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Verdi’s spinach gnocchi (PPN)

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summary: recipe for Verdi’s spinach gnocchi, based on a recipe in the Fred Plotkin’s article “Bella Cucina! The Story of a Hungry Maestro” in SAVEUR magazine, issue #123; information about Presto Pasta Nights (PPN); (click on image to see larger views and more photos)

gnocchi I’ve always loved gnocchi but assumed they were WAY too hard to make. So we were excited to see a recipe in a recent SAVEUR magazine and it was doubly thrilling for me to see that it was based on a recipe by one of my favourite opera composers (I do love SAVEUR magazine)!

I love that this dish of Verdi’s is basically green! How fitting! It’s also delicious! Its only small drawback is that as you’re eating it, you might get an audio virus of the Brindisi from “La Traviata”. (That Brindisi is brilliant in context but I suspect even Verdi would agree that its brilliance tarnishes after being repeated for hours, especially if it’s just a few phrases repeated over and over.)

[I]n Italy’s agricultural heartland, [Giuseppe Verdi] was nourished by the regional dishes his mother served, like chicche (pronounced KEE-kay), tiny spinach gnocchi sprinkled with the local Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, as well as by the stories he heard from travelers about the great theaters of northern Italy. By the 1850s, Verdi had become not only a well-known composer but also a successful farmer and a renowned cook. “If only they knew how well he composes risotto alla milanese,” wrote his wife, Giuseppina Strepponi, in a letter describing a standing ovation he received upon a visit to Turin’s Teatro Regio.

– Fred Plotkin, Bella Cucina! The story of a hungry maestro in SAVEUR no.123′

Oooh, risotto alla milanese!! I’d like to have that too please…. Alas, SAVEUR did not include that recipe this time. But the gnocchi more than make up for the omission.

gnocchi It turns out that gnocchi are very easy to make. (Ha. Especially for me… I watched. :-)) But I have it on good authority. There really is no good reason to buy gnocchi. Homemade gnocchi are WAY better than any storebought gnocchi we’ve had.

We served the gnocchi with lemon chicken and broccoli. The gnocchi were really more like potato puffs with a little spinach in them than they were like pasta. But they’re called gnocchi so I’m sticking to my guns and saying they’re pasta!

And just because they were like potato puffs doesn’t mean they weren’t wonderful. Au contraire!! (Or al contrario if you prefer.) They were delizioso.

Here’s what we did to the SAVEUR recipe:

Verdi’s spinach gnocchi
based on a recipe for Chicche Verdi del Nonno in SAVEUR magazine, issue #123

Please note that the measurements are approximate. You’ll want to play with them.

  • bunch of spinach
  • seasalt, to taste
  • 4 large Yukon gold potatoes, unpeeled
  • ½ c semolina flour, more or less
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 4 Tbsp unsalted butter, more or less
  • good shot olive oil
  • ½ tsp dried rubbed sage, more or less
  • pinch freshly grated nutmeg
  • black pepper, to taste
  • good shot Parmigianno-like cheese, grated

preparation

  1. Wash the spinach well. Put washed spinach into a colander. Sprinkle with 1½ Tbsp salt. Toss to mix and set aside to drain for 20 minutes.
  2. Put potatoes in cold salted water. Bring to a boil and cook until fork-tender. Drain and mash. Set aside.
  3. Squeeze out the spinach with your hands til it is quite dry. Discard the juice. Let the spinach rest in colander for a few more minutes. Squeeze again. Do this 3 or 4 times in total. (You’re probably only going to use about half the spinach in the gnocchi. Put whatever spinach you won’t be using in the fridge – it keeps for 3 or 4 days.) Rinse the rest of the spinach well in cold water to get rid of all the extra salt. Squeeze out all the water. Taste to be sure there’s no excessive salt.
  4. Finely chop spinach and stir together with potatoes and semolina. You don’t have to use all the semolina. Add egg and salt (you may not need to add much salt, because the spinach is quite salty even after rinsing). Using a fork, beat the eggs in to the potato mixture. If the mixture seems too loose, add a little more semolina flour. Transfer the mixture to the counter dusted with semolina flour and knead. Divide the dough into 4 equal portions. Roll each one into ropes about 2 cm thick. Cut each rope into 2 cm wide pieces. Transfer the pieces to a semolina dusted tray.
  5. Melt butter in a large frying pan. Swirl the pan until the butter browns (SAVEUR suggests “about 6 minutes”). Watch that the butter doesn’t burn!!
  6. Add sage and nutmeg; season with salt and pepper. Remove from heat and set aside.
  7. Heat olive oil over medium high heat in another frying pan. Working in batches if necessary, add dough pieces in one layer and cook, turning once, until golden brown. Set the done gnocchi aside until all of them are golden. **
  8. Once all the gnocchi are done, put the brown butter pan over medium heat, add the gnocchi and toss in the brown butter until hot.

Serve immediately, sprinkled with grated cheese.

Notes:

» SAVEUR magazine suggests boiling the spinach and squeezing it dry after cooking. But the May/June 1998 issue had a recipe for torta verde that included this salting method of preparing the spinach. We ALWAYS use the salt method. The spinach is never slimy and always retains its beautiful emerald colour.

» We buy our semolina flour in IndiaTown, where it is labelled “suji”. It is far less pricey than the semolina flour in ItalyTown and, as far as we can tell, exactly the same thing.

» The SAVEUR recipe is for “gnocchetti” which I gather are smaller than gnocchi. SAVEUR suggests making them into ½ inch discs (½ inch ropes cut into ½ inch pieces).

» As soon as our garden is growing again (if winter ever ends…), of course we’ll use fresh sage leaves rather than dried. The SAVEUR recipe calls for using 8 fresh sage leaves for a half pound of russet potatoes.

» ** We didn’t do the above but sort of followed the instructions on the SAVEUR recipe: we cooked our gnocchi in all of the browned butter (we forgot to set it aside). The gnocchi soaked up all the butter so that we had none to drizzle overtop. The next time we make the gnocchi, we’ll cook the gnocchi in olive oil as per the above instructions and then toss the finished gnocchi in the browned butter.

» The Italian name on the recipe is Chicche Verdi del Nonno, which SAVEUR translates as “gnocchi with brown butter and sage” but as far as I can tell with my little knowledge of Italian, that should translate literally as “Verdi’s Grandfather’s Chicche”. I wandered around with google to discover that chicche is translated as “goodies”, “gems”, “gnocchetti” and “gnocchi”. Although the first two are excellent descriptions, and the third is probably the most correct, I think I’ll go with the last one….

gnocchi We served the gnocchi garnished with grated Ilha Branca because we didn’t have parmigianno on hand (comme d’habitude – the Portuguese Ilha Branca is markedly less expensive and not that unsimilar to parmesan). Oven roasted lemon chicken and steamed broccoli were excellent accompaniments.

While this might not be the instant dinner that Ruth had in mind when she created PPN, it is awfully easy. And I can’t really see any reason that the gnocchi dough couldn’t be made in advance and then cooked just before dinner. That way, they could be used for a “presto” dinner.

Note to self: Have lemon chicken again soon. It’s the most wonderful oven-roasted chicken pieces. Remind me to post the recipe!

Presto Pasta Nights - every FridayPresto Pasta Nights
Ruth (Once Upon a Feast) created this lovely event for people to share their favourite pasta dishes. This week is PPN#150! Wow!! Well done, Ruth, for keeping this event alive! Susan (The Well Seasoned Cook) is hosting this week.

For complete details on how to participate in Presto Pasta Nights (PPN), please read the following:

edit: Susan has posted the PPN#150 round-up. Do take a look. There are several pasta dishes that you neeeeed to make.

 

None of our cookbooks or Italian/English dictionaries have any entries for “gnocchetti” so I am resorting to Wikipedia. It sounds logical.

Gnocchi […] is the Italian name for a variety of thick, soft noodles or dumplings. They may be made from semolina, ordinary wheat flour, potato, bread crumbs, or similar ingredients. The smaller forms are called gnocchetti.

-wikipedia: Gnocchi

 

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  • Quick or not, it sounds awesome. Thanks for sharing with Presto Pasta Nights.

  • Thanks so much, Elizabeth, for your quite lovely recipe. I am chuffed that I have met a fellow food blogger who enjoys opera. Verdi and I are proud. ;-)

  • Hi, thanks for citing my article and recipe in Saveur. I see you have questions about gnocchetti. If you can get your hands on a rare copy of my The Authentic Pasta Book (Simon & Schuster, 1985), you will find all of that info and lots more — including opera. Further information will be in Italy for the Gourmet Traveler, the updated 5th edition of which will be published in May 2010 by Kyle Books. Then have a look at Opera 101: A Complete Guide to Learning and Loving Opera, the standard text in North America for learning opera. And feel free to contact me via my Web site with any questions. Ciao, Fred

  • How cool that it’s based on Verdi’s recipe! That is awesome.

    I am definitely going to have to make these now based on that alone! Plus it doesn’t hurt that they look amazing!

  • ejm

    Very glad to oblige, Ruth and Susan. Ruth, I suppose that the gnocchi would be quick to prepare if one were using left-over mashed potatoes and already had some salted spinach in the fridge – when we use spinach for lasagne, we often have extra salted spinach for the following day.

    Thank you for writing the article, Fred. We will look for your Authentic Pasta Book; thanks for the tip. (And I should look at Opera 101 too; maybe I will finally figure out what the attraction to Wagner is :lalala:)

    I know what you mean, Joanne. That was one of the reasons I wanted to try the gnocchi as well. I think it’s so cool that Verdi was a great cook as well as being a great composer.

    -Elizabeth

  • these gnocchi look delicious.

  • La Traviata – mon mari’s very favorite opera (I’m torn between that, Carmen and the Marriage of Figaro…..) anyway, I saw that article too, and must make these. Great tip on the spinach. I made a version of spinach gnocchi, without potato, a while back. Must do that post….

    edit: Yes, please do, Katie. We’d love to see what you did to make your spinach gnocchi. And do try these Verdi ones too. They’re delicious. – Elizabeth
     
    Ah yes, Carmen and Marriage of Figaro are favourites of mine too. But I can never decide. The “perdona me” sequence at the end of Marriage is so amazing, isn’t it? But then there’s Don Giovanni. And Madama Butterfly. That humming chorus slays me every time. And Tosca (end of the 2nd act…). Yes, indeed, too many from which to choose.

  • Hi! that is indeed an easy way to make gnocchi, I’ve never made it – thinking it is way too difficult to make it. But you make it sound so easy.
    Thank you for visiting my blog, your comments have been some of the best I’ve received so far! I hope to keep your interest alive in my blog.

    Aqua