A bag of green.

When buying spinach‘ Jane Grigson reminds us ‘Assess its liveliness, it should have a bouncing, bright appearance‘ and ‘As you stuff it into your bag or basket it should crunch and squeak’

The spinach above, a generous kilo procured from my trusted fruttivendolo Vincenzo, would have pleased Jane Grigson I think, dark forest green, crimped of leaf, plump stemmed, bright and bouncy. Misbehaving and uncooperative, it squeaked and squealed as I squashed it into the bag, an experience not dissimilar to dressing my 7 month old.

Having picked over my green bagful, I gave it a good soak in a sinkful of cold water and then an overenthusiastic rinse before wrestling it, water still clinging to the leaves, into my biggest, heaviest pot – my orange le creuset – disciplining it with the equally heavy lid and putting it over a modest flame.

I never cease to be impressed by the way spinach, if cooked in a heavy pan over a modest flame with no more water than that which still clings to its leaves after a good wash, wilts and collapses into such a neat, obedient pile.

Having admired, washed, wilted and carefully drained your spinach (wateriness is the enemy) the possibilities for your green ball are countless. As a rule I like my spinach with extra virgin olive oil, salt and a squeeze of lemon. I’m also very fond of  wilted spinach reheated with a very very large knob of butter (spinach, like me, absorbs massive quantities of butter and becomes all the more delicious for doing so). I then eat my extremely buttery greens with grilled meat or piled on toast and topped with a poached egg and – if I’m feeling frisky – some hollandaise.

This week however, or last week by the time I post this, I cut my ball in two (later three) and made three green meals: spinach and ricotta gnocchi, a very green pie and a (splendid) tart.

I’ve decided to risk spinach saturation as I think all three green recipes: gnocchi, pie and tart, deserve their own post. I don’t intend to drag things out too much though, a spinach stampede is the plan, all three posts this week! Optimistic and unrealistic am I! We will see. First the gnocchi.

Gnocchi as you know ‘Are little dumplings.” Literally translated, gnoccho means little lump – rather like the one that appears when you bash your head on the kitchen cabinet that needs fixing – so the plural, gnocchi means little lumps. Italians make the most delicious and delightful little lumps, especially from potatoes, sometimes breadcrumbs, semolina or vegetables and they often flavour them with herbs and cheese. Gnocchi are cooked like pasta, but very gently, in plenty of boiling water and then dressed with the appropriate sauce or simply lots and lots of sage infused melted butter.’

Spinach and ricotta gnocchi are, as their name suggests, little dumplings made from spinach and ricotta bound with eggs, parmesan, spiked with nutmeg and dusted with just enough flour to mould them into shape. I’ve written about spinach and ricotta gnocchi before, a recipe that I’ve known and trusted for years. But a couple of weeks ago my friend and cooking companion Alice showed me how she makes gnocchi, a version she learned from Lizzie Cinati at the Winterhaven in Falls Creek. At first glance Alice’s recipe not so very different from the recipe I have made mine! But look closely and you’ll notice very different proportions, an omission, a couple of tweaks and some sage advice about shape and cooking which produces the best spinach and ricotta gnocchi I have ever eaten. I have eaten many.

Alice’s recipe uses the same quantity of ricotta as spinach, so 500g of spinach is mixed with an impressive 500g of ricotta. There is no sautéed onion, just a whole egg, a tablespoon of flour, 100g of grated parmesan and a generous grating of nutmeg to be mixed with the speckled green cream. You let the mixture chill for a couple for hours and then as lunchtime approaches you enlist the help of a fellow gnocchi maker (and a glass of campari on ice) as it’s best if you work swiftly and cook the gnocchi as soon as you possibly can.

The mixture is extremely soft, sticky and seemingly uncontrollable! Have no fear and resist adding more flour. Well floured hands, patience and practice and you will find a way to mould and shape the mixture into imprecise lozenges roughly the size of a brazil nut. There are two ways to work. Either using two teaspoons to form the mixture into lozenges and then rolling them immediately in flour. Alternatively you can dust your work-suface with flour, scoop out a generous handful of pale green mixture and with very well- floured hands roll it into a log, flatten it slightly and then cut the log into slices before tweaking the shape of each slice into the requisite form. Sit the gnocchi on a tray dusted with flour.

To cook the gnocchi you bring a large pan of well salted water to a very gentle boil. Carefully drop 12 gnocchi at a time into the water. After a few minutes they will be puffy, proud as punch, soft and have bobbed to the surface. Using a slotted spoon lift them out onto a warm serving plate and pour over some of the sage butter and keep warm in a cool oven. Drop in more gnocchi and repeat the process. When all the gnocchi are cooked, pour over the rest of the sage butter, turn them gently to coat with butter and serve at once with more freshly grated parmesan

I needed no convincing about spinach and ricotta gnocchi, 12 or 14 freshly poached morsels, like green speckled pillows sitting in a pool of sage butter and dusted with parmesan, were already amongst my favorite things to eat. This recipe which produces some of the lightest, plumpest, most delicate and softly textured gnocchi I have ever eaten has simply fortified that conviction and nudged spinach and ricotta gnocchi even higher up my list. The key I think is the impressive quality of ricotta, the whisper of flour, the pleasing shape and reminder about cooking as soon as you can after making your gnocchi.

One of the nicest ways to eat your greens.

Gnocchi are usually eaten as a primo piatto (first course) but they make a fine main course especially if served with a sliced tomato salad, piedmontese peppers and some nice bread to mop up the sage butter. It is worth seeking out the best ricotta – ideally Ricotta di pecora (sheeps milk ricotta).

Spinach and Ricotta gnocchi

serves 4 (6 at push but who likes to push!)

  • 5oog / 1 lb fresh spinach
  • 500g / 1 llb ricotta
  • large egg
  • 100g freshly grated parmesan
  • 1 tbsp flour and more for dusting
  • a grating of nutmeg
  • salt
For the sage butter
  • 100g best butter
  • 10 fresh sage leaves

Soak the spinach in several changes of water and discard any wilted or bruised leaves and trim away any very thick, woody stalks. Put the spinach in a large pan with nothing but the water that clings to the leaves, cover the pan and cook on a medium flame until the spinach has collapsed and is tender. This should take about 5 minutes depending on the freshness and age of the spinach.

Drain the spinach and once it is cool enough, squeeze and press it gently with your hands to eliminate as much water as possible. Chop the spinach roughly and transfer to a bowl

Add the ricotta to the spinach mixture and stir gently but firmly with a wooden spoon. Next add the egg, the grated parmesan,   flour and a grating of nutmeg. Keep stirring the ingredients until they are evenly mixed, taste, add salt if necessary, stir again. Let the mixture rest in the fridge for a couple of hours.

Dust your hands and a work surface with flour and working quickly shape the gnocchi into lozenges the size of a brazil nut and sit them on a tray dusted with flour.

Bring a large pan a well salted water to a gentle boil, not too hard or the gnocchi will disintegrate.

Put the butter in a small frying pan and turn the heat to medium. When the butter stops foaming and it starts turning tawny but not brown, add the sage leaves. Cook for a few seconds, turning the leaves once and then remove from the heat

Now begin cooking the gnocchi. Carefully drop 12 gnocchi at a time into the gently boiling water. After a few minutes they will be puffy, soft and have floated to the surface. Using a with slotted spoon lift them out onto a warm serving plate and pour over some of the sage butter and keep warm in a cool oven. Drop in more gnocchi and repeat the process.

When all the gnocchi are cooked, pour over the rest of the sauce, turn them gently to coat with butter and serve at once with more freshly grated parmesan.

‘A bag of green – the second half’ coming soon.

47 Comments

Filed under food, gnocchi, rachel eats Italy, ricotta, spinach, spring recipes, vegetables

47 responses to “A bag of green.

  1. Eha

    Guess what arrived with my shopping order last night: a huge bag of spinach just as you describe. Had a delightful spinach and mushroom salad for lunch today with some spicy grilled chicken: hmm, is there enough for these delightful gnocchi?

    • rachel

      I hope there was enough spinach and gnocchi was made? Spinach and mushroom salad with grilled chicken sounds very good indeed.

  2. Annie Wragg

    Love the recipe,Rachel,and will try it with a mass of Spinaci from my raised bed garden which has given me such an abundance of produce all Summer (I am in Australia!) Thanks! Annie

  3. laura

    Oh, Rachel. How beautifully you write and what wonderful photos. Can’t wait to do this version of “gnudi”. Love the less flour touch. Thank you for all the pointers. Looking forward to parts two and three! (Great photo of Luca on the scales! Going to Testaccio with him must take you a good bit longer as everyone stops to admire but then everything probably takes longer. Thank you and all my best.

    • rachel

      Hi Laura – you are really kind (and loyal). Yes shopping does take a while now, not least as he gets weighed on 3 different scales!

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  5. Thats my supper this evening sorted! Fantastic, thanks :)

  6. ooh, fantastic. very happy you are doing a spinach series, look forward to the other posts! xoxo.

  7. Betta

    Lovely gnocchi recipe and Luca on the scale is so sweet! We made panna cotta following your recipe, DELIZIOSA! :)
    Xxx

  8. What an awesome idea – I’ve never seen this done before, but I love it. Also, great spinach tips :D

  9. Your previous spinach and ricotta gnocchi recipe was one of my favourites, served it at a wonderful dinner party recently. Very excited to try the new and improved version!

    • rachel

      This is just the comment I was hoping for! I do hope you try the new recipe. The mixture is softer and seemingly totally unmanageable at first but have faith and well floured hands. The shape will not be quite as neat and uniform as the previous recipe – think looses lozenges. Happy gnocchi making.

  10. Hi Rachel, these look wonderful, something I’d like to try.

    I owe you a big thank you; I was in Rome last week on holiday and, on your advice, went to Volpetti Piu for the roasted vegetable lasagne. We had a great lunch and the lasagne was fantastic! I can’t wait to recreate it at home with your recipe.

    • rachel

      Hi Tamsin – So glad you visited Volpetti (and liked it, it can seem a little bleak until you realize the nature and style of the place.)

  11. Isn’t it wonderful when we learn yet a better way to make a dish–even one we thought we had “perfected” ? can’t wait to try this–spinach at the farmers market has been very bouncy and squeaky

    looking forward to what’s next out of the green bag…

    • rachel

      I agree, it’s also a reminder for me not to be so proud – when Alice first told me about her recipe quantities I was so busy thinking ‘but I already have buy own perfect recipe’ I nearly didn’t take note never mind try the recipe. Keeping learning.

  12. Going to my Nonna’s this weekend to make some gnocci – think I;m going to try adding a few sundried tomatoes to the mix. great post!

  13. A squeaky ball of spinach. Bet it was fun just sculpting it, no?

    I have very good memories of spinach gnudi in Florence for my 21st birthday. Yours look suitably celebratory, I would love to try them again, thank-you!

    • rachel

      I think Spinach sculpting could well be the next big thing. Gnudi in Florence sounds like the real thing. Thanks for comment and link to your fantastic blog to which I am signing up! just lovely to meet you Tangerine Drawings

  14. “spinach like me…” best parenthetical remark of the decade. absolutely adored this post and cannot wait to try this fluffy recipe. also, excited about the rest of the stampede! xom.

    • rachel

      Judging by your passion for sable biscuits and blog I imagine you too can absorb a fair bit of butter. I am sure we would get on very well. The stampede is dragging it’s heels a bit. So glad you like the recipe

  15. A friend directed me here because I wrote about spinach this week as well. What a lovely, generous post! We are awash in spinach at the moment, and I’ll welcome the next bucketload knowing that I have this recipe to try.

    • rachel

      I love your spinach post especially the ‘spinach ends’ advice which I can’t wait to try. Great to meet you and your great blog.

  16. These look fantastic. I’ve got a bit of a spinach obsession at the moment (which I married with my ready-made-all-butter-puff-pastry obsession last week, along with feta, lemon, pinenuts, and egg – heaven) so am v excited about further green adventures. BTW I have the same Global vegetable knife. I LOVE it.

    • rachel

      My global knives have changed my kitchen life. I am devoted. I like the sound of your spinach adventures. Butter puff – swoon.

  17. Spinach is rather magical…it can fill a huge bowl and be reduced to a cup…it can be curly and bouncy and wet and soft. It can be your beautiful gnocchi. It is always good.

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  19. “a whisper of flour” (!!) I don’t know how you managed to pull them together with only 1 tablespoon of flour. Of course now I’m going to have to try them myself, not only to see if I can pull it off, but because you said they were the best gnocchi you’ve ever eaten, and that is high praise from a woman living in Rome. I made potato gnocchi the other night and was so scared off by the sticky consistency that I kept adding more and more flour until it was smooth, and they were good and edible, but a bit gooey and not as light and fluffy as I was hoping. I am going to approach future gnocchi with well floured hands and a lock on the flour jar. Looking forward to trying this recipe with homemade ricotta – good ricotta is hard to come by in Zürich. Wonderful post, and that son of yours, what a cutie.

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  21. I tried this recipe over the weekend and I’m sad to say that it did not turn out well! My first mistake was not rolling the log like I should have (instead I formed them into little ovals by hand because I couldn’t see how I could roll the sticky dough into a log!), so I assume that by rolling and cutting it sort of “seals” the little pillows? Needless to say, I had a big pan of boiling water and floating ricotta! Also, should I have drained the ricotta? The overall flavor of it was wonderful but it basically turned into a wet soggy mess when I boiled it. :(

    • rachel

      Oh no, I am really sorry (and feel responsible) for your soggy mess. I am going to try and pursuade you to try again! Not for a while obviously and not for guests. Will you?
      The mixture is very sticky (you can make it less so by really really squeezing the spinach and draining the ricotta if it seems watery) so you need a good dusting of flour to roll it into a loose log. The idea is to use as little flour as possible! But while you are getting the hang of making them use a little more. I also dust my hands with lots of flour to shape the lozenges from the log. Some people add a tablespoon or two of flour to the mix to help bind the gnocchi more. The water should be at a gentle boil (did I say that? God need to check post), that helps stop disintegration. A shallow pan of water is also good
      Does this make any sense? Let me know how things work out (if you can bear to try again) andif you ever come to Rome, let me make you some gnocchi or at least buy you a drink!
      Rx

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  23. Amy Ward

    Hello. I am just returning to this site after not visiting for several months and have already printed out three recipes. I have an abundance of zucchini and swiss chard in my garden and eggs in the chicken coop – the green cake is a must on my list. I’m also wondering if chard will substitute well for spinach in the gnocchi? Must experiment. Thank you for all the lovely recipes and photographs.

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  26. Perfect timing to stumble across this post. I was planning to make ricotta gnocchi tonight and I have a giant bag of spinach in the fridge, so looks like I’ll try combining the two. Your recipes look delicious. Mi danno una nostalgia grande dell’anno che ho passato in Italia, mangiando tanta roba buona!

    • rachel

      Hi Feisty Red, so glad to be of little lump assistance e di servire una dose di nostalgia. tutto il meglio da un altro testa rossa

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