From Adriatico: Stories and recipes from Italy’s Adriatic Coast by Paola Bacchia
(Smith Street Books, September 2018 – AU$ 55, NZ$ 65)
Photography (c) Paola Bacchia
Gnocchi with mixed greens and cave-ripened cheese
Gnocchi con erbe e formaggio di fossa
500 g (1 lb 2 oz) mixed greens (such as silverbeet/Swiss chard, spinach and witlof/chicory)
iced water, to refresh
200 g (7 oz) fresh ricotta, drained
100 g (3½ oz) parmesan, grated, plus extra to serve
100 g (3½ oz) formaggio di fossa or a crumbly pecorino, grated
2 eggs, lightly beaten
100 g (3½ oz/1 cup) dried breadcrumbs
1 teaspoon chopped dill
finely grated zest of ½ lemon
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
100 g (3½ oz) unsalted butter
Bring a large saucepan of salted water to the boil. Wash and trim the greens, then plunge them into the boiling water. Once it comes to boil again, let the greens cook for a few minutes. Drain and refresh in iced water (to help retain their colour), then roughly chop and allow to cool.
Meanwhile, place the ricotta, grated cheeses and egg in a large bowl and stir until well combined. Add the cooled greens, breadcrumbs, dill, lemon zest and salt and pepper to taste and combine well – the mixture will be quite thick. Roll the mixture into walnut-sized balls. Ideally the gnocchi should be cooked as soon as you make them – don’t let them rest too long.
Bring a large saucepan of water to the boil. Before you add the gnocchi to the water, melt the butter in a large deep frying pan over low heat. (You may need to do this in two pans or batches if you don’t have a very large pan.) Once the water is at a rolling boil, carefully drop in the gnocchi in batches, using a slotted spoon. Once they rise to the surface, lift them out with the slotted spoon and carefully drop them into the melted butter. Allow the gnocchi to cook for a few minutes on each side until nicely golden. Spoon onto warmed serving places and drizzle over some of the deep-golden butter.
Scatter with extra grated parmesan and serve immediately.
In Solignano al Rubicone in Emilia-Romagna, just north of Le Marche, they make cheese that is buried in the ground while it ages. It is called ‘formaggio di fossa’, literally, ‘cheese of the pit’. The cheese is made with sheep or cow’s milk (or a combination of both). It is wrapped in muslin and buried in a straw-lined rocky pit – typically of volcanic ash – three to four metres (about three yards) deep, and matured for a period of up to three months. During this time the cheese develops a distinctive woody flavour.
The cheese vendor at the weekly market in Cervia encouraged me to have a taste; it was crumbly, pungent and intense – what I would have called a ‘smelly cheese’ as a child. These days this sort of cheese is right up my alley; a worthy companion to softer milder cheeses on a platter, and a sharp-tasting addition to gnocchi or risotto.
These gnocchi are a bit like gnudi; ‘naked’ filling for ravioli without their pasta coat. Adding the ‘pit cheese’ makes them more flavoursome, and works well if you add some bitter greens to the mix and coat them in melted butter at the end. I am lucky that my local specialised deli in Melbourne sells imported formaggio di fossa, but if you can’t find it, use a crumbly strong-tasting sheep’s milk cheese that has been aged no more than 12 months, such as pecorino sardo.