The days have been slipping away from me. In part it's the summertime effect; even though we're deprived of heat here in San Francisco, it feels like summer in its own way. It's foggy and cool in the mornings and evenings, burning off in the afternoon for a few hours of sunshine. The city seems less crowded; the pool where I swim, which belongs to a university, has endless open lanes now that students are gone; and scheduling with friends is all of a sudden trickier, with vacations and kids being out of school.
My days are busy and productive and largely enjoyable, but they leave less time for writing than I hoped. My poor blog is feeling neglected. While I still love this little space, I'm not cooking as much, nor am I carving out enough time to put together decent posts.
Luckily, a few weeks ago I did make one of my old standby recipes that I haven't yet posted about. This is yet another favorite from St. Marcella; I believe it was the second recipe of hers I ever tried (the first being her delicious and simple tomato-onion-butter sauce.)
This is a quick and satisfying recipe; the only thing you need to plan ahead for is to defrost the spinach. Not a big deal for those of you with microwaves, but for the microwave-less like me, defrosting spinach can take awhile. Once you've got that taken care of, the sauce, such as it is, comes together in less than the time it takes to cook the pasta.
I'm in love with this recipe. Spinach and ricotta is a heavenly combination; it reminds me of the version of gnocchi my mother always made when I was a kid: creamy dumplings of ricotta and spinach, bound with a little egg and flour, cooked in gently simmering water, then baked under a covering of parmesan and melted butter, and finally served with fresh tomato sauce. I don't think I have to elaborate on my feelings about ham, although I'm willing to.
Like many of Marcella's recipes, I've adapted/Americanized this one over the 14 years I've been making it, and often add extra ham or ricotta. Although you can use fresh spinach, I'm not sure why you'd want to. Frozen spinach is one of the great joys of the modern world. In any case, I've reproduced the recipe here (nearly) in its original form so you can decide how faithful you want to be.
Spinach sauce with ricotta and ham
From Marcella Hazan's Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking
2 10-oz. packages frozen leaf spinach, thawed
1/4 lb. butter
2 oz. unsmoked boiled ham, chopped
1/2 c. fresh ricotta
1/2 c. freshly grated parmesan, plus extra for the table
1 lb. pasta (ridged penne or rigatoni)
With your hands, squeeze the moisture from the spinach, chop it fine, and set aside.
Put half the butter in a saute pan and turn on the heat to medium high. When the butter foam begins to subside, add the ham, turn it two or three times, then add the spinach and liberal pinches of salt. Bear in mind that aside from the ricotta, which has no salt, the spinach is the principle component of the sauce and must be adequately seasoned. Saute the spinach over lively heat, turning it frequently, for about 2 minutes.
Off heat, grate in nutmeg--no more than 1/8 teaspoon.
Toss the cooked and drained pasta with the sauce, plus the ricotta, the remaining butter, and 1/2 c. grated parmesan. Serve at once, with additional parmesan on the side.