in small quantities primarily for enhancing flavors of other simple foods like green vegetables and pasta. Butter, sage, tomatoes…you get the drift. Yet again, the ingenious of the Italians strikes again and with struggle there comes culinary art.
I love making these for friends because they are really enjoyable and easy to make while being something tasty and unique. It is not your typical pizza and pasta that people expect from Italian cuisine.
These mammas and grandmas, I have the privilege to work with, are gold to food anthropology. I think one of the things Italy also taught me was to respect my elders. In America, we shun them and shove them away in nursing homes. I hope that if I ever get time, I’d love to start a project of recording recipes from these geniuses, who fed a whole generation on scraps around the kitchen and created recipes that we now blog and write cookbooks about.
Spinach and Ricotta Gnudi from Tuscany
(feeds about 3 hearty portions, or 4 small plate portions)
3/4 cup Ricotta (from whole milk)
1/2 cup finely shredded Tuscan Pecorino Cheese (or grana padana or parmigiano)
3/4 cup chopped blanched spinach
1 tbsp chopped fresh chives
A good dose of freshly grated nutmeg (the more the merrier to me)
3 tbsp of sifted cake or fine “00” flour
salt and freshly cracked pepper
and a mound of flour for dredging
The spinach: Flash blanch some spinach. 30 seconds in boiling water then cool in an icebath to “freeze” cooking, thus retain color and nutrients. Make sure that when chopped, can come to a half-cup. If you have time, strain out moisture overnight with something heavy over the spinach in the fridge in a colander, with a bowl underneath to collect the excess liquid. An easy way/cheat-cut to steam is: pour hot water over fresh spinach leaves in a colander. Refresh with cool water and squeeze out excess moisture with a towel. Chop spinach VERY finely.
In a medium bowl, mix the ricotta and finely grated cheeses. Add chopped chives and nutmeg, salt and pepper. Don’t add too much salt- remember aged cheese is usually salty. Mix. Add chopped spinach. Mix. Add egg. Mix. Add sifted flour. Mix until you have a smooth mixture with no flour clumps.
TIPS: You should add flour only to help with the moisture. This is why draining the spinach overnight is ideal. If your mix is too gooey or liquid-y, add more aged cheese but NOT flour or ricotta if at all possible. The flour will soak up the flavor and the ricotta is too moist.
Now you have a mixture, have a flat setting of a flour mound for dredging and a plate/pan to set formed gnudi on.
This part gets messy: put a 2 tbsp size (think tiny ping-pong balls or large gumball) of cheese and spinach mix in your flour dusted palm. Not too big and not too small. Form little balls and cover with a good amount of flour. You want the flour to serve as a cover and the gnudi are ready when they are no longer sticky and are covered in enough flour. Don’t be shy! They should have a good protective layer of flour.
Once you have made all your gnudi and there is no cheese/spinach mixture left, add the gnudi to a pot of boiling salted water and boil for about 5 minutes. They are ready when they are all floating to the top. Similar to dumplings or making gnocchi.
I alternate between a red sauce or a butter/sage sauce.
For a butter/sage sauce: Crisp some fresh sage leaved in heated butter, add a pinch on fresh lemon juice for added pizzazz, and toss with gnudi. With sauces, try to toss the pasta in the pan that the sauce was made. This helps paste the flavors together. Top with a few crispy sage leaves that fell to the bottom of the pan. Grate some more aged cheese like Parmigiano for more cheese luxury.
Wine pairing: I suggest something like a Tuscan Verdicchio (medium bodied) for white wine pairing or a light Chianti Classico red wine.
In your curious kitchen,
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