Ricotta & spinach gnocchi


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

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

Quince jam

Each year the performance of my one quince tree is somewhere on a scale from ‘too many to know what to do with’ to ‘utterly overwhelming’. This year it’s off the scale. Every breath of wind brings an avalanche of dangerously firm golden fruit. So I’ve been flailing about in a desperate seach for things to do with my harvest.

Of course I’m making jelly and compote and my winter stalwart cotognata. But I’ve also been seeking inspiration on Levantine recipe sites, Cydonia oblonga being a very near-eastern fruit. The recipe below is an amalgam of several. 

Quinces – 4 kg
Sugar – 2 kg
Scented pelargonium (geranium) leaves – sprig
Lemons – 2
Cinnamon – to taste
Cloves – 5 or 6

Squeeze the juice of the two lemons into a large bowl, throw the lemon skins in there too, then add cold water – about eight mugs full. Now peel and core the fruit, throwing the pieces (quarters are easiest) into the bowl of lemon water as you go. 

When you’ve worked your way through the whole pile of fruit, transfer some of the lemon water into a heavy-bottomed saucepan, and grate the quince pieces into this saucepan, using the larger holes of a regular grater. As the grated fruit mounts up, transfer more lemon water into the saucepan: the important thing is to keep both the chunks and the grated fruit covered so that oxidization doesn’t turn the quince brown.

When all the fruit and all the lemon water is in the saucepan (best to leave the lemon skins in the mix: the peel and membranes release extra pectin), add a 6-7cm length of cinnamon stick (or a teaspoon or so of powdered cinnamon), the cloves and the scented geranium leaves. There are many variations of these last: you really want one that is vaguely lemony or rosy, rather than smelling of menthol etc.

Slowly bring everything towards the boil, then add the sugar, stirring until it’s all dissolved. (Note that I like my jams very tart. You may wish to use anything up to 4 kg of sugar if you prefer something sweeter.) Now let the mix bubble away until it reaches gelling point (105°C/220°F at sea level; one degree less for every 100m above). This may be 90 minutes or two hours (less if you’ve used more sugar). If the heat is low, it will bubble for ages and you can get away with stirring from time to time; if it’s higher things move more quickly but you’ll need to stir it frequently, keeping a wire mesh splash guard between you and flying bits of scalding liquid, and remembering that explosive pockets of air may have formed under the fruity mush. If you don’t stir, it will turn to burnt toffee at the bottom of the pot.

Temperature is the best way to gauge when this jam is ready because the juice that appears to be swilling around the fruit pieces in rather too liquid a fashion when it’s hot really will set to a proper jam consistency as it cools. But you will also notice (a) that the bubbles rising look increasingly glue-ier, and (b) that the mix turns a glorious dark amber colour.

Ladle the hot jam into sterilised jars, put the lids on tightly and store in a dark cupboard until you need it. These quantities should produce about 3.5 kg of jam.

©Anne Hanley, 2019