By Jessica Roy What in the world is "gnudi"? One of the most delicious melt in your mouth, delectable "dumpling without the dumpling" dishes you've been missing out on -- that's what.
OK, for a real definition, gnudi are Italian ricotta dumplings, like cousins of gnocchi, but made with little or no flour at all. Basically, they're little flavorful melty cheese balls that are boiled, and served up with innumerable sauce pairings.
While Chef April Bloomfield made these little babies
pretty famous at her New York City restaurant The Spotted Pig, I recently fell back in love with Barbara Lynch's spring pesto gnudi at Menton here in Boston. Point being -- get your gnudi on, wherever you can find it on a menu, and get in the kitchen and try your own. FYI: "Gnudi" means nude, so think of this dish like a naked ravioli -- the filling without its pasta dough clothing.
Gnudi is one of those dishes that is deeply rooted in family histories, passed down via the loving hands of grandmothers over generations. That means the process of making gnudi can be a little controversial as every family has its own proprietary process and "secret" -- Heavy or light on the flour? Rest overnight or cook immediately? Sauce / topping preference?
Gnudi are super adaptable, so I say, test lots of methods, and create your own secret family recipe. Here, we are using minimal flour, and serving it up with garden fresh tomatoes, herbs and a balsamic reduction glaze.
These little cheese balls can be pretty delicate, and often look a bit rustic -- not perfect -- but don't let this dissuade you from enjoying their simple lusciousness. I am not using much flour in my preparation, which means they will not have a doughy texture, but will be ultra tender & fluffy. (Side note: Should you want a slightly more pasta-y gnudi, no problem! Simply take a note from April Bloomfield's recipe, roll the ricotta balls in semolina flour and let them rest overnight in the fridge to form their pasta "skin" before cooking.)
Without much flour, we still need a binder to hold all that cheese together, so we will use eggs. The key, though, is all in the ricotta cheese. Use the best quality ricotta you can find (or make your own!) and be sure to strain or drain our any excess liquid. Also, I'm using heirloom grape tomatoes in this recipe, but feel free to use whatever fresh tomatoes you can get your hands on this summer!
Caprese Style Ricotta Gnudi
1 lb. ricotta cheese
1 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/2 cup all purpose flour, plus extra for dusting
1 whole egg
3 egg yolks
2 clove pasted garlic
3 tsp. dried basil
1 tsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. kosher salt
1/4 tsp. fresh ground black pepper
Layer 3 paper towels on a large plate. Spread the ricotta cheese into a flat layer onto the paper towel lined plate. Place 3 paper towels on top of the ricotta layer, and press out moisture. Discard the paper towels, and transfer the ricotta cheese to a mixing bowl.
Add the parmesan cheese, 1/2 cup flour, egg and yolks, pasted garlic, herbs, salt and pepper to the ricotta bowl, and mix until all ingredients are combined.
Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
Sprinkle a bit of flour onto your hands, and roll the ricotta mixture into 1 1/2 inch balls, about the size of golf balls, and place them on a baking sheet dusted with flour. Dust each of the gnudi with an outer layer of flour.
Working in batches, gently place the gnudi into the boiling water. Cook until they float to the top, about 4-5 minutes. Remove the cooked gnudi from the pot with a slotted spoon, shaking off excess water, and transfer to a large serving dish. Repeat until all gnudi are cooked.
1 lb. heirloom grape tomatoes
2 Tbs. olive oil
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
10 leaves fresh basil
1 cup balsamic vinegar
Cut the grape tomatoes into halves or quarters if they are decently sized. Place them in a bowl, and gently toss them with 2 Tbs. olive oil and 1/2 tsp. kosher salt. Set aside until gnudi are cooked.
Pour the balsamic vinegar into a small saucepan, and place over medium-high heat. Bring the vinegar to a boil then turn the heat down to a simmer. Allow to cook until vinegar has reduced by 1/3 to 1/2 and has a thick syrupy texture that coats the back of a spoon, about 10 minutes. Store any leftover balsamic reduction in a sealed container in the refrigerator for later use.
Top the gnudi platter with the seasoned tomatoes. Drizzle with balsamic reduction as desired, and freshly torn basil over the top.
Jessica Roy is a specialty chef and caterer, food writer and chef instructor, and owner of Shiso Kitchen in Somerville, where she teaches classes. Follow her at http://blogs.lowellsun.com/yourpersonalchef.