Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Great Balls of Cheese- Ricotta Gnudi

Italian cuisine is very popular in our house. Usually it is pasta that reigns supreme but today I make my favorite- gnudi. They are feather-light pillows of ricotta and spinach, dressed in a vibrant red tomato sauce. I found this recipe  over 20 years ago in the Dining section of the New York Times. I forget the name of the chef, who called the article Hen and Dumplings. If memory serves me right, this was his Italian riff on chicken and dumplings. The original recipe is labeled Ricotta Dumplings with Red Pepper Sauce. I follow the recipe to a point. Because red pepper sauce and I do not quite see eye to mouth. As for the dumplings, they look too blah, too plain white. So I tinker. The sauce I make is a quick tomato sauce. The dumplings are now doctored with spinach. And I am pleased . In fact I have been pleased for numerous years now. These savory floating islands Italian-style have graced my table often. 

I like fresh ricotta, especially the Trader Joe brand. I use frozen spinach, defrosted and squeezed dry. The sauce is a snap to make. But when time is of the issue, a store-bought marinara works just as well. 

Gnudi have many aliases....Inside out ravioli. Cheese gnocchi. Cheese dumplings. All work, as the end result is a soft, tender ball of goodness, swimming in a sea of red sauce. 

Ricotta Gnudi with Tomato Sauce
Makes 15 to 20 small balls

Tomato Sauce
1 tablespoon Olive oil
4 cloves Garlic
1 teaspoon Tomato paste
1 14 oz can Fire Roasted Tomatoes
1/2 teaspoon Oregano (dried or fresh)
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
Several grinds of Black pepper

Heat oil till warm.

Peel and gently crush the garlic and add to hot oil.

Add in tomato paste and sauté for a minute. 

Add tomatoes and seasonings.

Let the sauce come to boil, lower heat and simmer for 10 minutes.

Mash in the tomato chunks to a smooth sauce.

6 cups water
12 oz Ricotta Cheese
1 cup Spinach, defrosted and squeezed dry of all water
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground Black pepper
2 Eggs
3/4 cup Flour or more if needed

Bring water to boil in a large pot. When it does, turn the heat down so the water is between a boil and a simmer, lightly bubbling.

Break the eggs in a bowl and whisk. 

Add in ricotta, spinach, salt, pepper and flour. Everything should be well melded.

The next part sounds tricky but really, it isn't. Drop one tablespoon of batter into simmering water as a test to see if the batter holds together in the water. Use two tablespoons .... one to scoop the batter and one to round it off quenelle-style and drop it into the water. I always do this inspite of making gnudi many times. It's better than adding a whole batch and watching it disintegrate in the water. Which has happened to me a few times. If you find the gnudi breaking apart, add a teaspoon of flour and try again. Mix well and drop another spoonful in the simmering water.

If all is well, then add batter by the tablespoonfuls. Try not to crowd the gnudi. Start with half the batter and repeat for the rest.

The gnudi will fall to the bottom of the pot initially, but when they are done they should rise to the surface and bob. This will take anywhere between 5 to 10 minutes depending on the warmth of the water. They might lose some body along the way as bits of ricotta and spinach do come undone.

Lift them out of the cloudy water with a spider or a perforated spatula, on to a plate and keep warm.

Repeat with the rest of the batter.

When you are ready to serve them, heat the tomato sauce and spoon a few ladles onto a broad platter. 

Arrange the gnudi on top of the sauce. Serve some sauce on the side for those who want more.


 Gnudi can be made ahead of time and reheated in a 200 degree F oven for 10 minutes.

When using frozen spinach, remember to squeeze ALL the water out. If you don't, chances are the batter will get watery as it sits. You will have to add in more flour and that makes for a dense gnudi.

Like I said, any red sauce will suffice. It's a personal choice. 

You could sprinkle gnudi with Parmesan cheese if desired.

I put away that yellowed piece of newsprint, forever enshrined in plastic, back into my pasta folder. Like a good friend in a distant land I will remember to visit in days to come. I do visit distant friends!!! The steaming platter smells divine. Splashes of red and white and green..colors of the Italian flag come to life on my plate.