Small Spinach Dumplings    Gnocchi Verdi

4 tablespoons butter
2 ten-ounce packages frozen chopped spinach, thoroughly defrosted, 
        squeezed completely dry, and chopped very fine (about 1 1/2 cups) 
        or 1 1/2 pounds fresh spinach, cooked, squeezed and chopped
3/4 cup ricotta cheese
2 eggs, lightly beaten
6 tablespoons flour
3/4 cup freshly grated imported Parmesan cheese
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Pinch of freshly ground nutmeg*
6 to 8 quarts water
1 tablespoon salt
4 tablespoons butter

In an 8- to 10-inch enameled or stainless-steel skillet, melt 4 tablespoons of butter over moderate heat.  Add the chopped fresh or frozen spinach and cook, stirring constantly, for 2 to 3 minutes, or until almost all of the moisture has boiled away and the spinach begins to stick lightly to the skillet.  Now add the 3/4 cup of ricotta cheese and cook, stirring, for 3 or 4 minutes longer.
    With a rubber spatula, transfer the entire contents of the skillet to a large mixing bowl and mix in the 2 lightly beaten eggs, 6 tablespoons of flour, 1/4 cup of the grated cheese, 1/2 teaspoon salt, pepper and nutmeg.  Place in the refrigerator for 30 minutes to 1 hour, or until the gnocchi mixture is quite firm.
    Preheat the broiler.  Bring the 6 to 8 quarts of water and 1 tablespoon of salt to a simmer over moderate heat in a large soup pot or saucepan.  Flour your hands lightly and pick up about 1 tablespoon of the chilled gnocchi mixture at a time.  Shape the tablespoonfuls into small balls about 1 1/2 inches in diameter.  Gently drop the balls into the simmering water and cook them uncovered for 5 to 8 minutes, or until they puff slightly and are somewhat firm to the touch.  With a slotted spoon, lift the gnocchi out of the water and set them aside on a towel to drain.
    Now pour 2 tablespoons of the melted butter into a shallow 8-by-12-inch flameproof dish and swirl the butter around until the bottom of the dish glistens.  Arrange the gnocchi in the dish in one layer about 1/4-inch apart, dribble the remaining 2 tablespoons of melted butter over them, and sprinkle the gnocchi with the remaining 1/2 cup of grated cheese.  Set under the broiler 3 inches from the heat for 3 minutes, or until the cheese melts.
    Serve the gnocchi at once, directly from the baking dish.  Serve additional grated cheese separately, if you wish,  Or, if you have a small grater, suitable for your table, pass a small chunk of Parmigiano-Reggiano with the grater for diners to add cheese as they like.

*If you do not have fresh nutmeg on hand, you can achieve a fair approximation of fresh nutmeg by combining nutmeg and mace.  Myristica fragrans is the fruit of a a tropical evergreen, which is the source of both these spices.  The seed of the fruit is known as nutmeg and the lacy red membrane surrounding the seed is known as mace. Be careful, though, because it is easy to overdo the mace.
    According to Day and Stuckey’s  The Spice Cookbook:  “Mace resembles nutmeg but is more pungent.  It is the traditional spice for pound cake, but it also enhances the taste of cherry pie, chocolate dishes, and whipped cream.  . . . .”

This recipe has been kitchen tested.


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