The naked ones!
I had known ravioli, home-made pasta with a filling of spinach, ricotta and Parmesan, all my life before I first tasted these delicious parcels known as ‘i gnudi’, the naked ones, because they are made with no dough wrapping. I was in Cortona, the Etruscan town on top a hill, and the ‘naked ones’ were prepared with great care by my mother-in-law. I followed the whole process, and tried to repeat it in my Oxford kitchen. The only difference was in the sauce, in Tuscany they like it with a meat and tomato ragù, which I think tends to kill the delicate taste of the small “naked ones”, and I prefer melted butter with sage leaves. Besides, the dish is mentioned in c. 1282, and there were certainly no tomatoes at the time in Italy! The recipe can be found on p. 29 of How we fell in love with Italian food. Here’s the recipe:
Serves 6-8 (10-12 gnudi per person) as a first course, suitable for vegetarians.
300g. Ricotta (ideally made with ewe milk)
1 egg (whole, or yolk only depending on the consistency of the other ingredients)
100g freshly grated Parmesan
½ teaspoon grated nutmeg
50g white flour
Salt and pepper
A few fresh sage leaves
30g melted butter.
First wash the spinach. To cook it, heat one teaspoon of olive oil in a large pan, add the spinach to the pan and a pinch of salt. Cover.
No more water should be necessary. In about 3-4 minutes, the spinach should be ready. Remove and put in a colander. When cooled a little, make sure that you remove as much of the moisture as possible by squeezing it with your hands, or by putting a weight over the spinach in the colander. Chop the spinach, and squeeze again.
In a large bowl, add the spinach to the ricotta passed through a sieve (or possibly, if it is very fresh, left to drain overnight). Add a generous pinch of grated nutmeg, the grated Parmesan, the egg and some salt and pepper. Mix well. Taste the mixture and adjust the seasoning.
At this point, using some flour, start making fairly small-sized balls (about 3cm diameter) in your hands, adding more flour if necessary. Place all the naked ravioli on a tray or a clean cloth and sprinkle with a little flour.
Boil some water in a large pan, add some salt, and then carefully drop the naked ravioli into the water. They will be cooked in less that 5 minutes.
Remove them carefully with a slotted spoon and arrange them in a well-greased oven dish, pour over some melted butter, then sprinkle over a few sage lives and grated Parmesan. Slide under a grill for a few minutes and serve hot.
In Tuscany they also serve them with a meat and tomato sauce, rather than grilling.