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Spinach and Basil Gnudi are delicate and delicious ricotta dumplings served with pomodoro sauce. A combination of spinach and fresh basil add fantastic flavors.
What are Gnudi?
Gnudi (pronounced like nudie – the g is silent) are soft balls of ricotta cheese and spinach that are simmered until soft and tender.
The word gnudi is the Tuscan word for “naked” – and these Spinach and Basil Gnudi are basically naked ravioli. Picture a ricotta cheese ravioli but without the pasta shell around it.
It sounds unusual, but our Spinach and Basil Gnudi are quite easy to make and perfect for a special dinner.
Fresh basil, baby spinach, Parmesan cheese, and other simple seasonings add wonderful flavor to this delicate, pillow-soft dumpling. A simple pomodoro (or tomato) sauce and grated cheese finish things off.
Key ingredients and Substitutions
- Whole milk ricotta cheese – You could use part skim ricotta, but the milk fat in the whole milk ricotta really shines through and gives these soft dumplings body and flavor.
- Baby spinach – Simple and quick to prepare, no need to remove the stems as long as you are using baby spinach. (If you are using larger spinach leaves, you’ll want to trim off the stems.)
- Fresh basil – One of the key flavors in our version of gnudi, don’t be tempted to use dry or frozen basil. Fresh is the only way to go.
- Eggs – Both a whole egg and an egg yolk are used as a binder to hold the dumplings together.
- Two types of flour – All-purpose flour is used to bind the filling into balls. And you’ll roll the finished ricotta balls in semolina flour before chilling and boiling.
- Grated Parmesan cheese – This is another critical ingredient to the dish and helps tighten up the balls and add flavor. You could substitute Romano if you wish.
- Seasonings – Kosher salt, white pepper and freshly grated nutmeg season and finish the flavor profile.
- Pomodoro sauce – A simple tomato sauce is prepared to serve over the Spinach and Basil Gnudi using canned, pureed tomatoes. You can buy a jarred pomodoro sauce if you’d like – just choose one that is infused with basil if possible.
- Italian bread – Optional and to serve grilled on the side. A little bit of bread is a delicious way to sop up every last little bit of this delectable meal.
Special supplies needed
- Medium saute pan
- Medium bowl
- Medium pots
- A spider strainer like this
How do I make it Spinach and Basil Gnudi?
- Sauté the spinach and fresh basil in olive oil. Cool, then squeeze out all of the water, then chop finely and set aside.
- Mix ricotta, egg and egg yolk, all-purpose flour, Parmesan cheese, salt, pepper, nutmeg and cooled drained chopped spinach and basil.
- Pour semolina flour in a wide bowl. Use a small scoop and portion out 24 1 ¼-ounce balls, dropping one at a time into the semolina, rolling and shaping as you go. Place onto a small parchment lined pan and refrigerate.
- Prepare the simple pomodoro sauce by sautéing garlic and onion in olive oil then adding canned pureed tomatoes, fresh chopped basil, salt and pepper and cooking for ten minutes.
- Fill a medium pot half-full with water, add olive oil and salt and bring to a boil. Lower to a medium simmer and carefully cook the ricotta balls (in batches) for about 4-5 minutes each.
- Place cooked ricotta balls onto a platter and top with the sauce. Then serve with more grated Parmesan on top, plus optional grilled Italian bread.
Chef’s Tip –
Achieving the correct texture and consistency, (consistency will be similar to stiff mashed potatoes), rolling in semolina, as well as refrigerating the gnudi before cooking, is important to a firm finished dumpling. Just be sure to avoid over-cooking. You want to maintain a creamy center and a firm but soft outer layer. For a 1 ¼ ounce portion, try not to cook for longer than five minutes.
Frequently asked Questions
Can I make Spinach and Basil Gnudi ahead of time? Yes. You can make the balls ahead, roll them into the semolina flour and refrigerate for up to two days before boiling and serving.
How do I store any leftovers? Store refrigerated for up to two days.
How do I reheat the leftovers? A quick zap in the microwave to heat through is the best way to reheat gnudi. Just be sure not to over cook as you reheat.
Can I freeze gnudi? We haven’t tried freezing our guidi, but it should work. Freeze them in a single layer so they don’t stick to each other and wrap tightly to avoid freezer burn. You may also need to reroll the gnudi in more semolina after thawing.
Why did my gnudi fall apart when it cooked? It was probably too wet or you didn’t chill it long enough before cooking. Try adding a little more flour to the ricotta mixture, and also make sure you’ve fully squeezed out all of the moisture from cooked spinach. Then fully chill before attempting to cook.
You may enjoy these other Italian dishes:
- Italian Beef Rollups
- Italian Meat Ragu
- Pappa Al Pomodoro (Bread and Tomato Soup)
- Marinara Sauce
- Mario Batali’s Green Beans (Fagiolini in Padella)
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
5 ounces baby spinach (about 2 ½ cups packed)
2 ounces fresh basil (about 1 cup packed)
1 pound whole milk ricotta cheese
1 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 whole egg
1 egg yolk
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon white pepper
Few grinds fresh nutmeg (about 1/8th teaspoon)
1 cup semolina flour (This is a coarse grain made from wheat. We used Bob’s Red Mill)
Basil Pomodoro sauce
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 cup yellow onion, finely minced
1 tablespoon fresh garlic, finely minced
1 28-ounce can pureed tomatoes (we use Cento or Pantene kitchen-ready, or you can puree canned whole tomatoes)
¼ cup packed fresh basil, coarsely cut
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons butter
Salt and olive oil for water
Additional Parmesan cheese, for serving
Grilled Italian bread slices, optional
If serving with the grilled bread, you can do this ahead of time to get it out of the way. Read last step.
In a medium saute pan, over medium heat, add the olive oil and saute the spinach and basil for five minutes until wilted and the mixture starts to get watery. Remove from heat and place in a sieve over a bowl to drain. Once cool enough to handle, squeeze out all liquid. You should end up with 1/3 cup of the spinach/basil mixture after squeezing out the water.
Discard the water and chop the spinach/basil mixture fine (rice size). Set aside.
In a medium bowl, add the ricotta cheese (no need to drain) along with the chopped spinach/basil, Parmesan cheese, all-purpose flour, whole egg, egg yolk, salt, pepper and nutmeg. Stir with a wooden spoon to combine.
Pour the semolina flour into a wide bowl or pie plate and line a small sheet tray with parchment paper.
Use a number 40 scoop and begin scooping slightly heaping scoops of the mixture into the semolina and then onto the parchment lined pan. You should get 24 balls or about 1 ¼ ounces each. As you drop each one in the semolina, roll and form into a ball with your fingers. The mixture is soft so be gentle as you roll. (Add more semolina if you need it, but one cup is about enough to coat 24 balls)
Line them up on the parchment covered sheet tray and refrigerate while you make the sauce. You will roll again before cooking so don’t worry if they are not perfect.
In a medium pot, over medium heat, saute the garlic and onion in the olive oil for about five minutes until soft. Add the canned pureed tomatoes along with the basil, salt and pepper and bring to a simmer. Cover with a splatter screen and cook ten minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the butter. Keep warm for serving or reheat when ready.
Bring a half full medium pot of water to a boil and add a teaspoon of kosher salt and a quarter cup of olive oil. Keep the water at a low to medium rolling boil.
Remove the Gnudi from the refrigerator and gently form each one into a nice round shape.
Cook in three batches by gently dropping eight balls into the gently boiling/simmering water and cook until they float, about 4-5 minutes. The longer they are in the water, the firmer they become in the center. To keep the outside cooked and firm but the inside soft and creamy, do not cook for longer than five minutes.
Gently remove with spider or strainer to a platter, or keep warm in a low oven between batches.
Use the strainer or skimmer to skim the water of particles between the three batches. The water will look cloudy but that is OK.
Once you have cooked all 24, serve by lining the serving platter with sauce, lining up the cooked ricotta balls and adding more sauce over the top. Sprinkle on additional grated Parmesan as you serve.
Serve four per serving for a total of six servings with the remaining sauce and Parmesan on the side.
If serving with the grilled Italian bread, slice on the bias and brush both sides with olive oil. Then cook on a ribbed pan over medium high heat with a plate or pan over the top to press them down to get rib marks, about 3-5 minutes. This can be done in advance.
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