I have finally found an adult equivalent to the sweets I ravenously gobbled at friends’ houses when I was younger and Mom wasn’t there to tell me not to. Remember Gushers?
Gnudi is much better and quite different; savory not sweet, it still satisfies my childish excitement for food that comes with a surprise. The first gnudi I tried wasn’t authentic Italian because it wasn’t completely “naked”- but it got me hooked.
True to Italian cooking, the ingredients are few: fresh ricotta, egg, flour and parmesan cheese- or pecorino Toscano if you want to be local about it- and sometimes spinach. In fact, the recipe is quite similar to the ricotta gnocchi I made at La Petraia. The difference is that gnudi are bigger, rounder, lighter and more delicate than gnocchi, which can sometimes be a bit over-kneaded, resulting in a glutinous thumb-shaped disaster. They are both considered dumplings.
Gnudi has been around for a while. Salimbene di Adam was an Italian Franciscan friar, traveler and chronicler in 13th century. It is in his chronicles that gnudi was first mentioned. His introduction to “ravioli without pasta” (gnudi) occurred when he was visiting Tuscany on his way north to France.
Warm and bursting with savory fresh and creamy ricotta, gnudi takes me back to Tuscany, where for lunch I would eat a bowl of fresh ricotta with my neighbour, Alessandro's olive oil generously drizzled on top.
In 2006, NewYork Magazine claimed the gnudi at Falai, was New York’s best. His ricotta gnudi is served with baby spinach, brown butter, cappuccino foam and crispy sage ($16). The Florentine chef-owner Iacopo Falai presents his delicate, nutmeg-scented gnudi as “a woman’s dish”. Curmudgeonly mumbling to myself about all the women I know who would prefer a steak to salad any day I continued my search.
The most recent reviews for the best gnudi came from restaurants with female-chef run kitchens.
Chef April Bloomfield of The Spotted Pig ( picture on the right) in Greenwich Village, New York, makes the best (and the first) gnudi I have ever had. For $15, five small parmesan-speckled globes of sheep’s ricotta gnudi sit in a shallow bowl, gleaming with nutty brown butter and topped with fried sage. The gnudi at The Spotted Pig are modest - that is, they are not completely naked. The ricotta is wrapped in a semolina pasta skin- and yet they are still somehow round and seamless. While devouring the gnudi I was - and still am - pondering how she did it. Spherical wonders pop with fluffy ricotta when you take a bite- and then all your troubles are gone. It’s a sneaky trick for foodies like me who need to understand every step in the process but who are also easily seduced by food until thoughts and surroundings fall into black holes and nothing exists but taste and texture.
Point is, I don’t really mind not knowing how she did it (although I would like to know), as long as I can find a suitable substitute when I am in Toronto.
Back in Toronto, I discover another female chef has conquered gnudi. Chef Donna Dooher of Temple Kitchen hand-makes her ricotta gnudi and serves them with smoked Berkshire bacon, chanterelles and fava beans ($13 on the lunch and dinner menu, picture below).
Tutti Matti is the closet I have come to Tuscan food in Toronto. Proudly framed on the wall when you enter is a picture of world famous Panzano butcher, Dario Cecchini ( my own picture on the left). Anyone who loves and respects Dario as much as he does his beef understands the Italian passion for food. Chef Alida Soloman sometimes puts gnudi on the menu. I called today and her gnudi is on the menu tonight! I have read reviews and they all rave about it. In two weeks I am planning to eat here for my birthday dinner with my mom, another Scorpio. I am calling today to make sure they have gnudi on the menu the night of our reservation. If not, I will change the reservation for a night they do. I need to try Chef Soloman’s own sumptuous version of gnudi.
Gnudi is delicate; But it takes patience, practice and skill to perfect- not breasts.
Chef Eric Walker of Panty ironically stays truer to Italy by using local, sustainable Canadian ingredients and not Italian. Chef Walker makes his gnudi using Canadian Red Fife and Ontario Buffalo ricotta.
There are tons of recipes online. Try them out and if I don’t hear from you, I’ll know you fell into the lovely black hole.