Friday, December 17, 2010

Homemade Baked Spinach Ricotta Gnudi

One of my absolute favourite recipes for 2010 is my Baked Spinach Ricotta Gnudi. It refers to little dumplings that are 'naked' of their pasta wrapper. These delicious little clouds of heaven are a cousin to gnocchi, but made with ricotta rather than potato, which makes them lighter, more delicate and pillowy, in a way gnocchi are not. 

It starts out with a simple mixture of spinach, ricotta, eggs and parmesan which are shaped into little egg-size balls which are then coated with a light dusting of flour. Placed in a baking dish, the gnudi are arranged in neat rows, and covered with béchamel and a splash of tomato sauce and baked for 35-45 minutes. It couldn't be easier or more light and delicious. Four or five gnudi make an impressive starter; eight or ten, a satisfying main course; the whole baking dish, a feast! Give this recipe a try. It's no-fail and absolutely scrumptious! You can thank me later.

Baked Spinach Ricotta Gnudi
Inspired by a recipe from Twelve: A Tuscan Cookbook by Teresa Kiros

Serves 3-4 (about 24 dumplings)

1 quantity of Béchamel sauce (recipe follows)
2 cups tomato sauce (homemade or good quality store-bought)
1 lb frozen chopped spinach (3 300g packages)
8 oz fresh ricotta cheese (1 330g tub)
3 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Freshly grated nutmeg
Salt and pepper
Fresh basil, chopped for garnish
Butter for greasing baking dish
½ cup all-purpose flour

Thaw the frozen spinach and squeeze out as much water as you can. In a medium bowl, combine the spinach, ricotta cheese, eggs, half the Parmesan cheese and a grating of nutmeg, to taste. Season with salt and pepper, and mix with a wooden spoon to make a soft mass. Set aside.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. While the oven is preheating, prepare the béchamel sauce (see below). Liberally butter a 9"x12" baking dish. Spoon a little of the béchamel sauce onto the bottom of the dish to just cover it.

Put the flour on to a flat plate and pat your hands in the flour. Using your hands, form dumplings the size of a small egg, slightly elongated (about 1½ inches long by 3/4 inches wide). Dust them very lightly in the flour and put them onto the béchamel in neat rows. 

Cover with the remaining béchamel. Splash the surface with the tomato sauce and sprinkle with the remaining Parmesan cheese. Bake for 35-45 minutes, or until the top is bubbling and lightly golden. Serve hot in warmed bowls, with a generous sprinkling of basil on each serving.

Béchamel Sauce (Bechiamella)

4 cups whole milk
7 tbsp unsalted butter
½ cup all-purpose flour
Salt and white pepper
Freshly grated nutmeg

Heat the milk in a saucepan. In a separate medium saucepan, melt the butter, and then add the flour. Stir with a wooden spoon and cook for a minute or two until it is lightly golden. Add a ladleful of the warm milk and stir well so it does not form lumps. Continue adding the milk in ladlefuls and stirring constantly until all the milk has been incorporated. Season with salt and pepper, and a generous grating of nutmeg. Continue cooking and stirring on low heat for another 10 minutes to thicken. It should be very smooth. Remove from the heat. Just before using, give it a good whisking.