It was my great good fortune recently to spend a week in Tuscany on a culinary tour, assisting a friend of mine with some cooking classes. Of course, I was as much a student as a teacher, and I learned a ton as we banged around from town to town. One of the recipes that especially impressed me was gnudi (in English, we’d say nude). These scrumptious little dumplings are built out of leftover ravioli filling — usually ricotta, spinach and cheese (pecorino or parmigiano-reggiano) — combined with a bit of egg and flour, rolled into a ball and poached, then served with a brown butter sage sauce. But why “nude”? Because basically they are ravioli that are stripped of the pasta with which they are generally clothed.
Although gnudi are very similar to the venerable Italian potato dumplings called gnocchi, they’re much easier to make and lighter in texture. If you have a little extra time on your hands, you can drain the ricotta in a sieve to remove excess water, then pat it dry — a step that concentrates the flavor and decreases the amount of flour needed for the recipe. Here I’ve skipped that step to save time. The dough will be quite wet, but with the help of a bit of flour coating, it will still be very easy to shape.
As mentioned, gnudi are usually served with a butter sauce flavored with fresh sage. But I wanted to top my gnudi with something lighter, a sauce that would provide an acidic counterbalance to the natural sweetness of the dumplings. (The source of that sweetness? The milk sugar in the ricotta.) So I went with marinara. You can make your own or opt for your favorite store-bought version.
These dumplings can be cooked ahead, drained, chilled and refrigerated for two to three days. To revive them, simmer them for a few minutes in a pot of boiling water, then top the gnudi with the heated marinara. A glass of chianti — Tuscany’s justly celebrated signature wine — is the perfect beverage to drink with this dish. Saluti!
Tuscan Spinach and Ricotta Dumplings
Start to finish: 1 1/4 hours
1 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
8 ounces baby spinach
1 cup whole milk ricotta
1 large egg, beaten lightly
1/2 ounce grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, plus extra to garnish the finished dish
1 1/2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups marinara sauce
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
In a large skillet heat the oil over high heat, add half the spinach and cook, stirring until it starts to wilt; add the second half with a pinch of salt, reduce the heat to medium-high and cook, stirring until all of the spinach is wilted. Transfer the spinach to a strainer and let it cool. When it is cool enough to handle, working with a small handful at a time, squeeze the spinach with your hands to remove as much excess liquid as possible. Transfer the spinach to a cutting board, chop it fine and add it to a medium bowl along with the ricotta, egg, cheese, zest, salt and pepper. Stir until combined well. Sprinkle 1/4 cup of the flour over the top of the mixture and fold it in, folding just until the mixture is combined.
Lightly sprinkle some of the remaining flour onto a small rimmed sheet pan and put the rest of the remaining flour into a pie plate or shallow dish. Scoop heaping teaspoons of the dough onto the flour in the pie plate, coat your hands with flour and roll the mounds of dough into balls (the dough will be very soft). Transfer each ball after you have shaped it to the sheet pan. You should end up with about 36 balls.
In a saucepan heat the marinara over medium heat until it is hot. Working in two batches, add the dumplings to the boiling water and simmer them until they float (this will only take a few minutes). Transfer them as they are done to pasta bowls, top each portion with some of the sauce and sprinkle it with cheese.
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