I always seem to do things backwards. I needed to move to Italy to discover and appreciate American cuisine, but now that I live here and am surrounded by traditional Italian dishes, it took an Englishman to introduce me to this Tuscan delicacy. Gnudi are basically ravioli filling without the pasta wrapper, hence the name which means “nakeds” in Italian. The result is a soft, pillowy ricotta cheese dumpling that can be dressed in a variety of ways.

As I mentioned here, the English star chef Stevie Parle demonstrated his take on gnudi at Identita’ Golose this year and I was blown away. He uses no eggs, which are commonly used as a binder in the recipe. Instead, he simply rolls the cheese mixture into balls and lets them sit under semolina flour for a few hours (or better still, overnight). While they rest, the semolina creates a light film around the gnudi that will solidify and protect them when they are boiled. When you bite into one, the soft, warm filling bursts open in your mouth and surprises the palate. Stevie garnishes his gnudi agretti simply with olive oil and blanched agretti (also known as friar’s beard).

I made them last night for the first time, fully expecting something to go wrong, but they turned out to be both beautiful and delicious. While eating I decided it was unimportant which road I took to discover gnudi, who cares if I went through England instead of Tuscany? The important thing is, I’m here now.

Gnudi with fresh peas and agretti

Serves 4

  • 17 oz / 500g fresh ricotta (sheep’s milk is ideal)
  • 1 1/4 cup / 200 g of shelled, fresh peas (or 1 cup frozen and thawed)
  • 3/4 cup / 75 g of grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon rind
  • 1 bunch of agretti green stem (friar’s beard) pulled from stalks and rinsed
  • 2 lbs / 1 kg of fine semolina for Pasta
  • good olive oil

Drain the ricotta for an hour (or overnight) in a sieve or colander. In a small pan of well-salted boiling water cook the peas until they are soft, then pulse chop them in a blender. Mix the ricotta with the peas, Parmesan, and lemon rind, then season with salt and pepper to taste. Pour more than half of the semolina into a wide tray. Delicately roll the ricotta into balls about 2 in (5 cm) in diameter then gently place them into the semolina and turn to coat, then cover them with the remaining semolina. Let them sit for a few hours (or up to a day) covered in semolina and they will form a delicate protective skin.
When you are ready to serve; bring two pans of water to a boil, then season well with salt. Shake off excess semolina from the gnudi and carefully slide them into a pot of gently boiling water. Cook for 3-4 minutes, they should rise to the top of the pan when ready. Meanwhile, blanch the agretti for 2-3 minutes in the other pan. Once the gnudi have risen to the top, carefully remove them from the pan and place into a large warm bowl, generously pour over olive oil. Drain the agretti and toss with a little more olive oil.

Serve 6 or 7 gnudi per person and garnish with the blanched agretti.

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