Thursday, July 10, 2014

Nudi Success!

Um, no, this isn't about gardening in the buff, it's about finally making Ravioli Nudi (aka Gnudi) without having them fall apart when I cook them. There's all sorts of recipes for Ravioli Nudi to be found online and in books, but according to Giuliano Bugialli the authentic ones come from Florence and to be authentic they must have no flour in the filling. The nudi part of the name comes from the fact that these are ravioli in the buff, completely uncloaked by pasta dough, although they do have a dusting of flour on the exterior. My starting point for the Nudi is Bugialli's recipe in his book The Fine Art of Italian Cooking. I veer from his recipe in a few respects, such as substituting chard for spinach, using a higher proportion of ricotta, and using sage brown butter, but I've stayed true to his instruction that the filling must not contain flour. That's why these are Nudi and not Gnocchi, that absence of flour. The secret to success is to remove as much water from the greens as possible, and I've also learned to remove as much water from the ricotta as well. I've tried making these in the past and have always had problems with the Nudis disintegrating when I cook them, so this time I took a few extra measures to assure a less moist "filling", and ta da, it worked!

Secret #1 - The Chard or Spinach. My hands must not be as strong as Giuliano's because I can never manually squeeze out enough moisture either by the fistful or by twisting in a towel. This time I start with squeezing as much moisture out by the fistful, but then I take the wads of squeezed greens and lay them out on a surface that's covered with a few layers of toweling, lay a few more layers of toweling over them, place a baking sheet on top of that and then weigh it all down with a heavy weight such as a cast iron pot or a big bowl of water. Sort of like pressing water out of tofu. The 2 pounds of leaves (no stems) was reduced to just 12.8 ounces, yes, they lost more than a pound but that also included cutting out the mid-ribs.

Secret #2 - The Ricotta. Forget draining the ricotta in a strainer or coffee filter, it takes forever to drain and doesn't really lose that much moisture. I've found the most efficient way to suck out the moisture is to spread the ricotta out on a few layers of paper towels. The towels soak up the water and the drained ricotta just peels right off.

Here's why I made this batch with chard. I tried to clean out the chard patch a bit the other day and ended up with this. When I cut the stems off of the Golden chard I ended up with 2 pounds of greens and that was the starting point for the recipe.

Peppermint Stick, Golden, and Flamingo chard

So here's my version of:

Chard Ravioli Nudi

2 pounds chard leaves, weighed without stems (drained weight was 12.8 oz.)
1 pound ricotta, well drained (see Secret #2 above) (drained weight was 13.6 oz.)
About 16 fresh sage leaves
1/3 cup sweet butter
1 extra large egg* (see note below)
2 extra-large egg yolks
1 1/3 cups (about 4 oz.) grated Parmigiano
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Freshly grated nutmeg to taste (about 1/4 teaspoon)
About 1 cup whole wheat soft flour (I used Sonora wheat but pastry flour should work) or unbleached all-purpose flour
Parmigiano for finishing the dish

Rinse the spinach or chard very well and remove the mid-ribs. Wilt the greens in a large sauté pan, in batches, drain in a colander and allow to cool. Squeeze the excess moisture from the greens. Remove more moisture by pressing between layers of toweling under a weight (see Secret #1 above).

While the greens are cooling, fry the sage leaves in the butter in a small pan over low heat. When the leaves are crisp and the butter browned (don't let it burn!) drain the leaves, reserving the butter. Chop the leaves and set aside.

Chop the greens very fine, then place in a bowl, along with the ricotta, egg, egg yolks, 1 1/3 cups Parmigiano, salt, pepper, nutmeg and sage. Mix together until thoroughly combined (use your hands, it's more fun and works better than a spoon). Fill a stockpot with a large quantity of cold water and set on high heat. Alternatively, at this point you can refrigerate the mixture and continue the recipe later.

Place a sheet of wax paper on a work surface or use a baking sheet and spread the flour over it. Take 1 tablespoon of the mixture from the bowl (I use a scoop) and roll it on the floured  surface into a little ball. Be sure the ball is uniformly compact, with no empty spaces inside, the outside should be uniformly floured. Don't roll all of them yet, start with one and test it first to see if it holds together.

When the water comes to a strong simmer, add coarse salt to taste, then drop the first ball in, to test it. It should retain its shape and rise to the top, cooked, after a minute or two. If it falls apart, you have allowed too much liquid to remain in the greens or ricotta. To save the dish, you can add 2 tablespoons of flour to the mixture. However, (according to Giuliano) this is a compromise and should not be done regularly; even that little flour will make the taste inauthentic. After testing, as described above, continue to make ravioli, rolling them in flour, until all the contents of the bowl have been used up. At this point the ravioli can be refrigerated and cooked later.

Put the reserved sage butter in a warmed oven-proof serving dish; place the serving dish close to the stockpot. Drop the ravioli into the simmering water (don't let it come to a strong boil, it can cause the ravioli to fall apart), five or six at a time, and as they rise to the surface, remove them with a skimmer or slotted spoon, transferring them directly onto the serving dish. They should be placed in one layer, not one on top of another.

Grate more fresh Parmigiano over the ravioli and serve immediately or they can be warmed in a 350ºF oven until the cheese melts and the butter bubbles.

Serves 4 generously - they are rich.

I froze half of the rolled but uncooked Nudis. I placed them on a baking sheet, making sure that they didn't touch and allowed them to freeze and then packed them in a bag. They don't need to be thawed before cooking, just bring the water to a simmer and drop the frozen Nudi in and continue the recipe as above.

* Note about the egg, I scaled the recipe down from using 3 pounds of greens to using 2 pounds of greens. The original recipe calls for 5 egg yolks and rather than trying to split yolks I used 1 whole egg and 2 yolks. If you scale up the recipe to 3 pounds of greens use 5 egg yolks and omit the whole egg.

If you want to see Bugialli's original recipe it can be found on Food & Wine Magazines website here. The book version is a bit more helpful, the instructions have been edited for the magazine.


  1. Interesting! I've never heard of this dish. I must google now.

  2. I had never heard of these - they look delicious. I so wish I had the time to indulge in cooking again - I have a bookcase full of cookbooks literally gathering dust these days. Maybe when the kids go off to college... ;)

  3. I admire you skill and persistence!

  4. This post makes me hungry.

    I made ravioli for this first time this summer, and like you, used chard for spinach in the filling. I'll have to give nudi a try, as they sound delicious.

    And Sonora wheat--I'm such a fan. There's a mill nearby that mills fresh Sonora each week, and man alive, before beginning to use it, I never knew flour and its freshness was as important in flavor as it is.


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