Prepare an ice bath by filling a large bowl with ice and cold water. Bring a large pot filled with generously salted water to a boil over medium-high heat.

Add the spinach and blanch until wilted, about 2 minutes. Remove immediately from the pot with tongs and transfer to the ice bath. When cool, drain the spinach in a colander. Place the spinach in a kitchen towel and wring until mostly dry; a bit of residual moisture is fine.

Set a medium-mesh strainer over a large bowl. In a blender or food processor, process the eggs and spinach until smooth. Strain the spinach-egg mixture into the bowl. Discard the solids left in the strainer.

Add the salt and flour to the strained spinach-egg mixture, gently folding with a rubber spatula until the dough is cohesive and has the consistency of thick pancake batter.

(To store, refrigerate, in a bowl covered with plastic wrap, for up to 1 day. Do not freeze malfatti.)

Bring another large pot filled with generously salted water to a simmer over medium-high heat. Using two tablespoons, drop dollops of dough into the simmering water and cook until the malfatti float to the surface, 1 to 3 minutes. Remove immediately with a slotted spoon and finish with your choice of sauce. Serve right away.


Gnudi and Malfatti, Naked and Poorly Made Ravioli

Gnudi or malfatti, as they are also known, are a kind of gnocchi little balls or rolls of spinach and cheese, cooked in boiling water, just like pasta. Think spinach and ricotta ravioli but only the filling, with no pasta dough covering it.

Estimated reading time: 8 minutes


Malfatti Italian Ricotta and Spinach Dumplings

Malfatti, which loosely translates as “poorly made” in Italian, are billowy dumplings of ricotta and spinach. Essentially gnocchi, but without the dough casing. A wonderful choice for a gorgeous light meal that is sure to satisfy even die hard meat sauce lovers.

Malfatti speak for themselves. Unlike gnocchi, there is no fiddling about making perfectly shaped dumplings. These have a very rustic homemade allure that harkens back to 17th century northern Italian cooks in the countryside. Malfatti can be steamed, boiled, sauted, or gently cooked in a simple tomato sauce.

I make my own ricotta (see recipes here) paired with the simplest tomato sauce (see recipe here) made with imported Italian tomatoes or tomato passata, fresh Italian tomatoes which have been passed through a food mill to remove the skin and seeds. Imported passata is readily available. To a passata just add onions, garlic, salt and pepper, and olive oil and you have the simplest of red sauces made in no time.

Malfatti: makes about 15 3 servings

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • large bunch of young spinach leaves, chopped
  • 6oz/170g ricotta cheese
  • 1 organic egg, whisked
  • 1 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • ¼ tsp finely grated nutmeg
  • 2 tbsp all-purpose flour
    prepared red sauce
  • whole dried red chiles (optional)

Heat the oil in a skillet over medium high heat. Add the spinach and saute just until the spinach has wilted, about 1 minute. Transfer the spinach to a paper towel to absorb excess water and set aside.

Place the ricotta in a mixing bowl and add the wilted spinach, egg, ¾ cup of Parmegiano-Regiano, salt, pepper, nutmeg, and flour. Fold the ingredients together until just combined and coming together.

Cover the mixture and refrigerate for 30 minutes. This will make the malfatti easier to form.

Then scoop out a generous tablespoon size portions of the mixture and form into elongated egg shapes without being too concerned about their uniformity. Think malfatti!

Place them on a parchment lined tray, cover, and refrigerate until you are ready to cook them in red sauce.

Preheat the oven to 350f/180c

Warm the red sauce and pour a cup or so in a baking dish. Then add the malfatti to the dish and add more sauce to nearly cover the malfatti with only the top exposed. Add the dried chiles if using and transfer the baking dish to the oven and bake for 20 minutes.

Open the oven and add the remaining ¼ cup grated Parmigiano over the tops of the malfatti. Turn the baking dish for even baking and continue baking until just lightly browned, about 15 minutes.

Serve the malfatti as pictured in a pool of red sauce along with a mixed greens salad and some crusty bread.


Rustic Malfatti - Recipes

Malfatti

Cheesy Italian Dumplings with spinach and tomato sauce

Malfatti, a light and fluffy yet cheesy rich dumplings. These little pillows from heaven are truly amazing. Similar to gnocchi with an Italian rustic charm. Simple to make and you can simply roll them into balls if quenelles intimidate you. You need to buy the real Parmigiano Reggiano for this, don’t go for inferior Parmesan. Served with a smooth tomato sauce, this is a delicate dish that will certainly impress. Easy to make in advance and reheat just before serving. A great vegetarian meal.

Ingredients

    250g of ricotta, drained overnight if wet. 10oz - 300g of baby spinach leaves 1 large egg ½ cup – 70g of all purpose plain flour (plus extra for coating) 3.5 oz - 100g of grated Parmigiano-Reggiano 1 pinch or grate of nutmeg 1 lemon zest salt to taste
For the sauce

Steps

In a frying pan on medium heat, add olive oil and garlic, seat garlic then add spinach leaves, salt and cook until wilted. Leave to cool. Once cooled down, place in a clean kitchen towel or cheese cloth, squeeze out any water, remove from towel and chop finely.

In a mixing bowl, place the ricotta cheese, flour, grated cheese, one egg, a grate or pinch of nutmeg, zest of one lemon, and chopped spinach. Mix well, cover and refrigerate.

Place a large pot of salted water and bring to a simmer.

For the sauce, place a pan on medium heat with olive oil, chopped garlic and oregano. Once the garlic browns a little, add the canned tomatoes. Pass through a mouli or blend in blender.

Using two long tablespoons, scoop some of the mixture and form into quenelles (see video). You can also roll into balls using your hands, simply roll into approx. 2 inch or 4 cm balls then roll into flour.

In the salted simmering water, using a spider or a slotted spoon, gently lower the balls or quenelles a few at a time for poaching. Once they rise to the surface, they are almost ready. Leave them another 60 seconds.

Place enough tomato sauce to fill the bottom of the serving plate. (Make sure your plates are warmed)

Remove quenelles from water and leave to drain on a plate or absorbent paper before placing on the sauce.


The flavourings

Spinach and ricotta is a classic pairing in Italian cooking, and Henry’s recipe proves why: the leaves bring a ferrous edge to the delicate sweetness of the cheese, though I’m also very taken with Parle’s peas, especially with the generous amounts of parmesan in his version. The perfect recipe below is a plain one, but if you want to experiment, be sure to cook and then finely chop or puree whatever you’re using, draining it thoroughly before adding it to the cheese you’ve just spent half an hour removing the moisture from. You could also add a bolder flavouring, such as Henry’s sauteed onion, or even garlic or chilli, but to me it seems a shame to distract from the subtle pleasures of ricotta.

That said, the rather less shy and retiring parmesan is a crucial ingredient in gnudi (the Cannas use pecorino, but my testers prefer the richer, sweeter flavour of its better-known cousin), though you can have too much of a good thing. Without the peas to balance it, the vast quantities in Parle’s recipe would drown out all the other flavours, while Bloomfield’s are almost too restrained, demanding a liberal sprinkle of extra cheese on top: I’ve gone for a happy medium.

Henry’s nutmeg brings another dimension to her gnudi, adding a gentle warmth, as opposed to the heat of black pepper, and a sweetness that echoes those in both cheeses. If you dislike it, however, use pepper instead, or indeed leave out the spice altogether: it won’t spoil the dish.

Alvaro Maccioni’s gnudi. Photograph: Felicity Cloake/The Guardian


Preparation

    1. Cook spinach in large pot of boiling salted water just until wilted, stirring occasionally, about 2 minutes. Drain. Squeeze out liquid. Chop spinach.
    2. Mix spinach, ricotta, 1/2 cup Parmesan, 1/2 cup flour, egg yolks, salt, pepper and nutmeg in bowl until slightly sticky dough forms.
    3. Dust baking sheet with flour. Working in batches and using floured hands, roll 1/4 cup dough on floured work surface to form 5-inch-long rope. Cut rope into 1-inch pieces. Roll each piece between palms to form oval. Transfer gnocchi to prepared baking sheet. Repeat rolling, cutting and shaping with remaining dough. Working in batches, add gnocchi to pot of boiling salted water cook until gnocchi rise to surface. Cook 4 minutes longer. Using slotted spoon, remove gnocchi from water drain. Place in serving dish.
    4. Pour butter over gnocchi toss. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover chill. Reheat in 400°F oven about 10 minutes.) Sprinkle with 1/2 cup Parmesan. Season with salt and pepper.

    SORREL AND SPINACH MALFATTI WITH CARAMELISED BUTTER AND PARMESAN

    Malfatti, roughly translating as ‘badly formed’, are from the Lombardi region in Italy and are similar to gnocchi. The sour tartness of the sorrel adds a freshness and lightness.

    • 500g spinach
    • 100g sorrel
    • 250g ricotta
    • 100g semolina
    • 60g plain flour
    • 1 egg, lightly beaten
    • 80g grated parmesan, plus a little extra for serving
    • ¼tsp grated nutmeg
    • Half a lemon
    • 80g butter

    Set aside a small handful of spinach leaves then gently wilt the rest with the sorrel in a pan. Leave to drain and cool in a sieve.

    Squeeze any excess moisture out of the spinach and sorrel then roughly chop.

    In a bowl, mix together the ricotta, 60g of semolina, flour, egg, parmesan, nutmeg and zest from the lemon. Add in the chopped spinach mix and season with salt and pepper.

    Dust a flat tray with the remainder of the semolina.

    Form the ricotta mix into fairly rustic balls and spread out on the tray – you should make about 20.

    These can be kept in the fridge until you are ready to eat. They will last a couple of days but are best eaten within 12 hours.

    On a low heat, melt the butter in a frying pan, fry the reserved spinach leaves until dark green then drain on kitchen paper. Don’t wash the pan.

    Bring a large pan of lightly salted water to the boil, add the malfatti and wait for them to bob to the surface (this will only take a couple of minutes). Gently simmer for 2 minutes then scoop out with a slotted spoon into the pan with the butter from the fried spinach.

    Gently sauté the balls for a couple of minutes then squeeze over the lemon juice.

    Serve straight away on a warm plate with extra grated parmesan and a few leaves of crispy spinach.


    Khasta kachori

    Spiced vegetarian fillings are traditional for these crispy Indian dumplings, but you can use just about anything.

    Makes around 16
    For the dumplings

    150g plain flour
    150g wholewheat flour
    1 tbsp salt
    80ml oil or melted ghee
    Oil, for deep frying

    For the filling
    1½ tbsp vegetable oil
    1 tsp cumin seeds
    1 onion, finely chopped
    ¾ tsp turmeric
    1½ tsp ground coriander
    1 green chilli pepper, minced
    120g mix of green peas and carrots
    500g potatoes, boiled and roughly mashed
    Salt, to taste
    A handful of coriander, chopped

    1 To make the dough, mix the flours and salt, then add the oil or ghee and mix well. To make sure that the oil is mixed properly, hold the flour in your fist, press tightly and open the fist, the flour should still hold itself – this process will help to make the pastry flaky. Add enough water to make it into a dough, then work for around 5 minutes, until it forms a smooth ball. Wrap in clingfilm and chill for 30 minutes.

    2 To make the filling, heat some oil in a pan and add the cumin seeds. When they begin to pop, add the onion and fry for a couple of minutes, add the dry spices and chilli. Stir then add the peas and carrots. Add potatoes, salt to taste, then stir through the coriander.

    3 Next, lightly oil your hands, then roll the dough into small balls (about 1½ tbsp dough in each ball). Then press into 2cm-diameter discs. Either use the tips of your fingers and start by pinching and flattening around the edges, leaving the centres thicker, or you can just use a lightly oiled rolling pin.

    4 Fill the centre of the flattened dough discs, lift up all the edges and join them all together at one place, making sure they are properly sealed, then press on to a work surface, seam-sides down, or flatten it between your palms, making sure you do not leave any air pockets.

    5 Fill a wok a third full with oil, heat until a breadcrumb sizzles and turns golden within 30 seconds, then fry the dumplings in batches until golden. Serve with raita or chutney.

    Recipe supplied by Prerna Singh, indiansimmer.com


    The Scoop on Scooping

    The texture of cooked gnudi can mostly be predicted by the consistency of the raw dough. A mixture that is firm enough to be rolled into ropes and cut into pieces (like gnocchi dough) tends to contain more binder and cook up rather dense. This dough, which is just cohesive enough to scoop and roll into balls, cooks up light and pillowy.

    Case in point: I made a beautifully workable dough with a pair of egg whites (more valuable than yolks for their preponderance of binding proteins) and a little more than ½ cup of flour. I rolled it into tidy ropes and cut the ropes into small pieces as I would gnocchi&mdashthe shaping approach I&rsquod seen in several recipes. But the cooked dumplings were dense and tight.

    I could have kept fiddling with the ratios, but instead I solicited ideas from Lydia Reichert, a friend of mine who is the former chef at Sycamore in Newton, Massachusetts. She offered a clutch suggestion: Instead of making a dough that&rsquos firm enough to roll, make one that&rsquos just cohesive enough to scoop and roll into rounds (see &ldquoThe Scoop on Scooping&rdquo).

    To do that, I had to cut back on some of the flour without removing so much starch that the dough became sticky. And as it turned out, that was a perfect job for the bread crumbs I&rsquod seen in some gnudi recipes: Just 1 tablespoon of conventional crumbs in place of an equal amount of flour produced a light but cohesive dough and noticeably airier gnudi, since they made the dough heterogeneous, much as they would in a meatball mixture. The results were even better with panko these coarser crumbs are more absorbent and made the raw dough easier to handle.

    Our quick sauce combines bright fresh tomatoes with rich browned butter.


    Pasta recipes

    The history of pasta has its beginnings with the ancient Etruscan civilisation which originated in Italy around 800 BC. Since then, the processes for making pasta have been refined and improved upon, and pasta is now a staple of any self-respecting primo. Pasta is so well entrenched in Italian culture that hundreds of pasta both dried (secca) and fresh (fresca) are produced every day, with each Italian region having its own distinct variations. In fact, each shape of pasta has been carefully designed to be paired with a particular sauce.

    This collection of Italian pasta recipes contains some fantastic inspiration, whether you're looking for a simple supper or a delicate pasta starter. For the latter, filled pasta is a wonderful option, such as Aurora Mazzucchelli's Tortelli with Parmesan and lavender, or the Ricotta ravioli recipe by Gaetano Trovato. For a comforting dinner dish opt for a bolder sauce and larger pasta shape – the Cerea Brothers serve their thick, hearty tomato sauce with the large tubular pasta paccheri (a larger version of penne pasta) in their beautiful tomato sauce recipe inspired by their father. The flat, broad ribbons of parpadelle pasta are ideally suited to rich meat-based pasta dishes, such as Marco Stabile’s recipe for Pappardelle with Tuscan beans, wine reduction and steak extract. Including a fantastically easy fresh pasta recipe, this dish is the perfect introduction to homemade pasta. After a gluten-free pasta recipe? Try Christina Bowerman’s Rice tagliatelle, red mullet, peppers and bottarga recipe, which uses a combination of buckwheat and rice flour.

    Dried spaghetti is a store-cupboard staple, and stocking up on a couple of good quality packets is a great investment for when you don’t want to take over the kitchen to make your own fresh! For an alternative take on the classic seafood pasta dish spaghetti alle vongole, try Mauro Uliassi’s recipe for Spaghetti, clams and grilled plum cherry tomatoes, made with dried spaghetti. The spirals and crevices of shaped pastas are perfectly for trapping delicious pasta sauces Lorenzo Cogo uses the small, ear-shaped orecchiette pasta in his recipe for Orecchiette with watercress purée, bergamot and mussels to capture his vibrantly healthy pasta sauce.



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