Recipes from the Pasta Grannies

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Giusy’s ’Ndunderi with Tomato Sauce

For 4–6 people

Our criteria for selecting our grannies is that they have to be real-life grannies, or over 60 – preferably over 70. We made an exception for Giusy, though, as she learned how to make ’ndunderi from her nonna and has become an expert. Even though she was only 21 years old when we filmed her, she had already appeared on Italian TV demonstrating her skills. ’Ndunderi are ricotta gnocchi. Instead of the usual potato-flour combo, ricotta is the main ingredient. This makes them much lighter. They are a speciality of Minori on the Amalfi Coast. This can also be made in advance and frozen, cooked until the tomato sauce is bubbling and piping hot.

For the ’ndunderi

  • 250 g (9 oz) fresh cow’s milk ricotta, drained
  • 2 egg yolks, beaten
  • 125 g (4 oz/1 cup) 00 flour or plain (all-purpose) flour (you may need a little more or less depending on how wet the ricotta is), plus more for dusting
  • 40 g (11/2 oz) grated Parmigiano Reggiano
  • pinch of salt
  • pinch of pepper
  • pinch of ground nutmeg
  • shredded basil, to serve

 

For the tomato sauce

  • 2 × 400 g (14 oz) tins plum tomatoes
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 200 g (7 oz) smoked scamorza, provola or mozzarella
  • 15 g (1/2 oz) grated Parmigiano Reggiano

 

Put the ricotta in a sieve over a bowl for 30 minutes, to make sure it’s properly drained. Once the ricotta has drained, mix all the ingredients for the ’ndunderi together (apart from the basil). Knead the dough just long enough to incorporate everything thoroughly. Then stop. You’re not trying to make pasta or bread here. Place the dough in a bowl and cover it with a tea towel (or use a lidded bowl) and chill it in the fridge for 30 minutes. This minimises the amount of flour you need as it’s easier to handle.

Meanwhile, make the tomato sauce. Put all the ingredients except the cheeses in a saucepan. Fill a tomato tin with water and add this, too. Simmer for 40 minutes or so, until the tomatoes have broken down, the onion is soft and the sauce is nice and chunky. Remove the bay leaf, then blitz together with a hand-held blender.

When the dough has chilled, divide the mixture in half. You’re looking to make plump little dumplings the size of walnuts, so roll out one portion into a thick rope about 2.5 cm (1 in) in diameter before chopping it up. Aim for even-sized pieces so they’ll cook through in the same amount of time. You should end up with about 30 dumplings.

Dust the prongs of a large fork with flour (choose a fork with long prongs, as it makes rolling easier) and gently roll each ricotta ball along the tines, to make a nice ridged dumpling. Place them on a floured surface while you make the others. Then repeat with the other portion of dough. When you are ready to cook the ’ndunderi, add half the smoked scamorza to the sauce and continue cooking it until the cheese has melted. Preheat the oven to 200˚C (400˚F/gas mark 6). Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil and plop in the ’ndunderi. Simmer for 5 minutes – they will bob to the top of the water when cooked. If your dumplings are on the large size, you will need to simmer them for longer, say 7 minutes in

total. Use slotted spoon or sieve to transfer them to the tomato sauce. Cook for 1 minute before transferring the mixture to a 25 × 30 cm (10 × 12 in) gratin dish.

Scatter over the remaining scamorza and the Parmigiano Reggiano and bake for 10 minutes – or until the cheeses have melted. Spoon into bowls and serve with shredded basil.

 

Rosa’s Spinach and Ricotta Gnudi

For 2 people

Rosa is the matriarch of the pasta-making Martelli family and she shared her recipe for gnudi after we had visited their factory. Gnudi means nude, and it alludes to these dumplings being pasta-less – they are ravioli without their coats. Gnudi are typical of Tuscany, where the Martelli factory is. Rosa says it’s important that the spinach and ricotta are as dry as you can make them, otherwise they will disintegrate in cooking. For this recipe, you will need to buy two pots of ricotta – usually about 200 g (7 oz) net weight each – because the drained weight will be less than this. This recipe also works well with young chard, with the thicker stems removed.

 

For the gnudi

  • 250 g (9 oz) cow’s milk ricotta, drained weight
  • 600 g (1 lb 5 oz) spinach
  • 25 g (3/4 oz) finely grated Parmigiano Reggiano
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • plain (all-purpose) flour, for rolling and dusting
  • salt
  • For the dressing
  • 30 g (1 oz) unsalted butter
  • 5 sage leaves
  • several scrapes of nutmeg

To serve

  • 2 tablespoons grated Parmigiano Reggiano

 

Place the ricotta in a sieve over a bowl and leave it to drain for an hour or so, then weigh out 250 g (9 oz). Meanwhile, place the spinach leaves in a saucepan, turn the heat up to high and add 2 tablespoons of boiling water. Cover the pan with its lid and steam the spinach until it has collapsed. Drain the spinachthrough a sieve and leave it to cool. Squeeze out as much water as possible and roughly chop. You should end up with about 300 g (101/2 oz) cooked spinach.

Mix the spinach with the ricotta, Parmigiano Reggiano and beaten egg. Season to taste. Make sure the ingredients are all playing nicely together. Pour some flour into a bowl. Pinch off 20 g (3/4 oz) pieces of the mixture (about the size of a large walnut) and toss each one in the flour before rolling it between your palms to create a nice little ball.

Dust off any excess flour. Place on a lightly floured board, away from each other so they don’t stick. Have a frying pan (skillet) on one side of your stove, and a sauté pan on the other. Melt the butter in the frying pan with the sage and nutmeg and keep it warm while you cook the gnudi. Fill a sauté pan with salted water and bring to a gentle simmer. Lower the gnudi gently into the pan and let them tremble in the water for 5 minutes, or until they bob to the surface. Use a slotted spoon to transfer them to the butter in the frying pan. You may have to cook the gnudi in batches. Spoon the butter over the gnudi, then serve them with a shower of grated cheese over the top.


Extracts from Pasta Grannies: The Secrets of Italy’s Best Home Cooks by Vicky Bennison (Hardie Grant, £20). Photography by Emma Lee. To read Vicky Bennison’s Bread & Oysters Q&A visit breadandoysters.com/qa-vicky-bennison/