Serves 2 as a main or 4 as an entree (makes around 22 large nudi)
As promised, finally an Italian recipe. I did mean to post some sooner after my trip, but I was a little Italianed out. That, and it’s taken me a while to attempt some of my recipes in a gluten free version. Nobody wants to go to a lot of effort only to be disappointed, and anyone who knows me knows the disdain I have for gluten free products. Just eat something else, is usually my motto. Why eat an inferior version of something? Doesn’t it just make you sad? Luckily, these nudi are sensational, and I will happily make these gluten free forever, even if I one day have a choice. They are just as good as my gluten containing recipe, and that is not something I say lightly.
Nudi were always going to be first on the list, as Fabio has been asking for them ever since our magical dinner at La Fonte, an all vegan agriturismo in Montespertoli, Tuscany. This night is definitely our fondest memory of the whole trip, and by far the best food and dining experience we had in Italy.
The night began after a scorching day climbing hundreds of stairs in the city. We left our hotel in Florence and drove out into the countryside, through fields of sunflowers, olive groves and the setting Tuscan sun, until we arrived at our picturesque destination. Not sure what to expect, we drove up to the only building in sight, the farmhouse, where we were warmly greeted by the owners who lived there. We had booked, of course, but we didn’t realise they were opening just for us. Feeling very special, we took our seat in the garden, complete with a cat, as the owner talked us through what she and her husband had prepared that night.
We went for the full four courses (naturally) and a carafe of wine made on the premises, which was excellent and incredibly underpriced. For antipasti we ate a sensational carrot and nut pate with puffed brustenghi (called something different in Tuscany, but the name escapes me), and the best fried spinach pastries I have ever tasted, with just the right amount of nutmeg. For primi, I chose the mint and coconut bulgur, and Fabio had the excellent chard nudi with tomato sauce. Now, while the seitan scallopini that followed was truly astonishing (so tender and delicious Fabio said it tasted exactly, and I mean exactly, like the real thing), it was the nudi Fabio wanted to eat again the most, and since our silverbeet is going to seed in the garden, tonight I was happy to oblige.
It had been years since I made nudi before this evening, having usually preferred spinach and ricotta ‘ravioli’, but now whenever I eat them I will feel the warm, lavender scented Tuscan breeze on my face, and they will forever hold a special place in my heart.
250g silverbeet leaves (weighed after the tough stems have been removed)
180g (just shy of 1 US cup) traditional Chinese tofu
110 g/ 1 US cup vegan parmesan
1 large clove garlic, finely chopped
1/4 -1/2 tsp nutmeg (to taste)
1/4 cup brown rice flour
1/4 cup white buckwheat flour
Salt and pepper to taste
2 punnets cherry or mini roma tomatoes
4 cloves garlic, smashed and roughly chopped
A large pinch chilli flakes (optional)
Olive oil, salt and black pepper
1. Wash and spin dry the silverbeet leaves. Place in a steamer basket over boiling water and steam 2 minutes, or until wilted. Remove from the heat and set aside.
2. Place the tofu in a mesh strainer over the sink and smush it up with your hands, to get a ricotta like consistency. Let any excess water drip away, then place the tofu into a mixing bowl. Add the vegan parmesan, nutmeg and garlic and mix well.
3. Squeeze as much liquid as you can out of the silverbeet with your hands (no need to wring it in a towel, I find one or two squeezes is all it needs) and chop finely. Add to the tofu mixture and mix well. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
4. Whisk the rice and buckwheat flours together. Gradually add the flour a little at a time to the spinach and tofu mix, until you have a sticky mixture that easily holds together. I rarely need more than 2/3 of the flour, so if it holds together, don’t use it all. Too much flour and you will end up with bricks.
Dust your hands with the remaining flour and break off small pieces of mix. Roll into balls/egg shapes of the desired size (whatever you like, they are great as tiny gnochetti too) and place on a floured plate.
5. To cook, bring a pot of salted water to a rapid boil. Drop the gnocchi in (unless you use a very big pot it’s best to do this in two batches) and boil until they float to the surface. These take a fair bit longer than traditional gnocchi, so be patient. They should float after 5 minutes or so. If in doubt, remove one and taste it to ensure there is no floury taste. Remove the gnocchi with a slotted spoon and keep warm until they have all finished cooking.
For the sauce
5. Preheat the oven to 200C. Cut the cherry tomatoes in half and place onto a baking tray with the garlic and enough olive oil to coat. Season with salt and pepper and bake 30 minutes, giving a good stir halfway through. The tomatoes will be caramelised and soft. Remove from the oven and add just a little splash of boiling water (or more if you want a runnier sauce) and a splash of olive oil and give a good mix. Adjust seasoning to taste, remove the rosemary and divide between the serving dishes.
Serve the gnocchi atop the sauce, with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of vegan parmesan. I always put extra parmesan and chilli flakes on the table.