Our second dish of the week on our little tour through Italy, is Spinach and Ricotta Gnudi. Gnudi means “naked” and is considered to be naked ravioli. It’s sort of a cross between the filling of ravioli and gnocchi. In case you can’t tell from the picture above, this is pure comfort food.
This particular dish came to be while I was touring around San Gimignano. I ended up becoming friends with the driver I had and he even joined us for lunch on several different occasions. His name was Giuliano and he was from Rome. Giuliano was only a few years older than me and while on the way from Orvieto to Florence, I noticed the Counting Crows playing on a CD he had in the car. I asked him if he liked American music and much to my surprise, he said that American music was how he learned to speak English! How crazy is that?! Giuliano was a huge Bruce Springsteen fan and his Born in the USA album was the tipping point for learning English. He said he and his brother would put it on repeat for hours listening to and memorizing the words. I absolutely loved hearing that story. That same album was my 4th grade theme music. I would listen to it and dance my face off in my room as a kid.
After spending several days with Giuliano, we covered every inch of our love for music from Ryan Adams, to Neil Diamond to Lucinda Williams (another of Giuliano’s faves) and everyone in between. He was such a cool guy and we even stayed in contact for a couple years after the trip.
Having Giuliano as a new Italian friend made the trip all the better. He spoke the language, could help me get from spot to spot and was able to give a local’s view on what a 30 year old would have fun doing in such an amazing place. He ended up picking a few of the restaurants I went to, because he knew them all so well. And yes, every single one was delicious!
San Gimignano is a quaint little city with TONS of tourists. Giuliano was able to suggest a spot that was a little off the beaten path there, called Ristorante II Pino. It was like walking into your Italian grandmother’s living room for lunch. Everything was old and grandma-ish right down to the napkins on the table. It was fabulous. Especially since the food was a little richer than some of the other dishes I had eaten while there. I ordered the Spinach and Ricotta Gnudi that came three dumplings to a small baking dish, covered in the most decadent béchamel sauce you could ever imagine. Béchamel is very similar to alfredo sauce, but in my opinion, so much better. There’s not any cheese in it, it’s just a butter, flour and milk sauce but the flavor kick comes from the little hint of nutmeg added at the end of cooking. It’s so darn good and when served over the gnudi, it rivals mac and cheese.
As the weather cools down, this will be a comfort food go to. It’ll warm you up like a big hug from an Italian grandma.
Spinach and Ricotta Gnudi
- 32 oz container, part skim Ricotta cheese
- 1 1/4 cup flour, plus about the same amount for rolling the Gnudi
- 2/3 cup fresh grated parmesan cheese divided
- 1 egg
- 1 cup of thawed chopped frozen spinach
- 1/8 tsp of nutmeg
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp of pepper
- For the Béchamel
- 2 1/2 Tbsp of butter
- 2 Tbsp flour
- 2 cups milk, (I used low fat)
- 1/4 tsp nutmeg
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp pepper
To make the Gnudi:
In a large mixing bowl, combine the ricotta cheese, 1/3 cup parmesan, chopped spinach, egg, flour, salt, pepper and nutmeg together just until it’s combined.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add a teaspoon of salt to the water for added flavor.
In another shallow bowl, add another cup to cup and a half of flour. Take a heaping spoonful of the ricotta mixture, shape it into an egg and roll it in the flour. Set on a cutting board until ready to cook. Repeat with the rest of the ricotta mixture until it’s all used up.
If the gnudi dumplings start to get a little sticky, simply roll them a second time in the flour before dropping in the hot water.
Drop two or three gnudi into the boiling water and cook for about two to three minutes. You only want the outside to slightly firm up. The inside will still be a little creamy, but will finish cooking in the oven without getting tough.
Transfer the partially cooked gnudi to a baking dish, lightly greased with olive oil. Pour the béchamel sauce over top. Sprinkle the gnudi with the remaining 1/3 cup of parmesan and bake on 375 for about 20-25 minutes until the cheese on top begins to brown.
To make the béchamel:
In a small stock pot, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the flour, stirring to combine with the butter and allow it to cook for about 5 minutes until it turns a light golden color.
While the flour and butter are cooking, heat up the milk in a separate pot. When it gets hot, but not quite boiling, pour half into the butter and flour mixture, whisking to keep the mixture smooth. Add in the remaining half of milk, nutmeg, salt and pepper, and continue to cook until the sauce thickens and is smooth. About 7-10 minutes.