Ricotta Gnudi, Delicata Squash & a Dash of Humility

Serves 4

I’m eating a little bit of humble pie, so to speak.

On a somewhat regular basis I experience frustration in the kitchen and, while usually salvageable, on occasion whatever I happen to be cooking goes completely awry. I’m talking no chance of recovery, back to square one, ingredients wasted (and I hate wasting food). I recently experienced one of these episodes, and it came at the hands of gnudi.

Gnudi are delicious, fluffy pockets of ricotta in a delicate pasta that is formed, naturally, over several hours by allowing balls of a ricotta mixture to rest in copious amounts of semolina. The dish is not unlike a ricotta gnocchi, but allegedly much easier to make. Gnudi have been made famous by chef April Bloomfield of The Spotted Pig in New York City, and are now on several restaurant menus, and many praise them for being soooo incredibly easy to make. In theory this is true. In theory.

I’ve been meaning to make gnudi for a while, and for my first attempt I used Jamie Oliver’s recipe. I adore Mr. Oliver, and generally have great success with his recipes, so it pains me to say that I followed the recipe almost entirely to a T, with the exception of allowing the gnudi more time to form than was recommended, as they were clearly not set after the recommended 8 hours. Yet still, when it came time to cooking they completely fell apart as soon as they hit the water. I tried reducing to a gentle simmer and delicately lowering the gnudi into the water but to no avail, I was left with this boiling ricotta soup that went straight down the drain.

Why am I telling you all of this? It is not to discourage you from making gnudi. Quite the opposite, I think you should take the challenge, and not be afraid to fail. My good friend Pete often remarks that I should not make reference to how “easy” certain recipes are to make. That, while many tasks in the kitchen seem quick and simple to me, they can be challenging and frustrating for others. He’s absolutely right, and I’d like to use this post as an opportunity to advocate for failing. Failure, and especially its presence in the kitchen, is natural, and I can assure you it happens to even the most seasoned chefs, probably more often than you think. This is because they challenge themselves and try new things. Often, kitchen mistakes can be fixed and may even turn out to be happy accidents that lead to a favourite new recipe.  Of course, to balance the happy accidents, every so often mistakes in the kitchen will lead to failure in epic proportion.  And, as disgustingly patronizing, not to mention enraging, as this sentiment can be in the heat of failure, these instances are nevertheless an opportunity to learn.

After giving myself a few weeks to recover from my first gnudi making experience I tried again. This time I used Chef Jeff Crump’s recipe from his book Earth to Table. This recipe differed from Jamie’s in that it included egg, and a little flour. This may seem less authentic, and possibly horrifying to Italian Nona’s everywhere, but I had much better results. While this second attempt at gnudi was successful (proof in the pictures below) I have by no means perfected the recipe, so I’ll continue to experiment and perhaps one day I will agree that gnudi are in fact, easy to make.

NOTE: A couple of recommendations for those trying this recipe:

1.     Use good quality ricotta – if your community has an authentic Italian grocer, it’s worth the trip to source quality ricotta over the standard grocery store fare.

2.     While you’re at said Italian grocer, pick up semolina. Opt for the finest grain you can find, and be generous when covering your gnudi.

3.     Be patient. I found (and have since read from others) that a good 24-48 hours rest time may be required for successful gnudi, especially if attempting a recipe made without egg or flour (such as Jamie Oliver’s).

Ingredients

Recipe credit: Jeff Crump, Earth to Table

  • 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 cup fresh ricotta cheese
  • 1 large organic egg
  • 1 large organic egg yolk
  • 1 tsp freshly ground nutmeg
  • ½ cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 4 cups semolina

Method

In a large bowl combine all ingredients through the nutmeg and whisk until smooth and fluffy (you may also use a hand blender to do this).  Fold in the flour and parsley, and season to taste with salt and pepper.

With floured hands, roll ricotta mixture into 1-inch balls and place in a large casserole dish. Cover completely with semolina and allow to rest, covered, overnight in the fridge.

When ready to serve, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and working in batches, add gnudi to the water. Poach the gnudi until they float to the top, about 4 minutes. Be careful they don’t stick to the bottom – you may need to nudge them gently with a wooden spoon. Remove from the water with a slotted spoon, and repeat until all are cooked. Serve.

I served these with roasted delicata squash and brown butter, with fresh sage from our garden. Delicata squash are abundant at the Vancouver Farmers’ Market right now, and I love them for their, well…delicate flavour and because they are generally quite small so they cook quickly, and you can eat the skin, which makes super simple.