Every now and again, things in my kitchen go horribly wrong. Remember the French Onion Soup fiasco? Sometimes, I pour hours of effort and personal capital into sourcing and purchasing the finest local produce and culinary know-how only to produce a dish that I just find...yucky.
Well. It happened again.
This week, I set out to make what appeared to me to be a simple and rustic Italian recipe for homemade pasta that wouldn't scare off a novel home cook. Unfortunately, I produced the ugliest-looking dish I have seen in a very, very long time. It tasted great, as most starched drenched in brown butter sauce do (thanks be).
In spite of my own inhibitions about the dish, I am sharing the recipe here because someone, somewhere, is going to enjoy it more than I did. Furthermore, by taking careful note of my own mistakes, I trust that you can produce a much more attractive-looking plate of gnudi than I did.
With that in mind, let's make gnudi - an Italian dish of gnocchi-like dumplings made of flour and ricotta instead of potato, a.k.a The Ugliest Pasta I Have Ever Made.
What you'll need from the shops:
Baby spinach (DO NOT buy Swiss Chard as I did. This is where I started to go horribly, horribly wrong)
Semolina or plain flour
A nice fragrant herb like sage or thyme to flavour your butter with
A note on the offending vegetable
This is chard.
It is a disarmingly beautiful leafy vegetable with jewel-coloured stems ranging from ruby red to citrine yellow. It can be prepared much like spinach, which is why I decided to use it in this recipe. Note: spinach is not a requirement for traditional gnudi, but it is a welcome addition of iron and other essential nutrients into a simple dish.
Unfortunately, I believe that it was this offending vegetable which tinted my gnudi an unappealing greige. If you want to avoid a similar outcome, I would 1) not burn your leaves like I did, and 2) use just the leafy part of spinach which has been blanched before blended and then incorporated into the pasta mixture.
Food for thought.
How to make the ugliest pasta ever (aka gnudi)
Step 1: Prep your kak
Ready a pot for the stove, a mixing bowl, a handful of flour, and an egg.
Grate about half a cup of parmesan and set aside.
Step 2: Cook your leaves
I'm telling you how I did this so that you do not do it this way. Here are the amendments ahead of time so that you don't forget:
Use baby spinach leaves, not chard
Use only the leaves, not the stems
Blend the leaves, do not chop them
Do not burn your leaves
Okay. Let's do this.
If you are already stuck with some adult spinach or even chard, now is the time to separate the leaves from the stem (as I did not). Pop them into a pot and ready them to cook on low heat in some butter or oil until the leaves have softened.
Leave the lid on so that the leaves have a chance to sweat it out, schvitz-style.
Hot tip: do not leave the pot unattended and char your leaves. It will not impart a charming, fire-roasted quality to your pasta as I rationed it would. It will simply make your pasta grey.
Step 3: Pulverise the leaves
Okay, this is where you should not do what I did. I followed a rustic recipe that called for me to finely chop the cooked chard, stems and all. DO NOT DO THIS. It yielded awful results.
Mistake one: charred chard.
Mistake two: finely chopped leaves and stems. I would strongly recommend pan-frying the leaves only before popping them into the blender and whizzing them into liquid. Heed my warning.
Step 4: Make your gnudi dough
In a bowl or in the cooled pot you cooked your leaves in, combine your (hopefully blended, not chopped) leaves, one egg yolk, the tub of ricotta, and the grated parmesan. Throw in a pinch of salt for good measure.
Next, add in your flour or semolina. I would start with a handful and moderate the consistency of the mixture as you go. Too much flour will result in a stodgy mess. Too little will render the mixture too much like a liquid.
If you heeded my warning and blended your spinach/chard, incorporating this into your flour and figuring out when the dough is the right consistency will be significantly easier.
The dough should be very soft and pliable - not as firm as regular pasta dough. Don't expect the same springy. We're aiming for dumplings, remember. The dough should be very soft and giving, but firm enough to form into little balls with a light dusting of flour.
And now, you have your gnudi - ready to be plunged into a pot of boiling, salted water.
Step 5: Cook your gnudi
Get a large pot of salted water on a rolling boil. In the meantime (and only if you're confident in your multi-tasking capabilities), melt a good block of butter (about 100g per serving) in a small saucepan or pot.
Once the water is at a boil, plop your gnudi in and cook for about 3-5 minutes. If your dumplings are on the large side, leave them in for longer.
Step 6: Brown your butter
While that's happening, keep an eye on your butter (which is melting at medium heat). When it starts to foam, that means it needs your full attention. Pop in your aromatic of choice to impart the butter with a herbacious flair.
When the foaming subsides and the butter starts to turn a golden brown (brown flecks at the bottom of the pan are a good sign), remove the herb (unless you decide to use sage) and take the butter off the heat. It should smell deliciously nutty.
Step 7: Serve
Drain your cooked gnudi and place them lovingly on a plate. Pour over your browned butter sauce and enjoy with extra parmesan and flaky salt spread atop.
Ignore my Frankensteinesque, fleshlike gnudi. If you follow the amendments to this recipe, I assure you that your dumplings will look much more appetising. For the record, it tasted delicious.
What can I say? Mistakes happen. Humility is a dish best served with brown butter. Good luck out there, home cooks.