I seem to be overly enamored with ricotta cheese these days, but really, I do love the stuff. In the past few weeks I’ve made 2 or 3 batches of ricottaand then I made these and these and these and now these. Strozzapreti are like gnudi and gnocchi in that they start with a dough made of ricotta cheese, flour, etc. but they're a little more dense than their gnocchi cousins, and they get baked instead of boiled. If my back was up against the wall, I would have to say that these are my favorite of the bunch.
I am mostly familiar with strozzapreti as a kind of handmade pasta resembling a long-ish rolled up penne. There seem to be many legends surrounding this pasta, most of which refer to choking priests, and the fact that this pasta is so good that priests who were served them would eat too fast and choke to death. Who comes up with this stuff!? But strozzapreti also refers to these little baked spinach/ricotta balls, which the priests seem to choke on too.
Some time back I had saved this recipe from a restaurant called Al Aqua 2 in Washington, D.C. They serve it as an antipasti so that’s what I did, and man are they GOOD...dense, yet creamy with a burst of flavor from the parmesan - we couldn't stop eating them.
As I mentioned, I served them as a first course, but they could surely be an amazing main course as well. They’re ridiculously easy to make and very impressive to serve. Next time I think I will make them a little smaller - they're really meant to be one luscious, delicious bite (and evidently there is some danger of choking :D). I served them with small bowls of extra sauce and grated parmesan cheese for dipping. Killer.
And just for the record, no priests were harmed in the process.
Recipe courtesy Acqua Al 2
Note: The recipe was given in weight measurements which I think is much easier than volume measurements. If you have a kitchen scale, just set your bowl on that, press “tare/on” and after you add each ingredient, press tare again. No measuring cups! I’ve also given the rough equivalent of each in volume measurements.
5 1/4 ounces spinach (or about 2 oz or ¼ cup frozen spinach)
8 3/4 ounces ricotta cheese (about 1 cup)
1 3/4 ounces Parmesan, plus extra for sprinkling (about 2 T)
5 1/4 ounces flour (about 1 cup + 1 tablespoon)
Tomato Sauce(your favorite, or see below)
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
Blanch the spinach in water. Drain and chop. (If using frozen spinach, thaw and squeeze dry).
Mix the ricotta cheese with the spinach. Add the Parmesan and the flour. Mix well.Add a pinch of salt and pepper.
Take 1 tablespoon full of the ricotta mixture and form small balls with your hand (about 1/2 inch.) Place in a casserole dish.
Add some tomato sauce over the ricotta-spinach balls. Sprinkle some Parmesan over and cook for 10 minutes.
My Tomato Sauce
1 can San Marzano whole, peeled tomatoes
1 large shallot, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
¼ cup fresh chopped basil
Salt to taste
I use a hand blender to crush the tomatoes until smooth.
Saute the shallots in a couple tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil for about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté another minute or so. Pour in the tomatoes, about ½ tsp salt and the basil. Let simmer for about 10 minutes. If necessary, add about a couple teaspoons of sugar. Simmer for a few more minutes and taste for salt.