Ricotta and spinach dumplings with olive oil, sage and rosemary

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These creamy, pillowy dumplings are a typical dish from Florence called Gnudi that in Florentine dialect means naked. Naked because they are made of the ravioli filling without the pasta dough covering.

The recipe is very simple and use common ingredients that are often found in Florentine households : ricotta, spinach or chard, eggs and parmesan. You can easily make this recipe without even measuring ingredients once you have some practice.

You can serve them also with a butter and sage sauce or with a simply tomato sauce. If you choose the last one you can place 4-5 tablespoon of sauce at the bottom of a plate and then add  6-7 gnudi on top (it depends on the size of your dumplings) and of course some grated parmesan as you wish. I’ll avoid to sauté the gnudi in a pan with the tomato sauce because they might break.

In Italy gnudi is consider a main dish. It’s hearty and filling and you can serve it with a salad or other vegetables.

This dish was my winter comfort food as a child. On the wooden counter in the kitchen my mother used to roll these dumplings and after they were cooked she used to place them in a glass square with butter, cheese and sage on top of the radiator covered with a kitchen towel while setting the table for dinner.   Nobody had a microwave, and the cast iron radiator was always in charge of keeping the food warm.

Serves 2-3 people

Ingredients for the dumplings : makes 36 gnudi

16 oz of fresh spinach (using chard or tuscan kale  or both is another possible variation. If you use Tuscan kale I advise to boil it in salted water for 5 minutes)

10 oz of cow’s-milk ricotta cheese (I use the Bel Gioioso brand)

4 tbsp of freshly-grated Parmesan + extra to grate on top before serve

1 organic free range egg

1 tsp ground nutmeg

a good pinch of salt and pepper

from 1 to 2 tbsps of plain flour + more flour for rolling the dumplings.

Ingredients for the sauce :

4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil (or butter if you prefer)

a few leaves of mixed fresh herbs (I used sage, rosemary and thyme)

Method :

Ricotta in the USA can have a lot a whey compared to ones you can find in Italy so I recommend to wrap your ricotta with a  cloth and let in rest in a bowl in the fridge for 1 hour or so. This will make your ricotta firmer.

Cook the spinach in a big frying pan (without any oil), on medium heat, for a few minutes, until it wilts down. If you don’t have a big frying pan you might want to cook the spinach a little at the time. Let it cool down and then in a colander squeeze them with your hands until no water comes outside. Chop them finely and place it in a bowl with the ricotta cheese, a good pinch of salt and pepper, nutmeg and parmesan cheese. Taste and decide if it needs more salt. Add the egg and If it’s runny add one tablespoon at the time of flour. You want to have a soft dough, still a little bit sticky but not runny.

To make the sauce add the olive oil or butter to the frying pan with the herbs and gently fry for a few minutes.

Turn off the heat and make the dumplings.

Spread some flour on a wooden board (this will prevent the dumplings from sticking). Scoop a tablespoon of batter and give it a rounded shape by using your hands (you want to flour your hands too to make it easier). Repeat until all your dumplings are done. Place them on the wooden board leaving some space between each other to avoid to stick to each other. Cook them in boiling salted water for a few minutes. When they float it means they are ready. Once cooked they should be soft inside and have a thin film all around. Using a skimmer transfer them in the frying pan and gently mix them with a spoon. They are very delicate so be kind! Add some freshly grated parmesan on top and serve hot .

(once you have your dumplings ready you want to cook them quickly and not let them set. They could stick to the wooden board otherwise)

Tiramisù with strawberries from my garden

 

A few years ago I read an interview with Carlo Petrini, the founder of the Slow Food movement. He said, ‘ to grow your own edible garden is a revolutionary act, ’ and that idea has stuck in my head ever since.

It takes time to grow your own food. It’s tiring and frustrating but also hugely satisfying. To go out your door, and then wander around the garden picking vegetables, herbs and fruit is amazing. It’s about being active in your choices, to create what you love instead of just buying it.

My garden has always taught me lessons about life. It taught me that in every seed there is powerful potential, but only care allows it to grow into a strong plant. I learned that rhubarb isn’t gone when the stalks and leaves die away when fall arrives; it proves its resilience when it sprouts again in the spring. A harder lesson that I’m still learning is that success comes slowly, with trust and perseverance, and careful tending along the way.

For this recipe I used fresh strawberries from my garden, but you can substitute raspberries or any other berries that you have available. What matters is taking what you have, and creating simple, everyday magic.

 

Ingredients for 6 single servings :

3 very fresh eggs
5 ounces of sugar
17 ounces Mascarpone (I like the BelGioioso brand, which is made in Wisconsin!)
24 lady fingers
2 cups of fresh strawberries or other berries
half a lemon

Method :

To make the mascarpone cream, first separate the yolks and the whites into two medium bowls.
Then whip the sugar with the egg yolks until you have a pale and creamy mixture. Add the mascarpone and gently mix it all with a wooden spoon. Whisk the egg whites until firm (to check, you can turn the bowl upside down , and if the egg white mixture holds its shape then they’ve reached the perfect consistency).

Gently fold 1/3 of the whites into the mascarpone cream until it’s smooth. Then add the remainder of the whites and mix again until smooth. .

Prepare 6 glasses or a serving plate if you like a cake shape instead of single servings.

Cut the strawberries in halves and cook them gently for two minutes in a saucepan with two tablespoons of sugar and the juice of half a lemon, until there’s a nice sauce and the strawberries are soft. Leave a few of the cooked strawberries on the side for decorating and blend the rest in a blender until smooth, then put it in a bowl to cool down.

In your glasses pour two tablespoons of mascarpone cream and then dip the the ladyfingers one at the time in the strawberry blend until are all coated with the juice. Put the ladyfingers on top of the cream and then cover them with another thick layer of cream.
Repeat layering the ladyfingers and the cream again. I usually make two layers, but if you prefer you can make more. Finishing with a layer of mascarpone cream and then put one table spoon of strawberry juice on top and if you like the crunch crumble one lady finger on top . Finish by adding some of the cooked strawberries that you left on the side earlier.

Leave in the fridge for 4 hours (if you can resist). Enjoy!

Note: Tiramisù is made with raw eggs and mascarpone cheese, which are both very delicate and easily perishable. Once you make the Tiramisù you should keep it in the fridge and eat it in one day or two. In my house Tiramisù doesn’t last more than a couple of hours 🙂

An Introvert-friendly guide to downtown Florence

Every time I meet someone new, they always tell me how lucky I am to have lived in such a beautiful town. I know that I’m lucky, but living in one of the most touristed places in the world can be challenging too. I love walking, getting lost in fields and streets — it’s the easiest way to recharge my internal batteries.   But walking downtown Florence can often be more overwhelming than relaxing.

I have always had the feeling that Florence is not for Florentines, but for tourists.

My beautiful friend Mary introduced me for the first time to this hidden path 2 weeks ago during my stay in Florence and I enjoyed it so much that I did it again, alone this time.

Porta Romana is a noisy place, full of cars, buses and people. but as soon as you enter the park of the Art School (Liceo Artistico Statale) you forget where you were two minutes ago and start enjoying the view of kids playing in the playground, old people walking dogs, art students struggling with a new art work, young couples kissing on the bench.

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You’re silently enter a space where people are living their ordinary life, like they would do in a small village or in a town that doesn’t have to deal every day with so much history and art like Florence.

At the end of the Viale dei Cipressi I enter Via Madonna della Pace and I notice things that I could never see if I wandered in the most trafficked part of Florence : there are kids bikes parked outside the houses, in Via del Bobolino an old man is walking his dog and a lady on the street is complaining to another lady who’s looking out the window of a house about her son and his bad grades in school. I keep going, smiling at this moment of ordinary life where the street become an intimate place where people can talk loudly feeling safe that nobody is listening.

While walking in via del Bobolino I’m surprised by the silence of the road. How is that possible in a city like Florence, always crowded, always full of noise? In this part of the town you can only smell the jasmine and the silence.

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Then I turn in Via Giovanni Schiapparelli and I’m hit by the deep pink of the houses and walls that run along the street. I end up in a tiny stone street and I wonder, am I still downtown?

Because behind the wall I can see so many olives trees, and I tiptoe to see what else is behind the wall but it stays hidden. The wall is tall enough to prevent you from seeing what’s behind but short enough that you can see some details of the life behind it.

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Walking down the street a house window is open and I can hear the sounds of pots and pans on the stove and smell something delicious. I’d forgotten — it’s lunchtime, and I guess that a parent is preparing lunch for the kids coming back from school, or a grandma is cooking for her husband.

Via San Leonardo has so little traffic, I can walk in the middle of the street, I don’t pass anyone, except a few cars that force me to move to a sidewalk that is not as as wide as my shoes.

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I soak in this calm atmosphere and I want to be quiet even if it’s a public street. No commercial shops, no museums, no peddlers. Just beautiful, colorful villas, inhabited all year around by ordinary people.

The street is so narrow at some point that I have to lean against the wall and let a car pass. At that moment my sight shifts in another direction and I notice a sign carved into the stone wall, slightly hidden by the olive tree’s branches : ‘rebuilt in the year 1879’.

I keep walking, along the wall, stopping to admire the decorations carved into the wall, the caper plants that grow out of the wall, with some leafy olive branch or grape vine above the wall, proving that behind the wall there is something beautiful and hidden.

Beyond the curve I see the bell tower of the San Leonardo in Arcetri Church and I wonder how such beauty can go completely unnoticed. There is no line of people waiting outside. It has the feeling of a village church where people gather on Sunday mornings.

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Once I arrive at Forte Belvedere I cross Porta San Giorgio and I start the descent that runs along the Bardini Garden.

I find myself in front of one of the houses where Galileo Galilei lived and I picture him building his telescope and watching the sky during clear nights at the beginning of the 17 century.

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Before turning into Via del Canneto I stop to enjoy a glimpse of the Dome and the tower of Palazzo Vecchio. I’m still far from the crowds. In via del Canneto time seems to have stopped. I walk under the arches through one of the less beaten streets of Oltrarno.

Once I approach the end of the slope of Costa San Giorgio I feel I’m entering a different world, the Florence of the tourists, with the sudden noise of a mass of tourists heading to the Old Bridge. It’s like Florence had two different dimensions that never cross each other. One for the tourists and one for the Florentines.

About life, food and seasons

I feel very lucky to live in a place where I can enjoy the sequence of the seasons. Sounds always so strange to me when I meet people who say, ‘I wish I could live in place where it’s always summer’. I love the summer, the sun, the beach and being barefoot, but I couldn’t live like this all the time. I love every season, and a big part of is because of food.

Fall is a gorgeous season. Especially here in Eugene where you can see all the trees changing color from green to warm yellows and reds. During fall there are beautiful sunny days but the air is crisp and nature all around is slowly getting ready for winter. Fall for me means roasting chestnuts on the fire and drinking new wine. Walking in the woods, finding mushroom but never picking them because I’m afraid that they will be poisonous, so buying them at the grocery store, smelling that earthy fragrance and combining them with rustic pappardelle. Fall is also the only time of the year where you can find chestnut flour at the supermarket in Tuscany and so make Castagnaccio which is a very traditional cake made with chestnut flour, water, olive oil, rosemary, raisins and pine nuts. Another memory of my childhood is savoring Fave dei Morti, a tiny cookie made with almonds that you can find in the Umbrian bakery only during the first days of November for celebrating the Day of the Dead.

And at some point you walk in the grocery store and find persimmons, which to me means, “winter is here.” And with them all the delicious mandarins and oranges and the cinnamon and dates and all the Christmas cakes. And then February arrives and my mother ‘s kitchen smelled of Cenci, literally ‘rugs’, delicious fried dough topped with sugar, and my favorite: Frittelle di riso, rice fritters.

It’s always funny when I talk about the relationship between food and the seasons with my husband. He always smiles at me. He doesn’t make fun of me but these reflections don’t resonate to him. It’s simply not part of his culture. For me it’s something that is so part of my identity; I can’t eat oranges during summer or watermelon during Christmas, or cook Porcini mushrooms in July, or sipping hot chocolate on the beach in August. It just feels wrong. And that’s because food is an expression of nature and its changing state.

Moving to Eugene and settling in has been and still is a journey into who I am. For the first time in my life I’m pushing the ‘pause’ button. I’m not jumping from one job to another and it’s really the first time in my life where there is space for creativity and for being who I am instead of rushing into a busy routine. When we think about who we are, about our core values and how we can live in a way that truly reflects who we are, we start digging into our past. I need the whole picture to express my identity, and it’s through food we are the expression of our territory and the different seasons as they pass.

I once read this blog post and it really moved me(I translated from italian : https://tiasmo.wordpress.com/2015/11/30/dietro-a-una-grande-donna-ce-unadolescenza-di-merda/). It said, ‘ Behind a great woman there are endless winters. Years are counted in springs, but maturity is measured in winters. And you learn from trees, they seem crazy because they undress when it’s cold, but no, they abandon the unnecessary, they become objects and they wait. And we learn from hedgehogs that curl themselves and all the spines go out, not inside. We learn that lethargy is not allergy to winter, we learn hibernation, as a pause full of life and melancholy. Behind a great woman there are women who accept growth, with the load of pain, suffering and beauty, on their shoulders.’

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