Ricotta and spinach gnudi are a little like gnocchi without the potato. They're light, cheesy and incredibly comforting and delicious!
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Gnocchi have been one of my elder son's favorite meals for many years now. It was one of the first meals he gobbled down faster than us, and ate just as much. His younger brother has never been quite such a fan, though is getting more in to them now he can help.
Earlier attempts to get the kids to help make gnocchi tended to end in very messy hands and not a whole lot of help. However these days, I can get them to do a pretty good production line with me (as they did with some beet gnocchi not long ago). Which is just as well, as we need quite a lot these days.
Recently, I was looking to try something a little different on the theme and came back to gnudi. I made them a couple years ago, but somehow got out of the habit. I don't think the kids will be letting that happen again.
What are gnudi?
Gnudi come from Tuscany in Italy. The name literally translates as "nude" as they are in effect like the filling for ravioli or other filled pastas without the pasta covering. They are sometimes called "malfatti" meaning "malformed".
Neither name is particularly kind, really, and the simple ingredient list doesn't really give you a true sense of how wonderfully delicious these little bites are either.
All gnudi use ricotta as the base ingredient, with egg to hold them together and typically some parmesan or pecorino for additional flavor. You use some flour, but not that much so the cheese flavor dominates. Some, like these, also include spinach. It adds a nice flavor and texture (and the healthiness balances out all that cheese, I like to hope!).
Tips for making spinach gnudi/malfatti
I won't lie, these take a little time to make since you need to form all the little balls. But it's not difficult and you can soon get yourself in a rhythm.
Some tips to help them turn out well:
- Drain the ricotta ahead of time to remove excess moisture.
- Make sure you drain the spinach really well - I recommend squeezing out twice - and chop it really fine.
- Chill the mixture before you form into balls - this makes it a little easier to work with.
- Line and dust a large baking sheet with flour before you start rolling.
- Use damp hands to help you roll the gnudi into balls.
- You can form the balls ahead of time and chill for a couple hours before cooking.
See how they come together in the short video!
Since the flavors in these are relatively delicate, I'd recommend you keep things simple in how you serve them. Here we had them with a simple sage browned butter which pairs really well. You could also use a simple tomato sauce, but I wouldn't go for anything much fancier than that.
Ricotta and spinach gnudi might look a little like gnocchi, but their flavor is even more cheesy and comforting. They're easier than you might think to make and worth every bit of effort in rolling them up. These delicate little bites are pure deliciousness.
Try these other comforting vegetarian meals:
- Pumpkin ravioli (tortelli di zucca)
- Vegetarian bibimbap (a delicious mix of rice and veg)
- Mushroom galette
- Plus get more vegetarian meals and Italian recipes in the archives.
Ricotta and spinach gnudi
- 12 oz ricotta 340g
- 12 oz spinach 340g, weight after any thick stems have been removed
- 1 egg
- ¼ cup all purpose flour 60g plain flour
- ½ cup parmesan 30g, finely grated
- 1 dash pepper (to taste)
- Place the ricotta on a piece of kitchen paper (or clean starch-free dish towel) in a strainer and cover with an additional piece of kitchen paper. Leave to drain excess liquid for around an hour.
- Place spinach in a bowl, pour over boiling water and leave for a couple minutes to wilt.
- Drain the spinach and place spinach in a clean dish towel. Squeeze out as much water as possible, moving it around then squeezing again. Finely chop the spinach and unless you're really sure how dry it is, it can be worth trying to squeeze again before you set aside.
- Pat dry the ricotta to remove any drained liquid then put it in a bowl with the spinach, egg, flour, parmesan and pepper. Mix all together then cover and refrigerate for ideally 2 hours, or at least an hour.
- Once it has rested, prepare a baking sheet with parchment sprinkled with flour to put the gnudi on. Get a little bowl with cold water to use for your hands as you work.
- Take a spoonful of the mixture at a time (I use a tablespoon measure to get roughly even size) and with slightly damp hands, roll into a ball and place on the prepared baking sheet. Repeat with all of the mixture, trying to work quickly so you don't get the dough too warm and sticky. Dampen your hands with the water in your bowl as needed.
- If time suits, you can chill the prepared gnudi for a couple hours until you need to cook them, or cook straight away.
- Bring a wide, shallow pan of water to the boil. Add a few gnudi at a time to the water, keeping the water over a high heat so it continues to boil.
- When the gnudi rise to the top, remove with a slotted spoon to an oiled bowl and repeat, cooking in batches.
- Serve as you prefer but suggest with browned butter - for this quantity melt around 3 ½oz/ 100g butter in a skillet and allow to cook over medium heat until it becomes a nutty smell and gently brown color. Once the butter has melted you can add around 3-4 chopped sage leaves for a lovely flavor that works well with the gnudi.
See some of my favorite cooking tools and ingredients in the Caroline's Cooking Amazon store.
(By the way, in case you are curious, I found this interesting article in Saveur about the evolution of gnocchi whose early forms seem to have given these dumplings their name.)