One of my fondest food memories transports me right back to a tiny restaurant perched on the slopes of Monte Amiata in the Tuscan countryside. On the menu, the best-ever spinach-ricotta gnocchi I’ve eaten to this day.
Every time a plate with spinach gnocchi is put in front of me, a picture emerges in my head. I see myself walking up a flight of steep, old worn-out stone stairs, into a little restaurant located in a small village somewhere halfway up Monte Amiata in the southern part of Tuscany.
It was a place we used to visit once a year for three or four years in a raw during our annual holidays spend in Tuscany back when I was still in school and travelling with my parents.
The restaurant had only a handful of tables, and a menu that included just a couple of dishes, based on whatever produce was in season.
On our first visit, I opted for the spinach-ricotta gnocchi that the owner claimed were their flagship dish. They were instead special, in the shape of large dumplings rather than the typical walnut-shaped gnocchi, much softer you’d expect gnocchi to be and so so good. Returning to the place over the next couple of years, there was never a question it would be the gnocchi I’d order.
Every time I am having spinach gnocchi today I wonder, does this little restaurant still exist?
I’d love to know.
Background: What are gnocchi
Gnocchi is a traditional type of Italian pasta. The most common type are potato gnocchi, made from mashed potatoes, flour and eggs. They are shaped like little dumplings and are traditionally served with different cream or tomato sauces or simply topped with brown butter, sage leaves and ground parmesan.
Gnocchi are said to originate in the northern part of Italy where due to a colder climate, potatoes were often preferred over wheat-based pasta. In fact, their name is likely derived from the Lombard word knohha which translates into knot or walnut.
Recipe: Spinach-ricotta gnocchi
I’ve not managed yet to recreate a gnocchi recipe similar to those from the little Tuscan restaurant where the gnocchi have a rather soft consistence and large shape and will hold together when put in boiling water. However, I nevertheless love the below recipe, with the gnocchi boasting a deep spinach flavour, and generously topped with sage butter and freshly ground parmesan they taste absolutely delicious. The recipe works either as a starter or main course.
300 g fresh spinach
100 g ricotta
1 garlic clove
freshly ground nutmeg
140 g flour
2 egg yolks
4 tablespoons ground parmesan
200 g butter
15-20 fresh sage leaves
salt and pepper
additional ground parmesan for garnishing
In a large saucepan, add abundant water and 1 teaspoon of salt and bring to boil. Add the spinach and cook for 1 – 2 minutes until tender. Drain the spinach through a sieve and let cool slightly, then squeeze out excess liquid.
Roughly chop the spinach than place into a large bowl. Add ricotta and combine. Season with abundant salt, pepper, and ground nutmeg. Mix in egg yolks and ground parmesan, then add the flour and stir until fully combined.
With a teaspoon cut off small pieces of the ricotta mix and with lightly floured fingers from into small dumplings.
In a large saucepan, bring once again abundant well-salted water to boil. Reduce the heat, add dumplings and over slow heat let simmer for about 6 – 8 minutes. The gnocchi are ready as soon as they float to the surface.
With a slotted spoon, transfer the gnocchi to a rack to let drain.
Meanwhile, in a skillet, melt butter over medium heat. Add the finely chopped clove and sage and cook until fragrant, for about 1 – 2 minutes. Add gnocchi and over slow heat cook for another 3 – 4 minutes until the butter and sage have turned light brown.
Serve with more freshly grated parmesan on top.