This the second of two recipes I’ve developed for a paid partnership with Parmigiano Reggiano. 

‘Have you ever made gnudi before?’ D dared to joke when I suggested this recipe. He’s referring to the time I made hundreds of them for a supper club and by the time I’d done a couple of practice runs and the actual event (220 required) I’d really had enough. The upshot is that I’m really good at making gnudi though, so you can now reap the benefits.

I served them with crab and pickled wild garlic buds but this time kept things more classic in an effort to show off the Parmigiano Reggiano. Now, let me tell you what I have learnt about gnudi. Firstly, there’s a lot of talk on the internet about how difficult they are to make. They are not. Second, you don’t need to leave them for days in the fridge to form a skin around the outside – a few hours will do just fine; basically, you can leave them in the fridge for anything between three hours and three days. After that, they tend to go a bit tough. Finally, it’s true that using expensive ricotta will save you time and taste better but it’s rubbish that the gnudi simply won’t work with supermarket ricotta (but you will need to strain it overnight). I made these gnudi with supermarket ricotta and frankly it makes a nice blank canvas at which to throw huge flavours.

One of those is the Parmigiano Reggiano, which you know is going to be excellent because its manufacture is governed by a strict set of rules, right down to the diet of the cows whose milk it’s made from. The rules specify that 50% of the cows’ diet must consist of ‘forage’ grown on the dairy farm and 75% of it must be local. It’s the forage that determines the positive bacterial flora, establishing a link with the land and therefore the cheese’s PDO status. The milk is raw when it’s used to make the cheese, and it’s combined with just natural calf rennet and salt. Rules like this please me greatly. See also: Neapolitan pizza and Parma ham.

What doesn’t please me is ‘rules’ people post on the internet which are simply incorrect. I urge you to try making gnudi then, particularly if you’ve been intimidated by them, as I once was! They’re incredible: fluffy cheese balls which are served with a sauce made entirely from butter. If that doesn’t get you excited then you’re on the wrong website.

Parmigiano Reggiano, Ricotta and Spinach Gnudi with Anchovy-Garlic Butter Recipe

Makes approx 28

300g ricotta
300g spinach
100g Parmigiano Reggiano, grated finely
3 egg yolks
40g plain flour
Coarse semolina, for coating and storing

8 anchovy fillets
4 cloves garlic (or more! Up to you)
100g butter
A squeeze of lemon juice

For the crumbs

200g stale sourdough (a day or two old, not rock hard)
3 tablespoons oil from a jar of anchovies

Place the ricotta into a brand new jay cloth or piece of muslin and tie it up at the top with string. Suspend this over a bowl in the fridge and leave overnight.

The next day, wash the spinach and put it in a saucepan with water still on the leaves. Gently wilt over medium heat with the lid on, stirring halfway through. Spread out to cool and then squeeze out as much water as possible. I find this is easiest using a clean cloth to squeeze it.

Chop the spinach finely and mix it with the strained ricotta, Parmigiano Reggiano, egg yolks, flour, and some salt. Roll into balls a bit smaller than a ping pong ball.

Make a bed of semolina on a plate and roll each ball in it. When all the gnudi are coated, pour more semolina on top and put them in the fridge, uncovered for at least 3 hours and up to 3 days.

Make the crumbs by blitzing the sourdough in a blender and frying in the anchovy oil until crisp. Drain on kitchen paper.

Make the sauce by melting the butter and gently melting the garlic and anchovies into it. Squeeze in some lemon juice to taste.

To cook the gnudi bring a pan of water to the boil and gently lower them in. They’ll take just a couple of minutes to cook and are ready when they float to the top. Pop them into the pan with the butter to take on a little colour and serve, scattered with the crumbs.

They’re called radiatori because they look like little radiators! I hope that pleases you as much as it does me. They’re also the perfect shape for grabbing onto a crumbly ‘sauce’ like this one, or a more traditional pesto. This smoosh of toasted walnuts, anchovies, breadcrumbs, garlic, parsley and lemon bound with olive oil makes a luxurious, wintry pasta sauce and also an excellent stuffing for fish on the BBQ – particularly mackerel.

I’ve served it on a swirl of fluffy ricotta (given a little more sharpness with natural yoghurt) so there’s a lovely hot-cold contrast going on and the cheese brings some creaminess. Serve with purple sprouting broccoli, chilli flakes and a flurry of Parmesan shavings for a pasta dish that will bust through any amount of miserable, drizzly weather.

Radiatori with Walnuts, Ricotta and Broccoli Recipe

Serves 2 very generously (i.e. greedily)

For the pesto

Makes enough for 6-8 servings of pasta (keep leftovers in a jar in the fridge, covered in olive oil)

200g walnuts, toasted in a dry pan
80g wholemeal breadcrumbs (or regular white crumbs)
4 cloves garlic
12 anchovy fillets
Handful parsley leaves
2-3 tablespoons lemon juice
Olive oil

To serve

300g radiatori (I bought mine in Sainsbury’s!)
Large handful purple sprouting broccoli
125g ricotta
Heaped tablespoon natural yoghurt
Chilli flakes

Make the pesto by blitzing the walnuts in a blender until finely chopped but stop before they turn to a powder/paste. Mix with the breadcrumbs. Bash the garlic and anchovies to a paste in a pestle and mortar and mix with the breadcrumbs, parsley and lemon juice. Add a slug of olive oil until you’ve got a pesto-ish mixture.

Cook the pasta until al dente, reserving a little pasta water. Cook the broccoli until al dente and drain – not long just a few minutes.

Gently whip the ricotta and yoghurt together and divide between two large bowls. When the pasta is cooked lob in as much ‘pesto’ as you like and stir with a little of the pasta water to loosen. Crumble extra ‘pesto’ on top. Serve on the ricotta with the broccoli, Parmesan and chilli flakes.

Conchiglioni Rigati Stuffed with Spinach and Ricotta

I have a lot of love for unfashionable foods. There’s a Delia Smith rice salad recipe from the ’90’s, for example, that I adore; it includes tinned tuna, diced red peppers and an actual vinaigrette dressing on the rice. I know. Prawn cocktail is another excellent example, as are steak slice, cod in parsley sauce or corned beef and pickle sandwiches.

I feel like gigantic stuffed pasta is going the way of rice salad. These pasta shells are something I remember seeing often on US blogs around 10 years ago, and this recipe does feel very American somehow. The fact that it’s slightly dated just makes me love it more.

Conchiglioni Rigati Stuffed with Spinach and Ricotta

I wrote recently that spinach is one of my favourite vegetables and my mate texted me all like, ‘f*cking SPINACH?!’ and I said yeah.. before I realised that it’s only one of my favourite vegetables when it’s mixed with either white cheese in a pie/borek or with copious amounts of ricotta for pasta. And here we are.

The stuffed shells are sitting in a rich and sweet but actually quite basic bitch tomato sauce that’s really easy to make, and I ramped up the excitement a little bit by adding an anchovy crumb on top. More carbs = more fun.

Conchiglioni Rigati with Spinach and Ricotta

Conchiglioni Rigati Stuffed with Spinach and Ricotta Recipe

200g conchiglioni rigati (you’ll need around 20 shells but cook a few extra in case they break)
600g spinach, washed
250g ricotta (get the best quality you can find)
225g sourdough breadcrumbs
50g tin anchovies in oil
Zest of 1 unwaxed lemon
1 onion, finely chopped
8 cloves garlic, crushed or finely chopped
1 large glass red wine
3 tins chopped tomatoes (again, quality matters here)

Heat a couple of tablespoons of oil in a saucepan and soften the onion gently without colouring for around 10 minutes. Add the wine and let it be absorbed, stirring it to prevent sticking. Add the garlic and let it cook, stirring, for a minute or so.

Pour in the tomatoes, add some salt and pepper then put the lid on and cook for 45 minutes covered. Take the lid off and reduce by 1/4.

Make the anchovy crumb by melting the anchovies in their oil in a frying pan. Add the crumbs and fry, stirring, until crisp but not too golden (they will carry on toasting in the oven).

Cook the pasta shells until they are halfway cooked – they still need to be quite hard as they’re going to carry on cooking in the oven. Drain and run them under cold water to cool them down.

Put the washed spinach into a pan over a low heat with a lid on and let it wilt down (you’ll probably need to do this in two batches). Run it under cold water to cool it down, then squeeze out as much of the liquid as you can, using your hands. Roughly chop the spinach then mix it with the ricotta and lemon zest, plus some salt and pepper.

Preheat the oven to 180C.

When the tomato sauce is ready, add it to a large dish or roasting tray. Stuff the spinach mixture into the pasta shells and place them on top. Top with the crumb. Bake for 20 minutes, or until golden.