Thursday, December 29, 2011

Spinach Ricotta Gnudi

I love this week - the last one of the calendar year.  During this week, I find myself reflecting on the year I just conquered and psyching myself up to kick the next one in the ass.

This week it's quieter at work, rush hour traffic is nonexistent, the stress of Christmas and family obligations is gone, and everyone is just looking forward to a good New Year's Eve party with a glass of bubbly.  Everything has a lovely, lazy, lighthearted feeling to it.

It's a great week to cook and try new recipes.  I've had this one on my to-do list for a very, very long time.  I'm so glad I finally buckled down and tried it - it's one of those recipes that's brilliant in it's simplicity.

Gnudi (pronounced "nudie" and yes, it means nude in Italian) sound like gnocchi, look like white meatballs, and taste like airy fluffy pillows of melt-in-your mouth creamy cheese.  The first thing I thought of after taking a bite was that it tasted like very high quality homemade cheese ravioli, except it was missing it's pasta pants (duh, it's nude!).

It's OK the pasta has been stripped away from gnudi because I've seen pasta get made on TV and it doesn't look easy or fun to roll that stuff out.  Plus, I don't care much for pasta anyways - I'd rather eat just the filling!  Also, I think this would be a great way for gluten-free folks to get their pasta fix if they substituted some other kind of flour in the gnudi mixture (that hasn't been tested, just a theory).

The main ingredient here is ricotta cheese.  I've never been a big fan of the stuff.  But I heard about a homemade version that was transcendent so I flirted with the idea of making my own.  I still may someday, but since it was a weeknight, I stopped at Whole Foods and bought the hand-dipped fresh ricotta.  I can't imagine mass-produced commercial ricotta in those dairy aisle tubs would taste as delicious as this did.

Because this was. SO. Delicious.  I surprised myself at how much I loved this dish, and especially at how easy it was to make.  What an elegant main dish to serve at an Italian-themed dinner party with some tuna and white bean bruschetta, a mixed green salad, healthy amounts of wine, and some dark chocolate for dessert.  That's a party invite I imagine very few people could turn down.  I might have to try it to see.

Spinach Ricotta Gnudi, adapted from Anne Burrell
Makes about 30 golf ball size gnudi

2 cups fresh ricotta, drained through a kitchen towel or cheesecloth for at least 1 hour
1 box frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry and chopped fine
2 eggs
1 cup finely grated parmesan cheese
grated fresh nutmeg (maybe 1/8 tsp)
salt and pepper to taste
up to 1/2 cup flour, plus more for dusting
pasta sauce (I used some roasted tomato sauce, frozen since September - but click the original recipe link for another option, or use this easy one.  I suppose you could use a jar of store bought sauce if you really must but all the sodium and preservatives will probably overpower the delicate flavor of the gnudi.)

Mix your ricotta, spinach, eggs, parmesan cheese, and nutmeg/salt/pepper together in a large bowl.  Add flour, 1/4 cup at a time and mix until it's thick and scoopable (i.e. you should be able to put some in an ice cream scoop and hold it upside down and it wouldn't fall out).  But the mix should still be fairly goopy - that's what will make the finished gnudi so light and fluffy.

Sprinkle a thick layer of flour on a large rimmed baking sheet.  Using an ice cream scoop or large spoon, drop mounds of ricotta dough onto flour - about the size of a golf ball.  Shake pan so dough balls roll around in flour and become completely covered.  You will probably end up covered in flour.

Heat a large pot of water to boiling and salt it generously.  Drop gnudi gently into boiling water and boil for 6 minutes.  Remove gnudi with slotted spoon and serve atop heated pasta sauce garnished with more grated parmesan cheese.

ONE YEAR AGO:  Spicy Beans and Tomatoes on Polenta
TWO YEARS AGO:  Homemade Barbecue Sauce

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