Malfatti: Beginner-friendly Italian Dumplings

SUNDAY GOURMET

April 30, 1995|By CATHY THOMAS

Sometimes Italian dumpling recipes can be problematic. They work perfectly several times, then for some reason, the results are disappointing, even disastrous.

Some cooks blame "kitchen gremlins," unknown pranksters who play cruel culinary tricks -- often when the unsuspecting cook is suffering from a case of overconfidence. More likely, these culinary inconsistencies are the result of variations in the ingredients and/or climate. Some recipes are a matter of texture and feel, such as combining just the right amount of flour or water to make a perfect dough.

Potato gnocchi (sounds like knee-o-key) are a perfect example. These Italian dumplings can be melt-in-your-mouth delicious, but when too much flour is added (amounts can change substantially, depending on the moisture in the potatoes) they become heavy, leaden balls.

So if you don't have an Italian grandmother or culinary expert to show you the potato gnocchi ropes, you might prefer to make malfatti -- a simpler Italian dumpling from the Lombardy region. -- Malfatti, sometimes referred to as gnocchi verdi, is made with spinach and ricotta cheese.

Using a food processor to mince and combine the dough ingredients speeds malfatti production. The dough is rolled into casual, 2-inch fingers. No need to worry if they vary slightly in size and shape; malfatti translates as "misshapen" and "irregular." Poached in simmering water in 3-4 minutes, malfatti can be drizzled with a little melted butter and sprinkled with Parmesan cheese. Top with toasted pine nuts if you're in the mood.

Or bake them in your favorite prepared marinara-style tomato sauce; I like one that is a little spicy. Or make your own sauce if you're that good a cook. Add chopped prosciutto or crisp-fried diced pancetta for a meaty taste.

Or drop poached malfatti into chicken broth and garnish with chopped chives for Malfatti in Brodo.

Easy -- uhh, facile.

Malfatti can be a side dish or main course at a luncheon. They taste a little like ravioli stuffing without the pasta wrapper. The following recipe gets its name from Ann Marapese, the Italian-born mother of a friend, who was kind enough to teach me just how easy malfatti are to prepare.

MALFATTI MARAPESE

1 (10-ounce) package frozen chopped spinach, defrosted

1/4 cup trimmed and chopped green onions (white and light green parts)

2 tablespoons minced parsley

1 1/2 cup ricotta cheese

1 cup prepared seasoned dry bread crumbs

2 eggs, slightly beaten

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

about 1/2 cup all-purpose flour

sauce of choice

garnish: sprigs of Italian parsley

Remove the water from the defrosted spinach by gently squeezing it with your fingers. Place spinach, green onions and parsley in food processor fitted with the metal blade; process, using on/off pulsing technique, until finely chopped. Add ricotta cheese, bread crumbs, eggs, salt, cinnamon and Parmesan cheese; process using on/off pulsing technique until blended. Using floured hands and work surface, roll mixture into "fingers" about 1 1/2 to 2 inches long. Place on a sheet of waxed paper.

In a wide pot, Dutch oven or deep skillet, bring 3 inches of water to a simmer; do not boil. Drop in several malfatti (they shouldn't be jammed together). Simmer for about 4 minutes; they will float up to the surface when cooked. Remove with a slotted spoon. Garnish with sprigs of Italian parsley. Serve with prepared or homemade marinara-style tomato sauce.

Makes 6 servings; about 30 malfatti.

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