The region of Lazio around Rome has exceptional pasturelands for grazing sheep. The famous Easter baby lamb comes from here, as does some of the best ricotta and Pecorino cheese. The ricotta made in Rome of sheep's milk is completely different from that of other parts of Italy, where it is made with cow's milk. It is very light and contains little fat, and should be soft and moist, not dry.
When Angelo Bettoja was a child, the shepherd on his family farm would arrive every Saturday bearing fresh ricotta packed in little straw baskets. When the ricotta was turned out of the baskets, the imprint of the design was shown on the soft cheese. The cheese was eaten as soon as possible while it was still very fresh. It was often served for dessert, mixed with chocolate and sugar or ground coffee and sugar. It is also good mixed with Sambuca. American ricotta is thicker than Italian, and we suggest that it be passed through a sieve for all dishes.If you are serving this dish in the mid-Lent buffet, double the quantity.
2 lbs spinach, washed, cooked, drained
1 1/2 lbs ricotta
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus additional cheese for serving
1/2 t freshly ground white pepper
4 egg yolks
all-purpose flour for dredging
1/2 cup unsalted butter
10 fresh sage leaves (optional)
Pasta pot, saucepan, mixing bowl, 11" by 7" baking dish
Bring 5 quarts water and 1 tablespoon salt to boil in a large pasta pot.
Butter an ovenproof porcelain or Pyrex serving dish, about 11 X 7 inches and set aside.
Chop the spinach fine by hand, using a mezzaluna if available.
Remove to a bowl.
Sieve the ricotta and add to the spinach, with the 1/2 cup Parmesan, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, the pepper, and egg yolks.
Mix thoroughly, using a wooden spoon. Lightly dust a marble surface or wooden pastry board with flour. If neither is available, a large platter will do.
Have a bowl of cold water handy. Dip your hands in the cold water and form an oval gnoccho about 2 1/2 inches long. Place on the floured surface.
Continue making gnocchi, dampening your hands before making each one.
There should be about 32 when finished.
Maintain the water in the pasta pot at a simmer.
Roll the gnocchi in flour to coat them evenly and drop 8 at a time into the simmering water. Cook for 5 minutes.
Remove carefully with a slotted spoon and place in the buttered serving dish; keep warm in an open oven while you cook the remaining gnocchi.
While cooking the last gnocchi, melt the butter in a saucepan with the sage until the butter is colored.
Pour the butter over the gnocchi, add a generous amount of Parmesan (at least 3 tablespoons), and serve at once.