This week’s recipe comes to us from the town of Minori on the the Amalfi Coast. Ndunderi, a kind of ricotta gnocchi, are traditionally served on the three feast days dedicated to Minori’s patron saint Trofimena: November 5, November 27 and her main feast day on July 13. But don’t let that stop you from enjoying them any time you’re in the mood for this delicious treat…
You make ndunderi much as you would gnocchi made from potatoes, but since you needn’t boil and mash the potatoes, they process is rather simpler. You make a soft dough from ricotta, eggs, grated cheese and flour, then form the dough into gnocchi in the usual way but a bit larger. The cheeses make them even tastier than potato gnocchi. And rather lighter on the palate and stomach, too, despite their larger size. It seems odd to me that they haven’t gained the popularity that their starchier cousins enjoy.
Ndunderi are classically paired with a sugo di salsiccia, a kind of meat sauce made with sausage rather than ground beef or pork, in which case they are practically a meal in themselves. But they are also lovely with a meatless tomato sauce, melted butter scented with lemon, or indeed any other sauce you might use on potato gnocchi.
- 250g (1/2 lb) ricotta, well drained
- 50g (2 oz) grated parmigiano-reggiano (or caciocavallo if you can find it)
- 2 eggs
- 200g (7 oz) white flour, preferably of the “OO” variety, or as much as you need
In a large mixing bowl, mix together the ricotta, eggs and grated cheese, together with a good pinch of salt and a scrape of nutmeg, until you have a uniform paste. Add the flour bit by bit until you get a soft but not sticky dough. Knead very briefly on a well floured surface to form a ball. Cover in plastic wrap, then a towel, and let rest for at least 30 minutes.
Cut the ball in halves or quarters, then roll out into thick logs, then cut the logs into lengths. (Each ndundero should weigh about 20-35g.)
Now press each length with your finger against the prongs of a fork, the side of cheese grater or, if you have one, a gnocchi board to form ridges on one side of each ndundero and a deep dimple on the other, like this:
Repeat until you’ve used up all the dough. Lay out the ndunderi on a well floured tray or board until you want to cook them.
Simmer the ndunderi in well salted water for 5 minutes or so. They will rise to the surface as the cook, then let them go for another minute or two more. Taste one if need be to test if their done to your liking.
Using a skimmer, transfer them to a serving plate. Nap with your sauce of choice and serve right away, with additional grated cheese for those who like it.
As with so many traditional dishes, measurements vary from recipe to recipe. Some call for more grated cheese (which, by the way, traditionally is hard-to-find caciocavallo rather than parmigiano-reggiano). Others call for more or less ricotta or more or less flour. Actually, it’s hard to give a hard and fast rule. As suggested in the main recipe, I’d start with a mixture of ricotta, egg and grated cheese, then add as much flour as you need to form a soft but not at all sticky dough. This is a perfect example of the Italian concept of quanto basta I discussed in this recent post—just use as much as you need.
The size of ndunderi can also vary. Recipes generally say each ndundero should weigh anywhere between 20 and 35 grams, which results in a dumpling quite a bit larger than your typical potato gnocchi. So make sure not to skip that ridging and dimpling of each ndundero, it’s extra important here. And you’ll need to cook them a longer than potato gnocchi, as indicated somewhere around 5 minutes.
Speaking of flour, although you will find recipes that call for semola rimacinata—the finely ground semolina flour used for making dry factory pasta and many southern Italian homemade pastas—I find it makes dunderi rather too chewy for my tastes. I’d opt for “OO” flour, the finely ground white flour you use for making egg pasta and pizza dough. It produces a particularly pleasant ndunderi. But in a pinch, plain old all-purpose will also work just fine, too.
To make the classic ragù di salsiccia to go with your ndunderi, sauté a half yellow onion in abundant olive oil until soft, then add a link (or two) of sweet Italian sausage. When the sausage has lost its raw appearance, pour in a glug of wine (either red or white will do equally well) and let it evaporate. Then add tomato passata and let everything simmer gently for a good hour or even two, until you have a richly flavored and dense sauce.
If you’d like a meatless dish, a simple tomato sauce such as a pummarola would work very nicely. In fact, ndunderi go well with just about any sauce that you might think to use with potato gnocchi. Since they are quite flavorful on their own, they’re perfectly delicious with simple dressings, such as butter and sage topped with grated parmigiano-reggiano. A popular sauce for ndunderi—making use of the marvelous local lemons—is simply melted butter to you add some grated lemon zest and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice.
Interestingly, according to the Accademia Italiana di Cucina, the Piemontese make small gnocchetti di ricotta with a very similar dough and serve them with a mushroom sauce.
Measurements aside, the main ingredients for making ndunderi are remarkably consistent from recipe to recipe. But there are a few subtle variations out there. Some recipes recommend adding grated lemon zest, which sounds like a nice touch if you’re serving them in the summer. La Cucina Italiana suggests using egg yolks rather than whole eggs, and a few minced basil leaves as well.
Another common variation is to gratinée your ndunderi. After boiling, you layer them in a baking dish alternating with sauce and topped with cheese, typically smoked scamorza. If you can’t find scamorza, I’d suggest another meltable cheese such as smoked mozzarella.
The story of Saint Trofimena
The basilica of the town of Minori has conserved the relics of Trofimena for over 1000 years. According to legend, she lived in Sicily in the 7th century, where she met death after refusing an arranged marriage. Her body was hidden in an urn and cast into the sea. The urn eventurally washed up on the shore at Minori. The locals discovered the urn and brought her into town on a pair of white calves. At a certain point, the calves stopped and refused to move. The town folk took this as divine intervention and decided to build a church on the very spot where the calves ended their journey.
And so Trofimena became inextricably tied to the town of Minori. There they celebrate her on three different days each year. Her main feast day is July 13, the day she is said to have summoned up a storm to ward off pirates. She is also honored on November 5, the day her remains washed up on Minori’s shores. And also on November 27, the day her reliquary urn, which had been “mislaid” during a remodeling of the basilica, was rediscovered in the 18th century.
The practice of making gnocchi from flour and fresh cheese, however, goes back even further in time than Trofimena’s time. Some food historians maintain that a form of ndunderi date back to the ancient Romans. I haven’t been able to discover precisely how ndunderi came to be associated with Trofimena. Perhaps some kind reader with local knowledge can help us out?
Ndunderi di Minori
- 250g 1/2 lb ricotta, well drained
- 50g 2 oz grated parmigiano-reggiano or caciocavallo if you can find it
- 2 eggs
- 200g 7 oz white flour, preferably of the "OO" variety or as much as you need
- In a large mixing bowl, mix together the ricotta, eggs and grated cheese, together with a good pinch of salt and a scrape of nutmeg, until you have a uniform paste. Add the flour bit by bit until you get a soft but not sticky dough. Knead very briefly on a well floured surface to form a ball. Cover in plastic wrap, then a towel, and let rest for at least 30 minutes.
- Cut the ball in halves or quarters, then roll out into thick logs, then cut the logs into lengths. (Each ndundero should weigh about 20-35g.)
- Now press each length with your finger against the prongs of a fork, the side of cheese grater or, if you have one, a gnocchi board to form ridges on one side of each ndundero and a deep dimple on the other.
- Repeat until you've used up all the dough. Lay out the ndunderi on a well floured tray or board until you want to cook them.
- Simmer the ndunderi in well salted water 5 minutes or so. When they rise to the surface of the water let them go for a minute or two more, until done to your liking.
- Using a skimmer, transfer them to a serving plate. Nap with your sauce of choice and serve right away, with additional grated cheese for those who like it.