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To Gnudi or not to Gnudi? That is the question!

I always find myself with an abundance of sage which needs to be cultivated to allow for new spring/summer growth.  Last year I decided to experiment and made sage pesto so not to waste any of the harvest.  I remember posting on Instagram and posing the question: "What do I do with so much sage?"  To my delight Emiko Davies responded: "Make sage and butter sauce for gnudi!"  In Italian, "gnudi" means "naked".  Hence a Tuscan specialty of ricotta cheese and spinach rolled into walnut sized balls, lightly cooked and then tossed into a butter and sage sauce and exquisitely delicious.

I have to admit that although I knew what gnudi were, I had never made them fearing the worst.  Instead, I would often make ravioli filled with ricotta and spinach, loving them encased in fresh home made pasta just the way mamma had taught me. So the notion of denuding them and turning them into gnudi filled me with as much trepidation as excitement.  I had  heard many stories of failed attempts where they would fall apart or totally disappear before ones very eyes during the cooking process (in water).  These stories not only outlined the problem but many offered advise on how to ensure perfection. Knowing that there were 'gnudi experts' out there encouraging me to make them, wiped away some of that fear.  I played around with various recipes, failed many times, consulted with fellow gnudi makers out there on instagram, until I managed to dish up what appeared to be almost perfect, in tacked spheres of soft gnudi.

Emiko Davies has a lovely recipe for gnudi and can be found here or better still in her beautiful book "Florentine: The True Cuisine of Florence".  This book not only showcases the authentic cuisine of Florence, but is further supported by her enchanting recounts and photos of this historic city.  I attended her book launch early this year and was delighted to see that gnudi would be served as one of the 8 de gustation dishes offered on the night.  Yes, they were perfect, melt in your mouth pillowy and light gnudi.  With each dish served, Emiko told us a few related stories and with the gnudi, her secrets to making and cooking the perfect gnudi. Since then, I have made them with far more success then my first  attempts and with a little less nervousness.

I thought I would try something different as I still love ravioli filled with this mixture and being quite time poor during the week, the idea of making home made pasta to encase them is out of the question.  I wanted an alternative to the traditional gnudi, so I decided to bake them in a bath of Napoletana sauce with a grating of Parmesan cheese on top.  

Baked Ricotta & Spinach Gnudi with Napoletana Sauce
Inspired by Emiko Davies Gnudi - Spinach & Ricotta Dumplings

I made my gnudi following Emiko Davies recipe, with the inclusion of Parmesan cheese in the mix as I would when making my ricotta and spinach ravioli.  Below are the list of ingredients and quantities from her book with some notes on modifications made.

This recipe serves 4 (makes about 20)

Ingredients for Gnudi:

350 g firm ricotta
300 g  cooked spinach (approximately 1 kg uncooked) Drained, squeezed of all liquid and chopped
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup of grated Parmesan cheese (optional - this is my inclusion)
pinch of ground nutmeg (omit if you are adding Parmesan cheese)
50 g plain flour
Parmesan cheese for grating on top before baking

Emiko suggests a butter and sage sauce which is traditional for this dish and quite delicious. This would be used if you wish to follow her recipe completely. 

Ingredients for Napoletana Sauce:

6 tablespoons of olive oil
3 cloves of garlic (crushed)
2 tins (800 g) cherry tomatoes in tomato juice (substitute with crushed or diced tomatoes if you cannot find cherry tomatoes)
1 teaspoon of sugar
Salt to taste
1/3 cup of basil, chopped


Make the gnudi by mixing the ricotta, cooked spinach, eggs and Parmesan cheese until well combined.  Add a pinch of salt to taste.  The mixture should be thick and compact. This is best achieved by draining the ricotta of all its liquid before adding the other ingredients, as well as making sure that the spinach is squeezed of all its juices.

Place the flour in a shallow dish and with floured hands, roll walnut-sized spoonfuls of mixture into the flour to coat and then place on a lightly floured plate or board until they are all ready. Refrigerate while making the sauce.

Warm olive oil in a medium sized saute` pan on low heat.  Add garlic and saute` until the garlic begins to soften, and then add the tomatoes along with the sugar.  Increase the heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally for 15 minutes.  Season to taste and stir the basil through the sauce. Turn off the heat.  The mixture needs to be quite wet and will thicken further as the gnudi bake.

Prepare a baking dish or 4 small separate baking dishes.  Layer  two thirds of the Napoletana sauce over the base of the baking dish or divide evenly amongst four smaller dishes.  Carefully lift, dust off excess flour and arrange the gnudi in the baking tray. Drizzle the remaining sauce evenly over the top of the balls.  Grate some Parmesan cheese and bake for 30 minutes until tops of the gnudi are lightly browned and the sauce is bubbling.

Remove from the oven and serve immediately.  Enjoy!

You have been presented with two equally delicious recipes, so do you gnudi or not?  I would love to know how you go.


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