I first ate “Ricotta Gnocchi” at San Francisco’s Zuni. It was one of the most sublime, delicate things I’d ever eaten, and I just chalked it up to the deftness of Zuni and let it go. A few years later, I was astonished to find a recipe for “Florentine Ravioli” or “Ravioli Gnudi” in Food & Wine.Which turns out to be the same thing. I’ve been making it ever since.
Giuliano Bugialli’s recipe (below) calls for blanched spinach. Zuni’s version contained a little grated lemon, but no vegetable. I have done it with fresh corn (I didn’t blanche it, but one probably ought to.) Cooking for two, I generally halve Bugialli’s quantities and include the flour in the mix. I have also replaced the egg yolks with egg whites, which produces a light, fluffy result more like [my memory of] Zuni’s. I often substitute hard pecorino for Parmigiano Reggiano. Of the two recipes, I’ve had better luck with the second one.
This preparation is not time consuming, but it does require attention and care. It’s a good way to celebrate a special occasion (so long as there are only a few guests, as you won’t want to to make a lot of this). A slotted spoon for gently moving the gnudis in and out of the water is very helpful. No other special equipment is required.
What is most difficult is that you need real ricotta. The stuff in plastic tubs in the supermarket is not real ricotta and will not behave itself properly. If you don’t have a source for real ricotta (usually an Italian deli), then you may have to make it. Here is Emiko Davies’ very informative instructions for making ricotta. (She also has a nice idea for “carrot ricotta gnocchi“.) The result of this will be that first you’ll make cheese, and then you’ll make ricotta, which is a by-product of cheesemaking… So plan a pizza party or some fabulous grilled cheese sandwiches or something like that.
First is Bugialli’s recipe followed by Zuni Founder Judy Rodgers’, with a lot of technique suggestions.
Giuliano Bugialli, Ravioli Nudi
* 15 ounces fresh ricotta cheese (about 2 cups)
* 3 pounds spinach, large stems discarded
* About 3 cups freshly grated Parmesan cheese (3/4 pound)
* 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
* Salt and freshly ground pepper
* 5 extra-large egg yolks
* 1 cup all-purpose flour
* 1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter
* Fresh sage leaves, for garnish
1. Drain the ricotta for 1 hour through a large coffee filter, a coned paper towel in a strainer, or cheesecloth.
2. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the spinach and cook for 10 minutes, then drain in a colander and cool under cold running water. Drain the spinach thoroughly. Working with one handful at a time, squeeze the spinach until very dry. Finely chop the spinach.
3. In a large bowl, combine the drained ricotta with the spinach, 2 cups of the Parmesan and the nutmeg. Season generously with salt and pepper, add the egg yolks and stir until evenly combined.
4. Bring another large pot of salted water to a boil. Spread the flour on a plate. Form level tablespoons of the spinach-ricotta mixture into balls. Roll the balls lightly in the flour until coated. Arrange the balls on a lightly floured baking sheet.
5. Melt the butter in a medium skillet, then pour the melted butter into a large, warmed baking dish and keep warm near the stove.
6. Gently drop one-third of the balls into the pot and cook just until they rise to the surface. Using a wire skimmer or slotted spoon, transfer the ravioli to the baking dish in a single layer. Return the water to a boil and cook the remaining balls in 2 batches. Sprinkle the ravioli nudi with as much of the remaining Parmesan as desired, garnish with sage leaves and serve immediately.
Zuni, Ricotta Gnocchi
Use the best quality and freshest ricotta you can find. Understand also that ricotta is different every day.
For 40 to 48 gnocchi, enough for 4 persons, you’ll need 1lb / 2 cups / 500g of ricotta.
Get as much extra water as possible out of the ricotta by draining it through a coffee filter or cheesecloth for up to 24 hours. (If you drain overnight, set that up in the refrigerator.)
Making The Dough
To get the ricotta’s texture smooth, place the drained ricotta in a large bowl and mash it as best as you can with a rubber spatula or a large spoon (it’s best to use a utensil with some flexibility here). If it’s very lumpy, you can press it through a strainer.
- 2 or 3 fresh sage leaves
- a few pinches of freshly grated nutmeg
- a few pinches of chopped lemon zest
- the butter and optional flavoring to the ricotta.
- 1/4 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano
- 1/4 tsp salt