Easy Italian spinach ricotta dumplings or gnudi prepared from scratch and served with a homemade garlic tomato sauce. Fresh and delicious!
With the recent heat wave in North America, I don’t feel like cooking very much or eating any fancy foods lately. Still I like to enjoy a well-prepared meal instead of going for salads and ice-creams only. Do you recognize yourself here too? If by the way you have any good advice to face heat wave, I’m all ears. I try to drink a lot of water when I think about it (I usually do not drink enough) but I’m no expert in best practice in these situations.
Also, my cooking is slightly adapting to the situation and I replaced my original recipe idea with another one that seemed more appropriate for the weather: I made you some spinach ricotta dumplings or gnudi. I first got the idea of this recipe a few months ago while briefly browsing the pages of a cooking magazine at the checkout line of my grocery store. I loved the idea straight away. This Italian version of dumplings that we call gnudi is nothing but nude ravioli (gnudi means “nude”), i.e. the filling without the outer pasta covering.
Of course, the simple fact that they involve ricotta cheese was enough to convince me. If you’ve been following me for quite a while, you might have noticed how much I like this specific cheese. Its texture is somewhat similar to cottage cheese variants, though considerably lighter. It’s also rich, smooth, and slightly sweet in taste. For this specific recipe, it is very important you choose a ricotta cheese that is dense enough, preferably made with whole milk, or any kind with low-moisture. It will then help the ricotta balls to keep their shapes. If you still encounter too much moisture to the cheese, place it in a strainer and drain the excess liquid.
Other awesome recipes involving ricotta cheese:
- Perfect Lemon Ricotta Bundt Cake
- Ultra Moist Lemon Ricotta Pancakes
- Ricotta Frittata with Fresh Vegetables
- Spring Vegetables and Ricotta Tartines
- Salmon & Zucchini Ricotta Pie
As you can see above, the beauty of ricotta cheese is that it works equally well in sweet and in savory recipes, bringing some freshness and moistness to them. Here, I use it to prepare some vegetarian cheese balls, or to be more exact dumplings. Because ricotta is very soft, we combine it with flour. My advice is to start using 3/4 cup of all-purpose flour in the ricotta mixture and check if it seems enough to you. You should be able to shape into balls, even if they will still be very soft. If not, add a little bit more flour. The reason I’m asking you to do so is because the density of flour can be different from one to another. This way, depending on which brand you use, you might need a little bit less or a little bit more flour.
I combined the ricotta cheese with sautéed fresh spinach with garlic. In many similar recipes, you will find that they use thawed spinach cooked as is or in the microwave instead, which might appear slightly quicker but results in an insipid taste which of course you don’t want. The seasoning is also important. In addition to nutmeg, you can bring a pinch of freshly ground cayenne pepper if you want. I then season with salt and freshly ground pepper (I personally use Timut pepper from Nepal, which is far more than just pepper; it really enhances a dish).
Once you shaped the mixture into balls and rolled it out in flour, refrigerate for a couple of hours or ideally overnight to make sure the balls keep their shape. After this, cook them in boiling water as you would do for gnocchi, waiting for the dumplings to come to the surface of water after a few minutes, sign that they are now cooked through. As for the sauce, prepare a simple tomato sauce as you would do for pasta. When ready, serve your dumplings with tomato sauce, toasted pine nuts, and fresh basil leaves.
- 1 cup (200g) fresh spinach, finely chopped
- 1 Tablespoon olive oil
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 cup (245g) whole-milk ricotta cheese*
- ½ cup (60g) grated pecorino or Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
- 2 large egg yolks
- ¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- ½ teaspoon sea salt
- ¾-1 cup (90-120g) all-purpose flour +2-3 Tablespoons for dusting
- 3 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 small onion, coarsely chopped
- 1 28 oz can (793g) crushed tomatoes
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 Tablespoon fresh basil, minced
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Sauté the fresh spinach with olive oil in a sauté pan until just cooked through. Add minced garlic, toss well, and sauté for an additional minute. Transfer to a shallow dish and set aside.
- In a medium-size bowl, mix together cooked spinach, ricotta, parmigiano, egg yolks, and flour as needed (the mixture must remain soft but still malleable). Add grated nutmeg, salt, freshly ground pepper, and stir until well combined.
- Shape into balls in your hands, adding a little bit more flour if the mixture is too soft. Spread 2 to 3 tablespoons of flour in a shallow dish or plate. Roll the dumplings into the flour, until coated completely.
- Transfer to a tray lined with parchment paper, cover with cling film, and place in the refrigerator for about 2 hours until balls are firm enough to cook (the balls remain soft enough but should be able to keep their shape).
- Cook the ricotta dumpling in a large volume of boiling water, and cook until the dumplings come on top, about 3-5 minutes.
- Drain the water through a colander and set aside.
- In a large pot, melt onions in olive oil until translucent. Add crushed tomatoes, minced garlic, basil and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
- Cook until the sauce thickens and the water evaporates.
- Toss the dumplings in the prepared sauce, and serve immediately with additional grated parmigiano, fresh basil and toasted pine nuts.