About a week ago, we needed a little ricotta cheese for a recipe. We didn’t need too much, just one-quarter of a cup, which meant that we had a lot left over. In retrospect, perhaps we should have just made up a very small batch of scratched ricotta, instead; after all, it’s not difficult to do. But, we didn’t, so we needed to make something else with the leftover ricotta.
Fortune smiled on us this week when we picked up our CSA share and it included a bag of spinach, partly because we like spinach, but also because we could try making up a batch of these ricotta and spinach dumplings, or gnudi. Now, we’re not sure how gnudi translates from the Italian, but we do know that these little dumplings are similar to gnocchi, but easier to form, and made without potatoes.
So, let’s scratch up a batch and see how they compare, taste-wise. This recipe was modified slightly from one we found in Pasta, by Gianni Scappin, Alberto Vanoli, and Francesco Tonelli. Basically, we changed it to use a whole egg, and increased the amount of flour to compensate.
Makes 36 gnudi.
We know, you’re thinking that the eggs should come from happy hens. So true, so true. Spinach is one of those vegetables on the Dirty Dozen list, so consider buying organic spinach. If possible, grate your own nutmeg; it really is better. Now, about that semolina flour. We didn’t go out and buy semolina flour for this recipe. We would have, but we found that semolina flour is made from durum wheat, and we happened to have durum atta flour on hand (for making chapatis), which we assumed would be similar enough, so we went for it. For the Parmesan cheese, you can use Grana Padano if you like, but make sure to buy a chunk and grate it yourself, as the flavor fades quickly. Finally, we give weights for the ingredients, as we find it easier to measure directly into the mixing bowl that way.
Procedure in detail:
Wash and trim. Spinach is notorious for holding dirt in the little leaf crevices. We find that by filling the sink (or a large bowl) with water and swishing the spinach leaves around, then letting them float for a few minutes, then swishing again, then finally rinsing, we can get rid of the dirt. When all the dirt’s gone, snip off the stems and put the leaves into a colander to drain.
Blanch and shock. Bring a large saucepan of lightly salted water to a boil. By lightly salted, we mean about 1/4 tsp of salt per quart of water, but we never measure; we just pour salt into our cupped hand until it looks like the right amount, and toss it in. Once the water is boiling, add the spinach and boil until tender, about 2 minutes. Pour the cooked spinach into a colander and immediately rinse with cold water to stop the cooking.
Squeeze and chop. Pick up the cool spinach in your fist and squeeze out the water. Keep squeezing to get out a lot of water. When you’re finished, you’ll have a small green lump of spinach. Chop the spinach finely.
Mix. In a large bowl, mix spinach, ricotta, flours, Parmesan cheese, egg, nutmeg, salt, and pepper. Keep mixing until all the flour is moist and everything is evenly distributed.
Refrigerate. Cover the dumpling mixture (we just place a plate over the bowl to act as a cover), and refrigerate for an hour to firm so that it’ll be easy to work with. We used this time to get our tomato-mushroom sauce going; you’ll see it in the pictures.
Shape and dredge. Put the semolina flour for dredging in a small bowl, dust your hands with flour, and, working with about a tablespoon of dumpling mixture at a time, roll it into small (about 1-inch in diameter) balls. Dredge each ball in the flour and set on a baking sheet. You should end up with about 36 gnudi.
Boil. In a large saucepan, bring 2 to 3 quarts of lightly- salted water to a boil. Working in batches of about 12 at a time, drop the gnudi into the boiling water and simmer for 2 to 4 minutes, or until they float to the surface. Remove with a slotted spoon and either place in warmed bowls, or transfer gently to your simmering sauce. We like to place them directly in the sauce to keep the gnudi hot while we finish boiling the rest.
Serve immediately. Dish the gnudi and sauce into bowls and garnish with additional Parmesan cheese, if desired.
These were not exactly what we were expecting. For some reason, we were expecting something more akin to gnocchi, which is strange, because then they would have been called gnocchi instead of gnudi. But, once we thought of them as dumplings, we were quite happy with the result, although the flavor of the spinach was overpowered by the tomato sauce — always a problem pairing tomato sauce with a delicate flavored pasta-like item. The gnudi are more substantial and chewier than gnocchi (except for poorly-made gnocchi, which are rubbery) making them seem more like, well, dumplings, which is what they are. Given how easy they are, we’d probably make them again, but we’re not sure as to how often, so we give them four stars.