Ricotta and spinach ‘gnudi’ video recipe

When I was writing the manuscript for Florentine, I enlisted the help of an army of recipe testers — about 80 people from all over the world — to test every recipe thoroughly.

Only one came back to me consistently with problems.

From Minnesota to Melbourne, three testers wrote to me that their very first attempt at making Tuscan gnudi (ricotta and spinach balls that, rather than be encased in pasta like for ravioli, are simply dusted in flour) resulted in a pot of simmering water with “dissolved” gnudi. It reminded me of Pellegrino Artusi’s potato gnocchi recipe in his famous cookbook from 1891, where he interrupts the recipe instructions to mention a signora who, upon attempting to stir the gnocchi cooking in the pot, finds they have disappeared – O dove’erano andati? “Where did they go?”

In the case of the gnocchi, there was too little flour used, according to Artusi. But in the case of the gnudi, I already had a hunch. I grilled all three testers on a number of various factors — was the water just simmering, not on a rolling boil (which can destroy delicate gnudi), did they drain the spinach very well, and equally the ricotta (one said she even drained it overnight)? Did they use “proper” ricotta? Aha.

gnudi on a floured boardproper ricotta

“Proper” ricotta. The kind that was only made a day or so earlier, the leftovers of the cheese-making process, the real deal. The kind that you can see in a deli counter, standing on its own, that gets cut into a big wedge and weighed when you order it. Not the kind you buy at the supermarket, in a tub, that so often is grainy, more like the consistency of yogurt, has no structure, and is full of unnecessary gums or additives. All my recipe testers had used the second kind — to be fair, some were new to the idea of buying ricotta and in their neighbourhood only had access to this. In that case, it would have probably been better to make your own, or choose another recipe.

They retested with a “proper” ricotta and found that was it — the key to gnudi success! I didn’t need to change my recipe, but, with this experience, I reiterated in the cookbook the need for a very good ricotta.

Now I understood the reason why in Tuscany you find gnudi recipes don’t use flour inside the mixture, only as a dusting outside, while so many English recipes for gnudi call for flour in the mixture too. It’s more stable, I realise, but it is less traditional and it is also less desirable. No flour in the mixture means these gnudi remain incredibly delicate and oh so pillowy — the extra flour makes them gummy and tough, even bouncy, and more like potato gnocchi, which are another thing all together. Gnudi are simply “nude”, as their name implies, because they are minus their ravioli pasta clothing.

gnudi - Tuscan ricotta and spinach balls

Ricotta and Spinach Gnudi
From “Florentine: The True Cuisine of Florence” (published by Hardie Grant, 2016)

Serves 4

  • 350 grams of firm ricotta, well-drained
  • 300 grams of cooked, chopped, well-drained spinach (if making from scratch, you need about 1 kg of fresh leaves)
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • a pinch of salt, plus more for the water
  • a pinch of ground nutmeg
  • about 50 grams of plain flour
  • 50 grams of unsalted butter
  • 20 sage leaves
  • salt and pepper for seasoning
  • handful of finely grated Parmesan cheese, to serve
  • Mix the ricotta, finely chopped spinach, eggs, pinch of salt and nutmeg together in a mixing bowl. You should have a thick, compact mixture.

Place the flour in a shallow bowl.

With hands, roll walnut-sized spoonfuls of the gnudi mixture in your hands, and then in the flour until well-coated. Place on a lightly-floured board until they are all ready.

Prepare a large pot of water (salted with a spoonful of salt) and bring to a simmer. Carefully drop the gnudi into the water and cook for about 4-5 minutes or until they begin to float to the surface.

In the meatime, prepare the sauce by melting the butter in a wide pan over medium heat with the sage leaves. When butter is melted and before it begins to brown, add about 2-3 spoonfuls of the gnudi water and swirl the pan to create a thick sauce. Season with salt and pepper.

When gnudi are ready, remove them from the water with a slotted spoon and place in the sauce. Turn heat to low and swirl to coat the gnudi gently with the sauce. Serve immediately with the cheese.

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Comments

13 Responses to “Ricotta and spinach ‘gnudi’ video recipe”
  1. Watching the sage and butter cooking together in that pan I swear I could smell it through my screen. Such a wonder recipe that I keep coming back to.

  2. Rosemarie says:

    Loving all your videos Emiko! This one is particularly instructive and helpful.

    I’m not at all surprised to hear that this proved to be the ‘problematic’ recipe from Florentine. I’ve yet to make them myself but in Piedmont’s southeast, remarkably similar dumplings (also made with cooked spinach/chard/wild greens, ricotta, eggs and flour for coating purposes only) called rabaton are made. It took me a while to get the results I wanted when I started making them. The ricotta had to be firm and well-drained, as did the cooked greens with most recipes allowing at most two spoonfuls of breadcrumbs to absorb any excess moisture. (Moving) pictures speak a thousand words and you’ve made these important steps very clear with your video.

  3. Anna says:

    Gundi was the first recipe I ever cooked for my (now) husband when he came to my share house for dinner. I love its combination of luscious butter & simplicity. He’d told me he was vegetarian & it was my first thought. Later I found out he was VEGAN but too scared to tell me! All that dairy!

  4. Catarina says:

    What a privilege to be your recipe tester! If you need someone from Portugal I volunteer :D
    So far I’ve only made plain gnudi with a fine coat of semolina flour. Now I must try these with spinach!

  5. francesca says:

    Ho appena comprato il tuo libro, non vedo l’ora di averlo tra le mani. Essendo Toscana, del Mugello, non posso non averlo nella mia libreria. Sei di grande ispirazione.
    Francesca

  6. Claudia says:

    Once I discovered gnudi, this became my acid test on authentic Italian. Now my favorite Italian food! It reminds me of my maternal grandmother, who was the gnocchi wizard, and always ate her gnocchi in sage butter sauce.

  7. Celine says:

    Have tried this for the first time and now am a fan of this! I was not able to make a thick sauce! But will try this delicious recipe again! Loved it.

    • Emiko Davies says:

      The trick to the sauce is swirling (or stirring) the pan vigorously enough with the butter and a bit of the water from the gnudi cooking — the combination of fat and water makes an emulsion, which is what makes that lovely thick sauce (think of salad dressing — if you shake vinegar and oil in a jar it gets lovely and thick, this is the same principal!).

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