As part of my job, I sometimes get to test recipes by other people. This is a really great part of the job, to be honest, because it completely solves the problem of what to make for dinner on those nights.
So when I was asked about two years ago to test recipes for a story freelance writer Kristen Hartke was doing about vegan pizza, I was all in. Kristen is great to work with, she is super smart and has great taste. I’m predisposed to trust her recipes. They’re simple and straightforward, and always taste great.
When I saw that one of the elements for the pizza was a vegan ricotta, it got my attention. I wasn’t totally sure how we’d pull that off. Then I looked at the ingredient list and saw that it was very short. The main two ingredients were tofu and … artichokes?
I was skeptical. Highly skeptical. Even though it was from Kristen.
But it was a low-lift recipe. Just a couple ingredients, spin them in the food processor for a minute and start making the pizza it will go on top of. So I shrugged and dropped everything in the food processor, because that’s the job some days.
Before I went on with the rest of the pizza, I had to give the faux ricotta a taste on its own. Was it close? Could it be?
It wasn’t just close — it was a dead ringer. It was perfect. My jaw hit the floor, and not just because I was making way for the next spoonful. I couldn’t figure out why that bit of culinary alchemy worked. The artichoke thing still has me scratching my head.
I made the pizzas, and they were great, but I couldn’t stop thinking about the ricotta clone and dreaming up other applications for it. My first thought was calzone, but that isn’t that big a jump from pizza. Then I thought ravioli or lasagna.
But then I thought about gnudi.
Gnudi — the G is silent, so give yourself a moment to take in the full-effect of the poetry of Italian imagery when it comes to naming food — look like a cousin of gnocchi, the little potato-based dumplings. But the backstory is that they are ravioli without any pasta to cover them up. (See? The “nude” thing made sense!) They’re essentially clouds of ricotta served with a sauce.
I’ve made gnudi before, and they’re delicious. Ricotta forms the bulk of the dumpling, and there is often spinach blended in. But they can be fragile and a little difficult. They involve mixing the ricotta with a couple of other ingredients and a lot of optimism before dropping clumps of what looks like loose cheese batter into boiling water and hoping they don’t all just fall apart. (Spoiler alert: Some always do.) And then there’s a mess to clean up.
The structure of Kristen’s ricotta doppelganger made me think that it would make a good base for gnudi. There was no actual cheese to melt. There wasn’t a lot of liquid that needed to be soaked up for them to hold together. So I took Kristen’s recipe and added spinach and a very short list of other ingredients. And a pinch optimism, I’ll admit. Then I dropped dollops of the mixture in the water.
They held together. All of them. There was no drama.
Gnudi are often served with marinara. I opted for a simple lemon butter sauce, mostly because I didn’t want to hide the beautiful green color of the dumplings, but also because I thought lemon and butter would complement the spinach and artichoke. (I almost called it a dressing, but then I remembered: nude!) Afraid I might miss the tomato flavor, I added a simple toss of cherry tomatoes, shallot and basil on top. The dish came across as a very sophisticated pasta-less pasta salad.
And it left me looking forward to the next time someone files a recipe that I can’t imagine will work. I’m always happy to have my skepticism disproved.