Ricotta & spinach gnocchi

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One of the big plusses of the Covid19 lockdown was discovering that jovial Beppe from Fattoria Pianporcino would deliver his wonderful cheeses to our door. We’ve become addicted to his huge baskets of ricotta di pecora (sheep milk ricotta). But how to get through such a large quantity of perishable dairy? Ricotta gnocchi (aka gnudi) help.

It had been years since I’d tried my hand at these beautifully light past-substitutes, but weekly practice means I’ve finally re-perfected my gnocco-spinning technique. I’ve added serving suggestions at the end.

Ricotta – 350g
Spinach – 350g
Parmesan – 50g
Flour – 50g + more for dusting
Egg – 1
Nutmeg

Wash the spinach well then boil or (better) steam it until it’s soft, then remove it from the saucepan and set it aside to drain and cool down. If you can keep the water do, and add more to generously half-fill a large-ish pot, of the kind you’d use for cooking pasta. Bring the water to the boil.

While all that’s happening, put the ricotta in a mixing bowl with the flour. Crack in the egg. Grate the parmesan and add this to the mix, then add a pinch – or a generous grate – of nutmeg too, and blend everything together well.

Once the spinach has cooled, take small handfuls and squeeze them as hard as you can – over the sink or into the pot with the boiling water: lots of liquid will come out. The idea is that when you now take a knife to the spinach and mince it finely, no liquid oozes out round the edges. When it’s finely chopped, add the spinach to the ricotta and mix everything together very well.

Now comes the fun part. First, sprinkle a little flour on a piece of greaseproof/baking paper which is best placed on a chopping board that you can carry over to the boiling water for cooking. Put a dessertspoon of flour in the bottom of a small ramekin. Now spoon in a lump of the ricotta mix about the size of a small walnut and start spinning it quite vigorously around the ramekin – though not so vigorously that it and the flour fly across the kitchen. It takes a bit of practice, but what you should end up with, once you get the hang of it,  is a nice smooth flour-dusted ball. Remove each gently (I lever them out with a fork) and leave them to sit on the baking paper. You’ll need to top up the flour in the ramekin from time to time.

Now gently drop the balls into the bubbling water, at which point the water will stop boiling and the ricotta balls will disappear into the murky depths. A few minutes later though, they should start popping up to the surface. Leave them to bob about for two-three minutes, then remove them gently with a slotted spoon, place them in a serving dish and eat them as soon as you can.

If you don’t need all the ricotta mix you’ve made, keep the leftover in the fridge and use it within the next few days.

The simplest, most classic accompaniment to gnocchi is melted butter in which you gently crisp some chopped fresh sage leaves. I also like getting out the garlic crusher to crush a couple of cloves of garlic into the butter while it’s still on the heat.

Alternatively try a simple sauce of (preferably) fresh tomatoes, dropped briefly into a pot of boiling water, then peeled and chopped and thrown into a pan where you’ve softened a little finely chopped garlic. You don’t really need to do more than heat it through, though you can cook it for longer for a  denser sauce – or alternatively use passata di pomodoro. Add a few leaves of basil during the cooking.

In either case, sprinkle the gnocchi with grated parmesan and lots of black pepper.

©Anne Hanley, 2020

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