Baked Gnudi w/ Ricotta and Spinach

how to make gnudi

“GNUDI”, ricotta gnocchi, Malfatti. Different name for this traditional Italian dish.

Gnudi are also known as malfatti, thanks to their rustic appearance, and “ricotta gnocchi” – although, in truth, the resemblance between the two dumplings is largely visual. Gnocchi have a starchy base, such as potato or flour, while gnudi are, at their simplest, little more than fluffy fresh ricotta, often dressed with nothing fancier than melted butter.

Gnudi very roughly translates to ¨nude¨, “naked” in Italian, and is basically thought to be the naked filling of ravioli — without the pasta that surrounds it. You will find gnudi primarily in Tuscany. Gnudi are generally a bit larger than gnocchi and often made with less flour and therefore require an even more delicate hand. They’re traditionally made plain, with just ricotta, or with ricotta and spinach. Our recipe is not the traditional one; we add breadcrumbs and after cooking we bake them. Sacrilege!!! The use of breadcrumbs is due to the fact that we need a stronger mixture to resist the cooking time. If you want to follow the traditional way, skip the breadcrumbs and the oven. Easy!!!!

gnudi recipe

How to Serve Gnudi

Gnudi are traditionally served in a brown butter and sage sauce, or a simple tomato sauce. Since they are quite delicate, even after cooking, they are predisposed to falling apart if you toss them directly with the sauce. Instead, transfer the dumplings straight from the boiling water to your serving dishes and spoon the warm sauce over them. 

3 Tips for Great Gnudi

The delicate nature of gnudi is exactly why they are so light and pillowy, but it also means they require some attention to detail. These simple tips will help you achieve success:

  1. The ricotta

Gnudi, in fact, should be all about the ricotta, that mildest of cheeses whose sweet, milky flavour is so easily lost underneath other, more assertive ingredients. Buy the best ricotta you can find. If the ricotta is not thick enough, you run the risk of them falling apart as they boil. Italian markets are the best source for this kind of high-quality ricotta. If you find sheep’s milk ricotta it would be fantastic!!!! But if you use really moist, soft, creamy ricotta, you can get away with using one made with cow’s milk. It is a good option to leave the cheese to drain for at least half an hour before use. You can chill the mixture before shaping: the firmer, the better for rolling.

  1. Sprinkle the gnudi generously with flour. 

The key to creamy gnudi is to use as little flour as possible inside the dumplings. But our recipe is a bit different, isn´t it?? If you do the original recipe (further, you will find the complete recipe) do not be shy when it comes to flouring the outside of the gnudi. Sprinkle them in flour before they are refrigerated, generously dust the baking sheet with flour, and coat the tops of the dumplings with more flour before boiling them. This forms a protective layer around each one, making it easier to drop them into the boiling water and ensure they keep their shape.

  1. Do not skimp on chill time. 

Chilling the gnudi in the refrigerator for 20 minutes before boiling helps them firm up, so do not skip this step. You can use this time to bring a pot of water to a boil and warm up the sauce. Or just get a nice glass of Pinot noir.

The flavourings

Spinach and ricotta make a classic pairing in Italian cooking: the leaves bring a ferrous edge to the delicate sweetness of the cheese. If you want to experiment, be sure to cook and then finely chop or puree, draining it thoroughly before adding it to the cheese. 

That said, the rather less shy and retiring parmesan is a crucial ingredient in gnudi (some cooks and Chefs use pecorino). It is difficult to define the quantity. Your instinct will drive you: not too much, it will cover all the other ingredients and not too less demanding an extra sprinkle in the plate.

Nutmeg brings another dimension to gnudi, adding a gentle warmth, as opposed to the heat of black pepper. Onion and garlic could be added to your mixture: they will not spoil the dish.

Shaping and chilling

Some Chefs suggest piping the mixture into lines, then cutting off individual pieces to roll, a strategy that no doubt saves time in a busy professional kitchen but is unnecessarily complicated at home – even the ice-cream scoop alternative feels like a superfluous loss of time when all you need is a teaspoon and a clean, damp pair of hands (floured or wet hands– they are easier to clean, too).

The American Chefs prefer the grittier texture of semolina to the flour (they roll the balls in before cooking, though, having avoided any starch in the mixture itself, they will need to chill for three days first in order to develop that all-important protective skin). Gnudi are “temperamental” – sometimes they are ready to cook after a day in the fridge, sometimes it takes two or three”, but that it is better to be safe than sorry. So three days…..or you try our recipe!.

Cooking

It is important to keep the saucepan at a gentle simmer, so its precious “treasure” is not unnecessarily pushed as it cooks. You can use stock rather than water, but I think they are better plain.

The sauce

The traditional, simple butter sauces allow the gnudi to shine in all their bare-naked glory. And exceptionally fine they look, too. If you are in the mood, you could try wild boar ragout as well as friarielli sauce or whatever comes in your mind. Up to you, as usual.

Our baked “Gnudi” Recipe

Prep  15 min
Drain  30 min
Chill 15-20 min
Cook  5 min
Serves 4

Our Gnudi Ingredients:

  • 500 gr. Ricotta
  • 500 gr. Spinach
  • 2 Garlic cloves
  • 100 ml. Olive oil
  • 100 gr. Parmesan, finely grated, plus some extra to serve.
  • 30 gr. Olive oil 
  • 50 gr. Flour
  • 50 gr. Breadcrumbs
  • Nutmeg, to grate
  • Salt
  • 700 gr. Tomato sauce
  • 200 ml. Cream
how to make gnudi

How to make Gnudi?

In a large skillet over the medium heat, warm 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add the garlic clove and gently let it toast. Place a strainer or colander over a large bowl. When the oil is warm, add half the spinach, cover the skillet with a lid or baking sheet, and cook, stirring every 30 seconds with a fork, until completely wilted, 2 to 3 minutes. Tip the cooked spinach into the strainer or colander to drain.

Repeat with the rest of the spinach, using the remaining oil and the other garlic clove and then adding it to the already cooked spinach. Let it cool. Remove the excess water by either squeezing the spinach in your hands, wringing it in a clean kitchen towel, or pressing down on it with the back of a spatula or a spoon. If you are not using baby spinach (and you will not!!), roughly chop the spinach.

In a medium bowl, stir together the ricotta and spinach until well combined. Add the Parmigiano Reggiano, egg, breadcrumbs and flour and stir until combined and then season with salt and nutmeg to taste. I am not a big fan of pepper but, if you like, just use it.

Line a baking sheet with a bit of oil on it. Using 2 large spoons (soup spoons work well), take a heaping spoonful of the mixture (about 30-40 g) and shape it into miniature egg-shaped dumplings or quenelles by passing it repeatedly between the spoons, turning and smoothing the sides as you do so. Or just use your hand dust in flour or wet with some water. I prefer round shape!!! Carefully place it on the baking sheet. You should end up with 30 to 40 gnudi. 

Have a glass of wine and bring a large saucepan of salted water to a boil. Add the gnudi to the water, reduce the heat, and gently simmer until they rise to the surface, which indicates that they are cooked through, which should happen after 3 to 5 minutes.  n, carefully lift out the gnudi, let them drain for a moment, and then gently place them back on the baking sheet.

Mix the tomato sauce and the cream. Season with salt and pour on the top of the gnudi. If you do not like to use the cream just avoid it!!!! Generously grate some Parmesan on top of the gnudi and bake for 15 to 20 minutes in a pre-heated oven (180ª).

This is not the traditional way. It is our way of preparing. We do not always have the time to prepare on the spot, so we do help us with few changes. But if you want to go classic, here is the recipe!

The Perfect traditional Gnudi Recipe

Prep 15 min
Drain 30 min
Chill 3 days
Cook 5 min
Serves 4

Ingredients for the Traditional Gnudi Recipe

  • 500g ricotta
  • 50g parmesan, finely grated, plus some extra to serve
  • Nutmeg, to grate
  • Salt
  • 500g semolina
  • 40g butter
  • 8 sage leaves

Put the ricotta in a sieve or muslin bag set above a bowl and leave to drain, preferably in the fridge, for at least 30 minutes, then stir in the parmesan and a generous grating of nutmeg. Taste and season with a pinch of salt if necessary.

Put some of the semolina in a small bowl, and half the rest into a baking dish. Scoop out portions of the ricotta about the size of a small walnut, then roll them between damp hands until vaguely round.

Roll each ball in turn in the semolina to coat, then arrange them spaced out in the dish. Once all the gnudi are made and on their bed of semolina, tip the remaining semolina all over the top to submerge them, cover and chill for three days.

When you are ready to cook, put the butter, sage leaves and 75ml hot water into a wide shallow pan, heat until the butter has melted, stir to combine and set aside.

Bring a large pan of well salted water to a boil. Cook the gnudi in batches, shaking off excess semolina first, and stirring gently and only once after dropping them in, until they float to the surface. With a slotted spoon transfer them to the pan with the butter. Once they are all in there, turn the heat back on and cook gently for a couple of minutes, shaking the pan gently to turn them in the butter.

Divide between shallow bowls and finish with a final grating of nutmeg and a sprinkle of parmesan.

A few tips will ensure success when making this dish.  First of all, make sure you squeeze all of the water out of the spinach so that it is very dry.  If there is a lot of moisture in the spinach, it will affect the consistency of the dough.  Secondly, chill the gnudi in the fridge before cooking.  This helps to firm them up slightly so they don’t fall apart during the cooking process.  And finally, when it’s time to cook the gnudi, bring the water to a boil and then lower the heat until it’s just simmering.  If you drop them into strongly boiling water, they are more likely to burst open. 

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