Saturday, April 10, 2010

Spinach and Ricotta Gnocchi with Sage Butter Recipe - Cooking Italy 6

For some unknown reason, I've always had a rather irrational fear of making gnocchi - I had managed to convince myself that they were impossibly difficult to make, that I would end up with something that either resembled bullets or, worse yet, would fall to bits when cooked and that I would be left with some kind of raft of horrible sludge bobbing around atop a pot of boiling water.

So when making spinach gnocchi was presented as an assignment for the Cooking Italy group, I thought it was time to face my fears and give them a try.  (Go and visit Angela at Spinach Tiger or view my Cooking Italy page to learn more about the group and see what some of the others have been cooking.)  To cut a long story short, our mission, should we decide to accept it was to cook the Spinach and Ricotta Gnocchi recipe from Marcella Hazan's Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, served with a creamy tomato sauce.

Well, maybe it was beginner's luck, but I found these to actually be incredibly easy to make (a little bit fiddly maybe, but certainly not difficult), and the resulting little "pillows" of spinach and ricotta were light as air and never even hinted at falling apart. Despite the fact that I left out the onion (since we don't do onion in our house), these gnocchi were certainly not short on flavour - the ricotta is light and delicate, the flavour of the spinach is earthy and mellow, and then they were spiked with the sharp, salty tang of prosciutto (you could simply omit this for a vegetarian version) and parmesan, and a bit of freshly grated nutmeg pulls it all together.

I knew the creamy tomato sauce wouldn't be that popular in our household, and as I happened to have a nice bunch of sage on hand, I opted to serve these with Marcella's Butter and Sage Sauce.   This added a note of richness, and I thought made this seem rather elegant - okay, so my presentation in these pictures doesn't look particularly elegant - but I think had I served half a dozen of these in a beautiful wide bowl and drizzled the sauce over the top a little more artfully, this could have been a very stylish dish indeed.

Another thing that is particularly appealing about this dish is that every step of this can be prepared in advance, in fact the gnocchi freeze beautifully and can be cooked from frozen.  Getting them to the table is then a simple matter of boiling water, literally just 3-4 minutes of cooking time, and melting butter.  Perfect for making on a wet Sunday afternoon, and bringing out for a quick and easy week night dinner.

Spinach & Ricotta Gnocchi Recipe
with Butter & Sage Sauce
Adapted from Marcella Hazan's
Serves 4
Click here for a printable copy of this recipe

For the gnocchi:
450g spinach, fresh or frozen
2 tablespoons butter
2 slices prosciutto (optional)
3/4 cup fresh ricotta
2/3 cup plain flour
2 egg yolks
1 cup parmesan, freshly grated
nutmeg, freshly grated
extra parmesan for serving

For the sauce:
4-5 tablespoons butter
6-8 fresh sage leaves

First prepare the spinach.  

If using fresh spinach (which is what I used), remove stems, then soak leaves in a sink full of cold water, and swish around gently with your hand to remove any dirt or bugs.  Drain and repeat several times if necessary.  Drain.  Then, using no more water than what is still clinging to the leaves, put the spinach into a large pan, add 1 tablespoon of salt, cover, and set over medium heat until wilted down and tender.  This will take about 4-5 minutes.  Drain, and once the spinach is cool enough to handle, squeeze as much moisture out of it as you can, chop coarsely and set aside.

If using frozen spinach, Marcella says to "cook in a covered pan with salt for about 5 minutes".  Now, I can't vouch for this because I've never used frozen spinach, but I wouldn't have thought that this step was necessary, as I would have expected it to be already cooked, but I suggest that you perhaps follow the directions on the packet.  Either way, once it is cooked it needs to drained, cooled, squeezed to remove any moisture, and then chopped.

Next heat the butter in a pan over medium heat, then add the chopped prosciutto.  Cook just for a few seconds - really just enough to coat the prosciutto in the butter - you are not aiming for crispy here.  Then add the chopped spinach, a generous pinch of salt, and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring regularly.

Empty the pan into a bowl and allow to cool to room temperature.  Once cooled, add the flour and the ricotta, mixing together well.  Add the egg yolks, grated parmesan, and a "smidgeon" of freshly grated nutmeg (about 1/8th teaspoon), and mix together until everything is incorporated.  Taste and adjust seasoning.

Roll small amounts of the mixture in the palm of your hand to make "small pellets", dusting your hands with a little flour if you find the mixture is sticking to your palms.  Marcella says:  "Ideally they should be no bigger than 1/2 inch across, but if you find it troublesome to make them that small you can try for 3/4 inch.  The smaller the better, because they cook more quickly and favour a better distribution of sauce."  I have to say that I didn't get my ruler out to check the size of mine, and I expect that mine were probably a little on the large side - but I'm not one to fuss, and I'm calling them "rustic".  I got 40 gnocchi out of this quantity of ingredients, and froze half of them - I just popped them in the freezer in a single layer on a baking tray till frozen, then put them into a snaplock bag.

To serve - bring a large pot of water to the boil, and salt liberally.  Drop the gnocchi, a few at a time, into the boiling water.  They will sink to the bottom of the pot, and then when they bob back up to the surface (which will take about 4 or 5 minutes) they are ready.  Using a slotted spoon, scoop the gnocchi out and place in a warm serving bowl.  Spoon a little of your chosen sauce over them.  Continue cooking your gnocchi a few at a time, adding each batch with a little more sauce to your serving bowl as you go.  Once they are all done, pour any remaining sauce over the top, and serve with grated parmesan.

For the Butter and Sage Sauce:

Put the butter in a small pan over medium heat.  Once the butter has melted it will begin to boil and foam up quite dramatically.  Be brave - the foam will begin to subside, and the colour will turn to deep gold.  Then add the sage leaves, cook for just a few seconds, turning them around in the butter, then pour the butter and leaves over the gnocchi.

I know that this is a recipe I will be making again and again - those bags in the freezer are so perfect to bring out when you need a quick dinner.

Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking


  1. Spinach gnocchi sounds delicious. Frozen spinach, when a recipe calls for cooked, chopped spinach is far superior to fresh spinach. This is probably the only vegetable where this is true. It has already had the grit and bugs removed, is drained well and chopped and can be heated in a microwave or on the stove. It is available in small portions in free-flow bags. Spinach couldn't be easier.

  2. This looks delightful. Your little gnocchi look so perfect all lined up there like that. I need to try this one...a small batch maybe as I am prob the only one who is going to eat it. Your photos are great...the butter sauce certainly looks good with the gnocci.

  3. Gorgeous! I love it! By the way, I froze the remainer of mine. Cooked straight from freezer for a work lunch...were perfect :) I love the butter and sage sauce. Beautiful.

  4. I've never made gnocchi but you've made it sound easier than I thought with all of your pictures. I know I would love the sage & butter sauce.

    Thanks for stopping by my kitchen. It's a pleasure to meet you.

  5. The butter sage sauce is a great idea for these. I made, didn't really like, but i was rushed and should try to give another chance.

  6. I made my first gnocchi this past year and although I found it to be pretty easy--it was a bit "fiddly" (love that word!) ;-) to make often. That sage and butter sauce sounds especially incredible.

  7. OH gnocchi! It's wonderful you made your own. I've never made my own pasta but it's gotta happen at some point. And butter and sage is brilliant and classic combo. :)

    Thanks for visiting and linking The Sugar Bar. So nice of you! Glad to meet you, via Sasanakku x

  8. Ciao !!We call this kind of gnudi (naked) because they are naked ravioli yours look delish !!

  9. Clare - thanks for the tip on the frozen spinach. I will give that a try next time. If using frozen, I think a 250-300g packet should be enough.

    Kayte - thanks for visiting. I would still make the whole quantity (in fact I think next time I will make a double quantity), as they are rather fun to make and are brilliant to have in the freezer. Especially if you are the only one eating them - just take 6-8 out for yourself and drop them straight into boiling water.

    Melissa - freezing them is great isn't it - perfect for cooking up a single serving or as you suggest a quick lunch.

    Sam - thanks for visiting - nice to meet you too. I think you would find the gnocchi surprisingly easy and lots of fun to make.

    Angela - hope you give these another chance. They are definitely great to make when you have time on your hands.

    Deb - yes they are a bit fiddly to make often - I think giving up an afternoon to make a big batch and then freezing is the way to go. The sage and butter sauce would also be great on ravioli I think.

    Diva - oh, I hope you have a go at making your own pasta sometime. Really much easier than you think and fun. Thanks for stopping by - nice to meet you too.

    Natalia - I love that you call these gnudi - great name. I'm curious - would they not be called gnudi if they were served in a more substantial sauce?

  10. My mouth is watering looking at this! I will definitely try it. Will be coming back for more ...

  11. Lily - thanks for stopping by. Hope you enjoy these as much as I did.

  12. i like it the way you make it
    my mom was make it but in another way
    but its yummy too :)


Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to leave a comment. I love hearing from you and your comments are like gold to me. Your comment will be visible as soon as it has been approved.