It sure looks like a pillow, doesn't it? A pillow with flecks of thyme.
Gnudi, a 'naked' dumping - essentially ravioli filling without the pasta to envelop it- won a huge following in the US after the Spotted Pig, the restaurant that introduced the term 'gastropub' to America, presented them on its first menu (where gnudi remain to this day). It was love at first bite - even for me. I adored the little plump, impossibly soft dumplings. And promptly forgot about gnudi. For nearly 5 years.
And then a visit to Sportello reminded me of how much I loved gnudi (though I wasn't crazy about Sportello's accompanying bitter walnut sauce). How could ricotta taste so heavenly? The soft, supple texture was just so darn appealing, I couldn't stop eating them. I didn't really want to share them with my dining companion. But I played nice. And give him a couple.
I don't know what came over me this week, but I was suddenly hit with the urge to make gnudi - and make them gluten-free. I looked at a few recipes - all of them had flour. Some had semolina and white flour. Some just had white flour. Gnudi don't depend on flour for texture but for binding. So a conversion to gluten-free was rather simple.
When I make gluten-free conversions, I don't use a one-size-fits all 'all purpose' mix. Because I don't like the taste or texture of potato starch and try to avoid corn because of inflammatory issues, I don't include either in my recipes. I avoid rice flour unless I can hydrate it prior to use, which is impossible in most baked goods (the rice flour makes the product taste sandy). Though some don't like it, I find that buckwheat, especially light buckwheat, has a mild flavor when part of a gluten-free combination of flours. In this gnudi recipe, I used light buckwheat, tapioca starch, and, for dredging the gnudi (coating in flour) I used rice flour. Because the gnudi are cooked by poaching, the rice flour actually forms a nice seal around the outside of the dumpling.
To make the gnudi, you combine ricotta with egg and Parmiggiano-Reggiano, an herb of your choosing, a little salt and pepper, and some flour for binding. The dumplings are then poached (rather than boiled) in hot water and then sauced. Because they are extremely delicate when they first come out of the water, they need to be handled with care. If allowed to sit, they will toughen up a bit as they cool (thanks to the starch matrix) and can be finished in sauce later on.
Add too much flour, and the delicate pillows become a little more chewy. Add not quite enough, and the gnudi fall apart when you attempt to lift them out of the water. Never try to drain the gnudi in a colander - you'll just make a mess. A slotted spoon is your friend. Not literally. I mean, it could be. That would be kinda odd. Ahh, who am I to judge?
Gnudi can be made ahead, though I don't recommend holding them any longer than overnight. They'll need to be refreshed - poached in water or simmered in sauce - and they'll lose some of their suppleness. In an ideal world you'd make and serve them immediately. Since few of us actually live in that ideal world, making them ahead by an hour and holding them at room temperature until you are ready to finish them will work well without compromising them too much.
You'll want to give yourself a few hours to make the gnudi - not because they are complicated but because you'll want them to sit twice - one after you've mixed them and again after you've dredged them in rice flour. The sitting time gives the flour time to absorb some of the moisture and helps the gnudi bind a bit better.
gnudi with brown butter and kale
I haven't written down any formal sauce recipes here. I believe you should serve your gnudi with the sauce of your choosing. If you Google "gnudi", you'll find a range of sauces and suggestions. I enjoyed mine in two sauces - a walnut/parm/olive oil 'pesto' and in a simple brown butter sauce augmented with the juice of the pink lemons I purchased yesterday. You can serve gnudi with just about anything - as the cliche goes, you are only limited by your imagination.
One last thought: you can test your mettle by reducing the amount of buckwheat in the recipe by 1 to 2 teaspoons. Obviously the less flour in the dumpling, the more delicate it will become. Good luck!
Gnudi with butter, kale, lemon, capers, chicken stock, parmigiano-reggiano
Cake & Commerce's Gluten-free Gnudi
Preparation time: start to finish, about 1.5 to 2 hours.
For the dumplings:
3/4 lb Fresh, local Ricotta (sheep is preferable...cow is fine)
3 to 4 oz Parmigiano-reggiano, grated
1/2 t salt
pepper to taste
1 egg yolk
1/4 teaspoon fresh thyme, tarragon, or the herb of your choosing, cut into near-dust
fine zest of a single small lemon or 1/2 a large lemon
squeeze of lemon, about 1/2 t lemon juice, fresh
2 T Light Buckwheat Flour
1 T + 2 t Tapioca Flour
For dredging gnudi before poaching:
2 T Rice flour
1 t Tapioca flour
(To make these with conventional flour, substitute scant 1/2 cup flour for the buckwheat and tapioca and dredge in wheat flour instead of rice and tapioca).
Before starting, make sure ricotta is relatively dry. If it is wet, place ricotta on a few paper towels inside a colander and drain. If it is dry and drained, it will not leave marks on the paper towel. Allow to drain for about an hour if wet.
To make gnudi, combine all ingredients in a bowl and mix with a spoon until well combined. Let the mix sit for about 30 minutes - the flour will absorb some of the moisture and the dough will become stiffer and slightly easier to handle.
Combine rice flour and tapioca flour together in a mixing bowl. Wetting your hands beforehand, pinch off a piece of the gnudi dough and roll into an oblong shape not unlike a football. Roll the gnudi in the rice flour and tapioca flour mixture, making sure gnudi is coated. Place gnudi on a sheet pan lined with parchment. If you use a lot of flour, you will have no sticking issues. Allow gnudi to sit out at room temperature for at least 30 minutes - again, the flour must absorb some of the water on the surface of the gnudi.
At this point you can set gnudi aside for a few hours if you aren't ready to cook them yet. If you are planning to serve them as part of a meal, it is actually easier to cook them ahead and store them in the refrigerator - as long as overnight (though I don't recommend that. I actually left them for two nights, and by the second day they lost some of that 'lighter than air' quality I liked about them immediately after making them).
To cook the gnudi, bring a pot of water to a simmer. DO NOT BOIL - the gnudi could fall apart! Gently simmer the gnudi for about 2 minutes or until they float to the surface, and remove from heat with a slotted spoon. VERY GENTLY place on a parchment lined pan. If you want to get fancy, you can rub a little olive oil on the parchment for the perfect non-stick surface.
At this point you can store the gnudi - overnight at most - or finish your dish. It is okay to hold them out for an hour - they will start to dry out, so keep them covered with a little bit of plastic.
Here are some idea for sauces for you. I don't have a single suggestion for a sauce - there are many great recipes out there that will pair well with the gnudi. A few suggestions:
Sage Brown Butter
Toasted Walnut Brown Butter Sauce
Poached lobster sauce (please kill them humanely, okay?)
I tossed mine in brown butter and garlic with thyme, Aleppo pepper, parmigiano-reggiano, and kale. It was delicious. The walnut/parm pesto was really good, too, but it was a little too heavy for the gnudi. I'd prefer something a little lighter. maybe something with a shellfish stock or poultry stock.
Toasted walnuts: don't toast them too long or they get bitter! And take as much of the skin off as you can.
Thank you to Ms. Jacqueline Church of The Leather District Gourmet for featuring this recipe on her S/O/L/E Food Tuesday post.