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Love letter to gnudi

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

It's easy to wax lyrical about the food we love. Poems have been written about everything from almonds to zucchini, songs have been sung about fried fish and bananas, and, well, cooking blogs only exist because food is never the last thing on our minds.
Last week, in our Don't Call Me Chef recipe column in The StarIndraIvy and I paid tribute to the fattening dishes or ingredients we love so much that even if they gave us love handles, we would continue to cook and eat them. Indra is besotted with butter, Ivy can't stay away from any kind of fried chicken, and I love cheese and pasta. My recipe was for spinach ricotta gnudi and I wrote a soppy love letter to the cheese dumpling.
Gnudi is made with ricotta cheese. Spinach, however, is not what defines gnudi although Google images show these to be the most popular kind.
Recipes for spinach ricotta gnudi are quite straightforward  most advise to keep a light hand and to not overmix. Some dumpling mixtures are stiff and can be rolled out into ropes then cut, while others are pipeable or shaped into little ovals with teaspoons. Most instruct to cook the dumplings immediately after they are mixed, but I like the guidance given in April Bloomfield's recipe at Serious Eats that has one extra step: drying out the gnudi before cooking to prevent them from getting soggy.
It apparently takes her three days to make her famous Ricotta Gnudi which she serves at The Spotted Pig restaurant in New York. That may be a little too long for most of us, including me, but there was one time when I left the uncooked dumplings covered in semolina for two days in the fridge and they did taste a little lighter after they were cooked. Most times, I leave them to dry for just a day.

Spinach Ricotta Gnudi
Makes two generous servings

1 tub (250g) ricotta cheese
½ cup steamed spinach, finely chopped
¼ cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
2 egg yolks
½ tsp flaky salt
½ cup plain flour, approximate
½ cup semolina flour (optional)
2 cups tomato (pasta) sauce (preferably homemade)
Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, to serve

Remove ricotta cheese from the tub and place in three or four layers of kitchen paper on a sieve over a bowl. Leave for 20 minutes to drain. Discard the whey or reserve for another use (for example, add to soups or use in bread doughs).
In a large bowl, stir together the ricotta, spinach, Parmigiano-Reggiano and egg yolks until blended. Stir in salt to taste, then gently stir in the flour, mixing just enough so the mixture comes together. It will have the texture of a creamed cake batter (pic 1).
This next step is optional but it will prevent the gnudi from becoming soggy. (Proceed to cooking the gnudi if omitting this step). Line a large plate with parchment paper. Sprinkle the semolina flour on it. Using two teaspoons, shape and compact the ricotta mixture into ovals. Dredge them in the semolina flour and leave them on the plate (pic 2). Place the plate in a large plastic bag and chill overnight or up to three days.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Heat the tomato sauce in a sauté pan on another burner and keep it over low heat.
Drop the gnudi directly into the boiling water in batches; do not crowd the pot. The gnudi will float to the surface when done, two to three minutes.
Using a slotted spoon, transfer the gnudi to the tomato sauce (pic 3). When all the gnudi are cooked, transfer to individual bowls. Shave Parmigiano-Reggiano over the top and serve at once.
Note: The cooked gnudi can also be frozen. Place in the fridge to thaw and heat up in the tomato sauce.

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