Sunday, June 27, 2010

Summer days

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
whole nutmeg
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.


  1. Is it fogged in there today? Because, let me tell you, down in the South Bay, I have the A/C on. It's HOT!! I think I'd have to enjoy this as a pasta SALAD in this weather. ;)

  2. Now i know how you northern hemisphereans feel when I talk about summer during your winter :) It is absolutely freezing today (even thought the sun is shining brightly), and I'm wearing the thickest jumper I can find, plus socks!

    Glad you're enjoying your days, and that dish looks delicious. Pasta, spinach and ricotta are a brilliant combo, and ham just makes it perfect.

  3. Lovely, simple pasta! And the nutmeg is a nice touch.
    I think summer changes postings are fewer, comments are down and people are busy, taking breaks, have kids home from school...any number of things. Everyone understands!

  4. Yum! Sounds ike a great I-don't-feel-like-cooking dinner! Like a much less fussy version of spinach lasagna. Like something I probably will end up making with fresh spinach, just because I got some in the CSA.

  5. CJ: yesterday and today have been nice, but last week we had some crummy days. Soaking it up now while it lasts...

    shaz: funny living on opposite ends, isn't it?! you do sounds cozy though...

    Barbara: I love nutmeg with spinach--it's a great combination!

    sophie: it's quick and delicious, what more could I ask for?

    camille: Totally. It's so quick and creamy and comforting...with a little tomato sauce it would be very lasagne-y.

  6. this is terrific, plain and simple. i love the dash of nutmeg. methinks that with a handful of peas, this'd be perfection. :)

  7. I love spinach and cheesy sauce with pasta. It's one of my go-to ways to get the kids to eat greens. Yours sounds delicious!

  8. grace: oh peas, that's always a good addition to pasta!

    oneordinaryday: Hiding greens in cheese is definitely a good tactic!

  9. I forgot how much I love this pasta dish too although it was 100 degrees today, so hot spinach and cheese may have to wait: I'm thinking cantaloupe-cucumber-radish salad, i.e. COOL. In all honesty, tonight we had the tomato-onion butter sauce with penne, which Mischievous Pug says is her favorite after spaghetti w/ Nana's Sauce.

  10. Yum! It is such a delicious combo that it is hard to go wrong. My partner would love the inclusion of ham, I will have to try this over the weekend.

  11. Actually, the spinach cheese gnocchi your mom makes sounds good! You should make that once and show us. :)

  12. My sis is complaining about the summer passing her by too.. With her toddler twins around she dint get time to soak in the california sun enuf... well, maybe next year, when the twins r a year older :)

    Love the recipe..

  13. Jary: MP is a smart one; I love bot the t-o-b sauce and Mom's spaghetti. That's my favorite too.

    Megan: I hope you try it! It's a favorite in our house...

    Ben: The gnocchi verdi is a great recipe, a little bit of work but worth it. Maybe I'll do it one day soon and post about it.

    colored grains: Summer always goes too fast!

  14. I made this last night and it was SO good! Hopefully, I'll get around to posting about it in the next day or two (with credits and thanks to you, of course!). This has definitely found a permanent home in my recipe box.

  15. This is the perfect go-to recipe, what with the convenience of the frozen spinach and the magically creamy sauce the ricotta makes.

  16. D.A.: I'm so glad you liked it!

    CJ: Yep, it's the perfect weeknight dinner!

  17. HD, I love your go-to recipes. They're like mine. This one will be going on my go-to list. I love spinach with pasta and when you add ricotta and parmesan, I'm your prisoner.