Thursday, September 9, 2010

Rustic Italian: Sharing a Tuscan Tradition with Family and Friends

This is a guest post for Gwen, my new and dear friend and chef/author of the fabulous Bunkycooks blog. John and I met Gwen and Mr. Bunkycooks at a food blogging seminar in Southern California earlier this year. Although we can’t be with the Bunkycooks this weekend for Food Blog Forum Atlanta, we are confident they will host a sensational and informative seminar.

In search of something new and different to try, I pulled out Twelve: A Tuscan Cookbook. As the title suggests, this book is a 12-month journey through the tastes of Tuscany, using the freshest ingredients available.


Flipping to the September chapter, I became intrigued by two dishes - Baked Spinach Dumplings and Jam-Filled Ricotta Pastries. Rustic-Italian... I love this style of cooking!

I know the Bunkycooks have dedicated a good portion of their summer to preserving fresh summer tomatoes, peaches, berries and figs. The dumplings work well with fresh or frozen spinach, and fresh or canned tomatoes. The pastries work well with your own preserved jam, or a nice gourmet jam from the market.  Visit Bunkycooks' post on how to make freezer jams, here.

Baked Spinach Dumplings
Malfatti gratinati (sometimes called gnocchi gnudi or ravioli gnudi, nude gnocchi and nude ravioli)
Adapted from Twelve: A Tuscan Cookbook
Serves 6-8 (about 30 dumplings)

1 quantity of Béchamel Sauce (recipe below)
2 cups Simple Tomato Sauce (about ½ the quantity of the recipe below)
2 lb, 10 oz fresh spinach (1 lb, 2 oz cooked spinach) Note: If using frozen spinach, as I did, use 2 lb frozen Chopped Baby Spinach
1 lb, 2 oz fresh ricotta cheese (if you buy a 2 lb. container, you'll have enough for the pastries below)
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Freshly grated nutmeg
Salt and pepper
Butter for greasing baking dish
½ cup all-purpose flour

Prepare the fresh tomato sauce, and set aside.


Cook the spinach according to the package directions, drain, and let cool. When it has cooled, squeeze out the water with your hands (this is important, as extra water will make it difficult for the dumplings to hold their shape).

In a medium bowl, combine the spinach, ricotta cheese, eggs, half the Parmesan cheese and a grating of nutmeg. Season with salt and pepper, and mix with a wooden spoon to make a soft mass. Set aside.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

While the oven is preheating, prepare the béchamel sauce.

Liberally butter a large baking dish (I used 9 x 12 dish). Spoon a little of the béchamel sauce onto the bottom of the dish to just cover it.

Put the flour on to a flat plate and pat your hands in the flour. Using a tablespoon and your hands, form dumplings the size of a small egg, slightly elongated (about 2 ½ inches long by 1 ½ inches wide). Dust them very lightly in the flour and put them onto the béchamel in neat rows.


Cover with the remaining béchamel. Splash the surface with the tomato sauce and sprinkle with the remaining Parmesan cheese.


Bake for 30 minutes, or until the top is lightly golden. Serve hot.



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Besciamella
Béchamel Sauce
Makes 4 cups

4 cups whole milk
7 tablespoons unsalted butter
½ cup all-purpose flour
Salt and pepper
Freshly grated nutmeg

Heat the milk in a saucepan. In a separate medium saucepan, melt the butter, and then add the flour. Stir with a wooden spoon and cook for a minute or two until it is lightly golden. Add a ladleful of the warm milk and stir well so it does not form lumps. Continue adding the milk in ladlefuls and stirring constantly until all the milk has been incorporated. Season with salt and pepper, and a generous grating of nutmeg. Continue cooking and stirring on low heat for another 10 minutes to thicken. It should be very smooth. Remove from the heat. Just before using, give it a good whisking.

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Simple Tomato Sauce
Pomarola Semplice
Makes about 4 cups

4 garlic cloves, peeled and lightly crushed with the flat of a large knife
6 tablespoons olive oil
3 lb ripe, fresh tomatoes, skinned and chopped (or two, 28-ounce cans of San Marzano whole, peeled tomatoes with juice)
Salt and pepper
12 fresh basil leaves, roughly torn

If using canned tomatoes, dump tomatoes and juice into a bowl and break up the tomatoes with your hands. Put the garlic and olive oil into a saucepan over medium heat. When the garlic begins to sizzle, add the tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, about 20-25 minutes, until the tomatoes have melted into a thick, smooth sauce (if using canned tomatoes, the cooking time is slightly less, about 15 minutes from when the tomatoes begin to boil). Add the basil and turn off the heat.

You will need about 2 cups of the tomato sauce for the Baked Spinach Dumplings. The leftover sauce can be stored for 3-4 days in the refrigerator, covered with a thin layer of olive oil, or can be frozen for future use.


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Jam-Filled Ricotta Pastries
Pastine di ricotta e marmellata
Also from Twelve: A Tuscan Cookbook
Makes about 20 pastries

The pastry for these tarts contains no sugar, so these triangles rely on the jam filling and the dusting of confectioners’ sugar for their sweetness. You can use one or more homemade or bought jams for these pastries, which are lovely for breakfast or dessert. Also, since you need just over a pound of ricotta for the dumplings above, you can buy a 2 lb. container of ricotta and have the perfect amount leftover for these pastries.

7 oz (200 g) unsalted butter, softened
10 ½ oz (300 g) fresh ricotta cheese
10 ½ oz (300 g) all-purpose flour
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
Pinch of salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
10 ½ oz (300 g) jam (I used purchased, gourmet peach preserves)
Eggwash or water for sealing
Confectioners’ sugar for dusting

Using a wooden spoon, combine the softened butter with the ricotta cheese in a bowl. Sift together the flour, pinch of salt, and baking powder and incorporate into the butter-ricotta mixture.

Transfer to a lightly floured work surface and knead together with your hands until the mixture comes together in a soft mass. Cover the pastry with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30-60 minutes before rolling it out.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Roll out the pastry with a rolling pin, on a lightly floured surface, to a 1/8-inch thickness. Cut into 4-inch squares.

Put a heaped teaspoon of the jam into the center of each square, varying the jam flavors if desired. Dip your fingertips in eggwash or a little water and wet the inside of the pastry edge to help seal. Fold over the pastry square into a triangle, and seal the borders firmly with the tongs of a fork (the original recipe did not call for using egg wash or water to seal the pastry, and I experienced a little leakage during baking).

Line a baking sheet with parchment. Arrange the triangles on the baking sheet and bake for 20-25 minutes, or until they are golden. Remove from the oven and cool slightly before serving.

Serve warm or at room temperature, dusted liberally with confectioners’ sugar.

Note: As an afterthought, and for added texture, I might try brushing the tops of pastry triangles with an egg wash and sprinkling with raw sugar just before baking. Or, after baking, drizzing on a glaze of confectioners' sugar and sprinkling with raw sugar...Tuscan Pop-Tarts!


Thank you, Gwen, for the honor of guest posting at Bunkycooks!  We hope to see you soon.

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2 comments:

R. said...

Mmmmmmmmmm spinach gnocchi! I remember attempting to make those without a recipe a decade ago (for an Italian, no less) what the heck was I thinking!? Yours look fabulous. I love the idea of baking them!

bunkycooks said...

You guys are amazing! I am glad we will both be at the end of a journey tomorrow! Vacas are in the future! ;) Thank you so much again for the awesome post! We miss you here!1