Spinach and ricotta gnocchi

The irony is that I didn’t have a problem with the word gnocchi until I moved to Italy. Apart from the English accent, there will always be the English accent, I had the pronunciation down, gnocchi, the silent g, n as in new, o as in octopus, cch pronounced k as in key, i pronounced ee as in tree, nyokee, nyokee, nyokee. Gnocchi was one of the fifty-one Italian words – 36 of which were food and wine related – I actually knew when I arrived in Italy five years ago. The other 15? Well, if I remember correctly; four were Sicilian swear words, not sure where I picked those up; 7, the first line of the chorus of volare; the rest, a smattering of random musical terms – the sad legacy of a decade of piano lessons and the weekly pleas of my weary teacher Mrs Isabel Beyer, ‘pianissimo e grazioso, soft and elegant Rachel, soft and elegant’ as I thrashed and bashed out another sonata.

I’m not sure quite how it happened, but somewhere along my rather steep Italian learning curve, somewhere amongst the chi pronounced key and the che pronounced kay, the befuddling gli’s and gno‘s and the perplexing Italian grammar, I managed to mislay the pronunciation of gnocchi, rather like a sock. I think it was a case of word overboard, there was only so much room, I could cram the past tense of the verb morire into my saturated memory but there was a price and that was gnocchi pronunciation amnesia . One day it was there, gnocchi, rolling off my tongue like a Roman with a very English accent, the next I was frowning at the menu thinking knocky, G-nokey, nokay feeling confused, pink of face and pointing at the menu.

I managed to avoid actually saying the word gnocchi for about two years. I pointed, I nodded, on one occasion I managed to sustain an intense, merry and lengthy conversation about making gnocchi without actually naming it once. Vincenzo, between his taunting – which is justified retaliation, I am merciless and regularly need to lie on the floor laughing at some of his English constructions – did try to tutor me, n-y-o-k-e-e, which would help and I would say it correctly. But then a few days later, faced with a menu, it had gone again, knowkey, nochee.

Anyway, after all that, the end of the gnocchi saga is rather lame really, like finding the sock you mislaid two years ago, behind the radiator. I was in Volpetti one day for lunch and I ordered the gnocchi, I didn’t point or gesture, I didn’t say ‘questi‘ (those) I just said it, ‘gnocchi’ and that was that, I was passed the plate of steaming little dumplings with tomato sauce and lots of parmesan. I ordered it the following week just to be certain, and sure enough, there it was again, gnocchi. Vincenzo said brava and then laughed at my accent.

The recipe.

Gnocchi, as I’m sure you know, are little dumplings. Literally translated, gnoccho means little lump, rather like the one that appears when you bump your head on the kitchen cabinet that needs fixing, so the plural, gnocchi means little lumps. Italians make the most delicious and delightful gnocchi, 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.

We are still learning to make soft, light and fluffy ‘cloud like’ potato gnocchi (practice practice practice was my Friends advice, the friend who makes the ‘cloud like gnocchi’) and I still haven’t attempted the traditional Roman semolina gnocchi or a nice sounding Tuscan recipe for walnut gnocchi. But we can make a very nice spinach and ricotta gnocchi.

So far, I think theses are maybe my favourite and certainly the most lovely of all the gnocchi family, light and delicate but surprisingly satisfying without being dumpy heavy or stout, the curse of many- a- dumpling. They are known as ravioli verdi or ravioli nudi (nude ravioli) in Tuscany, which is the most charming name because thats exactly what they are, nude ravioli, no pasta just the loose, quite delicious filling of spinach and ricotta ravioli (which is simply spinach and ricotta bound with eggs, parmesan and spiked with nutmeg) shaped into little lumps. The gnocchi are then dusted with flour to hold them together.

They very pleasing to make and quite straightforward. You cook some spinach with no water but a little salt, drain it, press it absolutely dry, then chop it. You sauté an onion in some butter and add the spinach and cook it gently for a couple of minutes. Next you add the ricotta, parmesan, beaten egg, flour, and nutmeg, stir and let the mixture rest in the fridge for a couple of hours.

Then with a teaspoon and well floured hands, working on a well floured board you form little lumps or pellets of the mixture, rolling them in the palm of your hand, dusting each one with a little more flour before spreading them out on a flour dusted baking tray.

You bring a big pan of well salted water to a gentle boil and lower in the green gnocchi a few at a time. You poach them gently for a few minutes until they come bobbing happily – all puffed up and proud – to the surface. Then you fish them out with a slotted spoon.

You serve the gnocchi immediately on a warm serving plate with lots of sage butter and more freshly grated parmesan.

I adore these little green dumplings, light and delicate but surprisingly substancial without being heavy, Like little green pillows, or clouds,  floating in a pool of sage infused butter. Really nice food.

I made a plate of sliced oranges and slivers of dates for pudding.

Oh last thing, the 50g of flour in the ingredients is optional, it makes the gnocchi easier to handle and acts a little like glue keeping the gnocchi together while they cook…. but does make them slightly heavier. Once you get the hang of making these gnocchi and more confident about cooking times you can leave the flour out just rely on the little flour you use to dust them, the gnocchi will be even lighter and more lovely.

Spinach and Ricotta Gnocchi with sage and butter sauce

Inspired by Elizabeth David’s recipe in Italian food but adapted from Marcella Hazan’s recipe in The Essentials of classic Italian cooking

serves 4

For the gnocchi:

  • 450g /llb  very fresh, bouncy, lively spinach
  • salt
  • 25g butter
  • 1 tablespoon very finely chopped onion
  • 150g Ricotta (cows or goats milk ricotta is great but sheeps milk ricotta is perfect)
  • 50g plain flour (optional, see note above)
  • 2 egg yolks gently beaten
  • 115g freshly grated parmesan cheese plus more for serving
  • a pinch of grated nutmeg
  • More plain flour for dusting

for the butter and sage sauce:

  • 50g 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, add a heaped teaspoon of salt, 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 set it aside.

Warm the butter in frying pan then add the onion and sauté it over a medium flame until it is soft, transparent and golden. Add the chopped spinach to the pan with a pinch of salt and then cook for about 5 minutes, stirring often.

Tip the spinach and onion mixture into a bowl and allow it to cool to room temperature.

Add the ricotta and the flour to the spinach mixture and stir gently but firmly with a wooden spoon. Next add the egg yolks, the grated parmesan and a tiny pinch 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 with flour and working quickly makes small nuggets/pellets of the mixture – about 2cm across (even smaller if you have the patience) 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.

Drop in about 15 gnocchi at a time, when the water comes back to the boil, cook them for 3 – 4 minutes.

While the gnocchi are cooking make the sage butter…..

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 back to the gnocchi, 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.


Filed under food, gnocchi, Rachel's Diary, recipes

50 responses to “Spinach and ricotta gnocchi

  1. This sounds so simple though I am sure I can find a way to mess it up. Trying this gnocchi this weekend but I think I will save mastering the pronunciation until we are back in Italy (someday…)!

  2. The more I read of your blog, the more I admire you. How brave you were to move to Italy with only 51 words for support, four of which presumably you didn’t use very much – or maybe you did… I hope the book about your five years so far in Rome is being written. If it isn’t it should be.
    The gnocchi looks delicious and sage and butter sauce – well that sounds like heaven.

    • rachel

      I did actually, all four of them, repeatedly, in a train station in Napoli when someone tryed to steal my bag.
      Yes the sage butter is lovely, we have it on mashed potato too.

  3. I must confess that I have never made gnocchi in any form. Perhaps because I’ve never had truly delicious gnocchi, just ones that were rather sad, sodden lumps on a plate. (irredeemable by even sage-brown butter sauce, whose very nature makes all things grand)

    Your little spinach-ricotta pillows look lovely, light, and full of flavor. I shall try these very soon.

    • rachel

      Ah yes, the soggy lumps, I’ve had those too, No thiis recipe is good
      and nice and simple – but does need practice, but doesn’t everything.

  4. I’m hopeless when trying to say ‘aglio e olio’. Love the chair.

  5. SRM

    i just made these for dinner….amazing. two of us ate the whole lot.

  6. rachel, rachel, I want to make everything you post! Have been wanting to try gnocchi for a year now, will have to give these a go. Made your veggie shepherd’s pie the other day, it was lovely. Thanks!

  7. Lucia

    do you think I can make these with frozen spinach?

    • rachel

      Hello Lucia
      Yes, Marcella Hazan suggests you replace the fresh spinach with 285g /10oz of frozen leaf spinach (thawed.) You cook it in a covered pan with a little salt. Drain it, squeeze all the moisture out of it that you can and then chop it coarsely.
      Hope this helps and let me know how it goes if you try

  8. I want a homemade dinner that is bobbing happily. I want my familiar markets. I want my kitchen. Soon…

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  10. I’m sure there is a list of great foods that are impossible to pronounce properly. Pho is probably on it along with innumerable French pastry items. Wonderful post, as always

  11. I’m waiting ever so patiently to buy the book…

    So, then, what is “gnudi” – a hybrid of “gnocchi” and “nudi”? Does it exist as a real term in Italy or is the creation of some American gnocchi-nudi peddler?

    • rachel

      Gnudi, why is that so very funny? I have never heard of gnudi (but then i am rubbish) will ask Vincenzo…..
      That is a real compliment from my true (the first) blog big sister x

  12. They look great. For me it was the article “gli” that took a while to master.

  13. I love your pronunciation lapse story. “These” look so incredibly gorgeous. I will eat gnocchi even if they are not clouds, which is how they mostly are when I cook them. Now, where is the jelly?

  14. Hi Rachel, This is my first time commenting on your site. We’ve made homeade plain potato gnocchi before and it always makes me feel like I have a giant potato rock in my stomach. These, however, sound divine. I’ll see if I can get my man to make them with me this weekend! Thanks for the inspiration! – Lynn

    • rachel

      hello Lynn
      thankyou for your comment, it seems we have lots in common. I have had my fair share of rock gnocchi
      but this by virtue of the ingredients is lovely and light (we hope …….).
      Nice to have you here

  15. That looks lovely and delicious! It’s not easy to make gnocchi…I know cos’ I’ve tried it. Mine was a disaster…I must give it a go again.

  16. I have a soft spot for spinach-ricotta gnocchi — it was the first thing my partner cooked for me (he also banned me from entering his kitchen that night so I wouldn’t see remnants of the wild frenzy of ingredients and utensils that got those beautiful gnocchi to the table!).

    What I love about the recipe you’ve given here is the description of the spinach: fresh, lively, bouncy. Oh, don’t I know that spinach when I see it at the market!

    Wonderful post.

  17. Rachel,

    I truly must try this homemade gnocchi, and chuckle out loud as I admit I also avoid saying the word in public. (My husband’s co-worker claims she’s Italian and says it No-kee. It just sounds goofy).

    There is little so divine as homemade pasta, combined, of course, with sweet butter.

    Thank you for this recipe!!


  18. alice kiandra

    other sauce accompaniments are a classic tomato (tom, garlic, tiny pinch of chilli) or fresh basil pesto (very rich but delicious) that was how it was served in the Liz Cinatl days at Winterhaven where I first met this wonderful dish. For ‘little clouds’ I have discovered the trick is fresh – the gnocchi must be cooked almost as soon as the little balls are rolled. Use as little flour as possible in the mix, it is the flour that adds substance (weight) – it is the ricotta (or the potato) that is cloud like and fluffy. Rach you forgot to mention that a good Italian girlfriend/wife/mamma/nonna makes her gnocchi on a Thursday, and when you are in Italy this is the day you will find it on the menu. Così you know it will really be fresh.

    • rachel

      You see I need you, I remember you making me this.
      I am going to learn to make potato gnocchi with you when you come back.
      Yes, thursday – see I will never be a really good Italian girlfriend !

  19. kristen

    I just made this… and they were little pillows of heaven. it was my first attempt at gnocci and i can’t believe i’ve been missing out this long. thank you for a wonderful recipe!

  20. Ren

    Your blog is so great..here we are both in Rome in the sun blogging! Di you know that in Tuscany where I lived for 20 years these are called ‘gnudi’, meaning naked ravioli!

    • rachel

      Hello Ren
      Yes the sun today! Rome is another city in Spring, it has been a long hard winter hasn’t it?.
      I have heard ravioli nudi but never gnudi, that is brilliant.
      Thankyou for your message and nice to meet you too,

  21. Susanamantha

    I found your blog when searching for this very recipe. I am going to make it tomorrow (made my ricotta today) and will let you know how it turns out.

  22. M.M

    Delicious, thank you for this recipe!


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  24. Janet Huttula

    I was recently in Italy and loved the butter sage sauce. What kind of sage do Italians grow in their gardens. I want to grow my own.
    Janet Huttula

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  26. Italians love discovering new foods and new way of preparing familiar dishes. Every year there’s more and more interest in the traditional cuisine of the various regions and in biological, environment friendly foods. Italian food for Italians is a reason of pride. You can recognize Italians abroad for their longing of typical dishes, pasta over every other. And you can see how dishearten they are when they try pasta outside Italy. Some upper class foreign restaurants have managed to master almost all the typical Italian dishes, but pasta still eludes them.

  27. I have some baby chard I’d like to use before leaving town. Do you think I could use it in place of spinach?

  28. Suzanne Sigman

    Quantities listed in grams not helpful

    • rachel

      Hello Suzanne,

      I am sorry that my measurements were not helpful, I choose metric above an american system of cups (that I am not familiar with and therefore would be inaccurate) and the old British ounces and pounds as metric seems more international. I would also like to note that this is a personal blog and I would normally delete this comment as rude but haven’t as i wanted to leave this note. Rachel

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  30. Linda

    I’ve made lots of gnocchi, but when I make spinach gnocchi in America, they always turn out like mush because American ricotta contains a lot more liquid than Italian ricotta. Before I attempt your delicious looking recipe, I’m wondering whether or not you’ve tried it with American ricotta…

    • rachel

      hello, have you tried draining the ricotta first, either sitting it in a fine sieve, or putting it in cheese cloth so it loses some water. You also need to squeeze the spinach hard. The boiling point is important too, a boil, but not a ferocious one. I do hope this works for you best R

  31. Linda

    I bought some expensive ricotta at a local market. It came packed in its own little plastic sieve, so I didn’t put it in cheese cloth, but I will try that or make my own next time.

    By boiling point, do you mean when I cook the spinach or when I cook the gnocchi?

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