I, like so many others, fell head-over-pillowy-balls-of-cheese in love with gnudi at the Spotted Pig in NYC, where Chef April Bloomfield made them famous. Jamie Oliver's version in his new book, Jamie Oliver's Comfort Food, is much like his friend Bloomfield's, but with a few personal touches.
Nutmeg-laced rounds of ricotta and Parmesan cheeses are rolled in semolina, then left largely to their own devices. They sit uncovered in the fridge for at least 8 hours to form a skin, and then boil unprotected by the pasta armor the combo usually wears, resulting in bursting, creamy dumplings. If clouds were made of cheese, and naughty, they'd be gnudi. Oliver then tosses them with butter, more Parmesan, crispy sage leaves, and a spritz of lemon that wakes everything right up.
Why I picked this recipe: Once you've had gnudi, there's no way you'd pass up recreating that magic at home.
What worked: The finished dish, if you can get there in one piece, is heaven. The simplicity of the nutmeg, sage, butter, and lemon let the gnudi speak for themselves.
What didn't: Gnudi are temperamental, to say the least, and far, far from foolproof. For my first batch, I used a very nice ricotta that had a lot of moisture to it—too much, as it turned out. I couldn't form balls until the scoops had a decent coating of semolina, and even then they were incredibly soft. The boiling was almost too much for them, and the hot pan definitely was. They split wide open, and I was left with a heartbreaking, though delicious, pile of oozing gnudi. For my second batch, I drained the ricotta in a colander lined with a double layer of paper-towels for an hour, and then proceeded. What a difference! I could scoop and ball the ricotta with no problem, and the gnudi stood up much better to the rest of the preparation. (Though they are tender little things, and they're always going to be somewhat fragile, so handle with care.)
Suggested tweaks: If you can't scoop your ricotta into your hands and gently roll it into a ball, drain it until you can. (As to that ricotta, Oliver just calls for best-quality; I used cow's milk, and the gnudi were mild and milky, but Bloomfield uses sheep's milk, which adds funk and tang. Use whichever floats your boat.) And here's a few more notes on the recipe, to make it a bit easier on you: Oliver says to shape the cheese mixture into 1-inch balls, which worked out to be about a tablespoon each; I ended up with just about 50 gnudi. Lower the water from a boil to a simmer to reduce the risk of them falling apart, and try a test batch. If they still want to explode, give them a second roll in the semolina before adding them to the water—the skin will be tougher, but they stand a better chance of making it to the plate in one piece. You can try reducing the cooking time by up to a minute to further tip the scales in your favor.
From Jamie Oliver's Comfort Food by Jamie Oliver. Copyright 2014 Jamie Oliver. Excerpted by permission of Ecco, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.
- 2 lbs best-quality ricotta
- 3 1/2 oz Parmesan cheese
- 1 whole nutmeg, for grating
- Fine semolina, for dusting
- To Serve
- Good-quality unsalted butter
- 1 bunch of fresh sage (1 oz)
- Parmesan cheese, for grating
- 1 lemon
Put the ricotta into a bowl with a pinch of sea salt and black pepper, then finely grate in the Parmesan and a few scrapings of nutmeg. Beat it together, then have a taste to check that the balance of seasoning is right—you want the nutmeg to be very subtle. Generously cover a large tray with semolina, then roll the ricotta mixture into 1-inch balls, rolling them in the tray of semolina as you go until very well coated. You should get around 40 gnudi from this amount of mixture. Shake and cover very well with the semolina and leave for 8 hours, or preferably overnight, in the fridge (don’t cover the tray)—the semolina will dehydrate the ricotta, giving the gnudi a lovely fine coating.
The gnudi will only take 3 minutes to cook, and I like to cook them in two-portion batches to take care of them. So, shake the excess semolina off two portions’ worth of gnudi and cook them in boiling salted water while you melt a large pat of butter in a frying pan on a medium heat and pick in about 20 sage leaves to crisp up. Remove the crispy leaves to a plate and scoop the gnudi directly from the water into the frying pan, adding a spoonful of the cooking water. When the butter and water have emulsified, take off the heat and grate over a layer of Parmesan, add just a few drops of lemon juice, then toss together. Serve in warm bowls straightaway, with an extra grating of nutmeg and Parmesan and the crispy sage leaves, while you get on with the next batch, wiping the frying pan clean between batches. Welcome to the naked club.
Gnudi can be easily transformed with the addition of one seasonal ingredient. Asparagus tips, podded peas, wild mushrooms, or a few fresh tomatoes—any of these with that sage butter will rock the party. In summer, some smashed fresh basil leaves in the ricotta mixture are lovely; or in winter, a splash of quality red wine used to deglaze the frying pan adds much deliciousness.