Dorie's Strozzapreti: Corsican Spinach and Mint Gnocchi

In Italian, 'Strozzapreti' translates to "priest choker" or "priest strangler," but in a culinary context they are typically an elongated form of cavatelli (or fusilli). In Corsica, and throughout the Tuscan and Umbria regions of Italy, Strozzapreti can also refer to a baked cheese and vegetable dish, or gnocchi. It has been said that these gnocchi are large enough to choke a person (read: priest) if eaten whole, hence the name "priest choker." I hope that doesn't render these dumplings unappetizing!

This is another recipe from Dorie Greenspan's, Around My French Table. (Have I mentioned how much I love this cookbook?) It's very much Italian in terms of influence, but since this is a Corsican dish, and Corsica is part of France, it's included in Greenspan's tome on French cuisine. It's a bit time consuming to make (some of that is wait time though), but it's worth it and you can divide the work up into parts. I made the gnocchi ahead of time and chilled them in the refrigerator overnight. The next day I boiled and baked them. 

I love these little dumplings. The mint really makes these gnocchi pop and it gives them a wonderful freshness. They remind me of the spinach gnocchi I made about a year ago, but those were topped with an asiago cream sauce and these are smothered in homemade tomato sauce.โ€จHeeding the caveat implied in the dish's name (Strozzapreti), I cut mine in half.โ€จSo, go ahead, enjoy these gnocchiโ€ฆjust be sure not to swallow them whole! 

Use fresh ricotta and fresh really makes the dish.
Strorzzapretis: Corsican Spinach and Mint Gnocchi
Serves 6 starter servings or 4 main-course servings
10 ounces spinach, trimmed
1 pound whole-milk ricotta or fresh brocciu, if you can get it
1 large egg
5 ounces cheese, such as Gruyere or Emmenthal or a combination of Gruyere and Parmesan, grated (about 1 1/4 cup)
1 bunch mint leaves, finely chopped (about 1 cup)
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour, plus more for shaping
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Olive oil
1 1/2 cups tomato sauce (I made my own but you can use a good-quality store bought marinara as well)

Wash the spinach in several changes of cool water, toss into a large pot, with the water still clinging to the leaves. Place the pot over medium-low heat, cover and cook the spinach, turning often, until it is soft, about 5 minutes. Turn the spinach into a colander and shake out as much of the water as possible.

When the spinach is cool enough to handle, press out the remainder of the water (or as much as you can) by squeezing small bunches of the spinach between your palms or by twisting them in a kitchen towel. Coarsely chop the spinach, toss it into a bowl, and use your fingers to pull the clumps of spinach apart as best you can.

With a sturdy rubber spatula or wooden spoon, beat the ricotta or brocciu into the spinach, followed by an egg. Stir in half of the grated cheese and the mint, sprinkle over the flour, season with salt and pepper and blend. You'll have a soft, malleable mixture. 

Line a baking sheet or tray that will fit in the fridge with plastic wrap. Make a mound of about 1/4 cup flour on your work surface. 

Working with two tablespoons, scoop up a tablespoonful of the cheese mixture with one spoon and then scrape the mix from one spoon to the other until you've formed a cohesive quenelle. Drop the quenelle into the mound of flour, and then toss it gently from hand to hand to shake off the excess.  After working the mixture this way, your quenelle will probably look like a large, slightly misshapen bullet, and that's just fine. Put the nugget on the lined sheet and continue until you've used all the dough, you'll have about 3 dozen strozzapreti.

Chill or freeze the strozzapreti for about 30 minutes, just to firm them a bit. (I refrigerated them overnight).

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Lightly oil an 9x13 baking dish (glass, porcelain or pottery).

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, and have a big bowl of ice and cold water nearby.

Remove the strozzapretis from the refrigerator or freezer. Lower the heat under the pot so that the water is at a simmer, and carefully drop some strozzapreti into the pot-- don't crowd the pot-- work in batches of 8 to 10 at a time. The nuggets will sink to the bottom of the pot and then pop to the top. After they do, let them gently bob around in the pot for about 5 minutes, then lift them out of the simmering water with a slotted spoon and drop them into the ice water.

Continue poaching and cooling the rest.

Drain the strozzapreti, and dry between sheets of paper towels-- be careful, they're soft and fragile-- then arrange them in the oiled pan. Pour the tomato sauce over the strozzapreti, top with the remaining grated cheese, and slide the pan into the oven.

Bake for about 15 minutes, until the sauce is bubbling hot, the cheese melted and the strozzapreti heated through. Serve immediately.