Friday, May 1, 2009

Malfatti (spinach and ricotta gnocchi)

Just when you think you've exhausted every possible way of combining spinach and ricotta, along comes another recipe that makes you rediscover just how good these two ingredients are together!

As I was savouring these last week, I started wondering what it is that makes gnocchi (of any sort) so delectable. There really are very few sensations as satisfying as biting right into a warm gnoccho. I think it has to do with their density - you're basically taking a big bite of flour, with some other stuff mixed in (sort of like a very condensed sandwich?) - but that's just a hypothesis.

In any case, malfatti are truly wonderful, and a nice variant on the typical potato gnocchi. "Malfatti" means "badly made" in Italian, which is an odd name, considering how good these are! I think it may be because normally you'd put the spinach and ricotta inside the pasta (like ravioli for example), but here you just lazily mix them all up with flour and dump them into a pot of boiling water - far less time-consuming and tastes just as good, if not better!

300 g. spinach
150 g. ricotta
All-purpose flour (as much as is necessary to get the dough to the right consistency - will vary depending on how watery the spinach and ricotta are)
1 whole nutmeg (or pre-ground nutmeg if you can't get a whole one)
A heap of parmesan
Butter (for the topping)
Fresh sage leaves or parmesan (for the topping)

Thoroughly wash the spinach, and tear off any thick stems. Steam the spinach, in batches if necessary, until it wilts and reduces substantially. Let cool, squeeze dry, and then chop into little bits.

Grind the nutmeg to a powder and grate the parmesan. In a large bowl, combine the spinach with the ricotta, nutmeg, parmesan, salt, and pepper (you just need a pinch of the salt and the pepper). Mix in the flour, adding in just enough to get an elastic ball of dough.

Turn the dough out onto a well-floured board and knead a few minutes to thoroughly combine everything. Cut off bits of the dough and roll them into long strips about the width of your thumb. Cut each strip into little bits (the gnocchi), also about the width of your thumb, so you have roughly square-like lumps of dough. If desired, shape the gnocchi by pressing them into a cheese grater or other such implement and wrapping the ends around your finger as you do so.

I took this opportunity to make use of my gnocchi-maker (I don't think they're actually called that), which I bought in Italy the last time I was there. It's a little wooden board with rows and rows of indentations, so that when you press the gnocchi against it, you get the lovely little striped pattern that you see on gnocchi in stores and restaurants. Not really necessary, but lots of fun!

At this point, you can let the gnocchi sit out to dry for a bit, or you can make them right away. They also keep fine in the refrigerator for a day or so, in case you want to make them in advance.

When you're ready to make the gnocchi, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Salt it, and add the gnocchi, making sure not to crowd the pot - cooking the gnocchi in batches of 10-15 works well for me, though with a bigger pot you can cook more at once.

The gnocchi don't take long to cook - about 5 minutes. When they rise to the top they are done, although I usually let them cook another minute or two there. Remove the gnocchi with a slotted spoon, place in their serving dish, and add more to cook as you remove the first batch.

If using sage as the topping, wash the sage leaves and chop them very finely (do this while bringing the water to a boil). Heat some butter in a small saucepan and add the sage, if using. When all the gnocchi have finished cooking, place them in their serving plates and pour the butter & sage over them. If you prefer to use parmesan, simply place a pat of butter over each plate of gnocchi and add the parmesan over it, and then mix. The heat of the pasta will melt the butter and parmesan, resulting in a wonderfully rich condiment for a wonderfully rich dish!


Alan said...

Coppola's Zoetrope cafe in
North Beach does a good version of malfatti

Zoe said...

Thanks Alan! I've never been there, but I like the name!