Tuesday, November 25, 2008

indecent exposure

So I've already pushed the bounds of decency with barely dressed pasta. I guess it was only a matter of time before I crossed the line into pasta wearing nothing whatsoever.

No, not unsauced pasta. I'm talking about gnudi.

Gnudi are a Florentine specialty. Their name, literally translated from Italian, means "naked," because they look like little pillows of ravioli filling minus their outer layer of pasta. Made with ricotta cheese, sometimes with the addition of spinach, they're the lighter, lesser-known cousins of gnocchi.

And sometimes, they start out as exactly what they look like: ravioli filling. Excess ravioli filling, to be precise.

You see, after years of cooking meals for fifty with Hillel, followed by time in a hotel kitchen, my sense of proportion is sometimes a little off. At this point, I know how much pasta to prepare if I want dinner with leftovers for lunch (half a pound, dry), and how many people a three-pound roast chicken will feed (anywhere between four and six, depending on the sides and the size of the carnivorous appetites involved), but every once in a while, I vastly overestimate quantities and get them completely and utterly wrong.

For example, that sweet potato ravioli recipe? You'll probably want to make a double batch of pasta dough if you use two pounds of sweet potatoes for the filling. (Correction has been appended to the original recipe.) I'm afraid this didn't occur to me until this past weekend, because when I made the ravioli originally, I started out with five pounds of filling.

Of course, I couldn't catch the original error without compounding it: if two pounds of sweet potato filling correspond to two batches of pasta dough, then two batches of pasta dough will not stretch to an additional three pounds of spinach-ricotta filling.

The best part? I was supposedly teaching someone else how to cook. (Hi, Michelle!)

Fortunately, the ravioli turned out just fine, even if I did end up taking home a ridiculous amount of leftover spinach-ricotta filling. I figured that I'd just spend Sunday afternoon making up another batch for myself.

Which worked just fine until I ran out of eggs and reached the point where I felt like I never wanted to ever see another raviolo again.

Note that I still had a little over a pound of spinach-ricotta filling at this point. Note that the spinach-ricotta filling contained raw egg, and therefore couldn't be eaten straight.

That was when I remembered gnudi. It was the work of minutes to stir flour into the leftover filling, roll it out, and cut it into bite-size pieces. A quick sauce, a dip in simmering water, and I had solved the excess filling problem and made dinner, to boot. A pretty (in)decent correction for a silly error, I think.

Spinach Gnudi

You can serve these in a cream sauce if you, like me, have an unnatural fondness for creamed spinach, but a tomato-based sauce is really a better match. If you like wordplay, and don't mind it at the expense of mixing up your culinary geography, you can serve your gnudi in a puttanesca sauce.

(Serves one, with plenty of leftovers.)

Assuming you didn't make way too much ravioli filling and you're starting from scratch, you'll begin with a pound of washed spinach leaves.

Put the spinach leaves in a large pot or heatproof bowl, and cover with boiling water. Let it sit for a few minutes, until the spinach leaves wilt. Transfer the spinach to a colander. When it has cooled enough to handle, pick it up in handfuls and squeeze out all the excess liquid.

Chop the spinach finely. Gather it in handfuls once again and squeeze out any remaining liquid.

Put the chopped spinach in a big bowl. Set aside.

Heat a little olive oil in a large pan, and add one finely chopped white or yellow onion. Season with a sprinkling of nutmeg, and cook until soft and translucent.

Transfer the onion to the bowl with the spinach. Add half a pound of whole milk ricotta, and stir until you have a smooth white mixture flecked with green. Salt to taste, then add a little extra - you're going to add flour, too. Crack in one egg and mix until fully incorporated.

Gently stir in three-quarters of a cup of flour, one quarter-cup at a time. Cover the bowl and let it sit in the fridge for fifteen minutes or so.

Clean off a section of your counter, and sprinkle it in flour. Set out a baking tray.

Take a handful of the gnudi dough and roll it out on the floured counter until you have a long rope roughly the thickness of your thumb. (A little smaller if you have large thumbs.) Cut the rope into half-inch widths, and set them on the baking tray. Repeat until all the dough is gone.

Prepare a pan of sauce. (See note above.)

Set a pot of salted water on to boil. Once it reaches a boil, turn it down to a hearty simmer. (Gnudi will fall apart if you cook them at a rolling boil.) Drop the gnudi in, a dozen or so at a time, and cook until they float to the surface. Remove with a slotted spoon and deposit them in your pan of sauce.

Once all the gnudi have been cooked, turn the heat up under the sauce and cook, stirring gently to make sure the gnudi are well-coated, for two or three minutes. Turn off the heat. Serve immediately.


Kim said...

I am all for getting to know the other relatives. These look even more appealing than gnocci do. Thanks for the recipe, I so have to make some pasta as it has been months.........since I have eaten any.

Cakelaw said...

Ooohh - salacious pasta! I have never heard of gnudi before, but it looks delicious.

adele said...

Kim - They're remarkably easy, and I suspect it's a good way to get those who don't eat their vegetables to eat spinach. :)

Cakelaw - I read an article on it in Cook's Illustrated, and the name was just too fun to resist.

~~louise~~ said...

Hi Adele,
What a wonderful post. For some reason, I think I may have had these before. I just can't remember where or when (i'm singing the song:)
My grandmother was Sicilian. Is it possible she made something like these, I wonder? Thank you so much for sharing...

adele said...

Louise - I don't know enough about Sicilian cuisine to say, but I wouldn't be surprised if it has something similar.

~~louise~~ said...

Thanks Adele. I'm going to check with my sister. I can't believe the flood of memories this post has conjured up. Thank You...

adele said...

Louise - Let me know if it turns out to be some hidden delicacy of Sicilian cuisine. Or better yet, post a recipe! :)