Did you ever think you could order a dish called “Naked” at a restaurant in Italy? In Tuscany, you can do it! Gnudi, literally naked, is a delicious dish of the Tuscan Food Tradition. Only the typical Florentine humor could give this name to these mouthwatering balls made of ricotta and spinach.
The Origin of the name
If you have not any idea of the reason behind this funny name, the answer is in the ingredients. When we make Ravioli (or Tortelli), we usually fill the dough with a mixture of Ricotta cheese and spinach. In the case of Gnudi, we only cook the “naked” filling, the tasty heart of Ravioli, without their pasta “dress”. So, they look like big dumplings.
I have always heard my mum call these large gnocchi with the name of Gnudi. But in the area of Siena in southern Tuscany, they call them Malfatti. This is a weird name too. It means “badly made” and, being handmade, refers to their irregular shape.
Baked Gnudi with tomato sauce
The common way to cook these ricotta dumplings is in boiled water and served with butter, sage, and a rich grate of cheese on top.
To follow, I propose to you my mum Maria Rosa’s version for making Gnudi. She bakes them in the oven. I have never tried other kinds of recipes in my life.
She says she has never been able to cook gnudi in boiling water without them melting. So, she tried to bake them with tomato sauce. And the result was super excellent.
My mum’s Gnudi recipe is very easy-to-make. And cheap too. You need basic ingredients like eggs, spinach, and ricotta cheese. She adds to the mixture the zest of half an orange to make the dish fresher and tasteful. She uses Besciamella (white sauce) to make the tomato sauce creamy and tasty. The outcome is a dish of flavourful, delicate, and melt-in-your-mouth dumplings.
You can also try them with ragout sauce. They are still yummy. Baked Gnudi with tomato sauce is also a perfect and complete course for vegetarians.
Enjoy your “naked” ricotta and spinach dumplings!!
Baked Gnudi, Tuscan Ricotta and Spinach Dumplings
For Gnudi Dumplings
- 16 oz Fresh Ricotta Cheese 500 grams. A mix of sheep and cow's ricotta
- 2 Eggs
- 3,5 oz Parmigiano Reggiano Cheese 100 grams
- 7 oz Spinach 200 grams if boiled and squeezed, otherwise 800 grams if fresh
- 1 pince Marjoram or more, to your licking
- 1 pince Grated Nutmeg
- salt to taste
- pepper to taste
- 1/2 Half Orange Zest
For Tomato Sauce
- 1 Shallot or 1/2 onion
- 8,80 Tomato Passata Sauce 250 g
- salt to taste
- pepper to taste
- 8,80 White Sauce (Besciamella) 250 grams ready made
- Grated Nutmeg to taste
- milk to taste
- 1 tbsp Extra Virgin olive oil
- First of all, prepare all ingredients.
- Drain the ricotta of the whey. If you need, help yourself with a fork and a strainer.
- If you use fresh spinach, boil them in salted water for about 8/10 minutes. After that, squeeze them very well and chop finely with a knife or scissors.
- Chop the shallot or the onion for the tomato sauce
- Preheat your oven: to 180° degrees C (350° degrees F) if fan oven, otherwise 190° degrees C (375° degrees F) if conventional oven.
Make the Sauce
- In a pan, heat the olive oil and then add the chopped onion.
- Brown the onion and add the tomato passata. Season with salt and pepper and let the sauce cook for about 10 minutes.
- In a small pot, warm the Besciamella/white sauce (ready-made) with a sip of milk until it boils. Develop the flavor with a pinch of salt and grated nutmeg.
- Off the heat and mix the tomato sauce with Besciamella sauce.
Make Gnudi dumplings
- Put the drained ricotta and squeezed spinach in a large bowl.
- Break two eggs in the dough and add the zest of 1/2 orange.
- Then add the rest of ingredients: marjoram, 50 grams (1,75 oz) of grated Parmesan cheese, a generous pinch of grated nutmeg, salt, and pepper to your liking.
- Mix everything well with a fork or a spoon. Taste the flavor and add more salt and pepper if needed.
- Take a rectangular oven dish and create a first layer of tomato sauce.
- To make the round-shaped Gnudi, you need a bit of water to dampen your hands. Keep a small bucket with water close to you.
- Take a tablespoon of ricotta and spinach mixture and make a ball with your wet hands. Place Gnudi balls on the oven dish, well-spaced one from each other, until you fill all the space. You should be able to get approx. 20 balls.
- Cover balls with another generous layer of tomato sauce. To finish, sprinkle with abundant Parmesan cheese (50 grams, 1,75 oz, or even more, to your liking).
- Put in the oven and bake for about 15/20 minutes until parmesan cheese melts and browns.
- Let it cool for a few minutes before serving. 4 or 5 balls for each person.