Oh, those Italians! They do have the most innovative, delicious food! This recipe for Malfatti in Tomato-Garlic Sauce is so easy to make and classy enough for dinner guest. The delicate little dumplings are soft, pillowy, and loaded with spinach, cheese and served in a puddle of tomato-garlic sauce. Yum!
Soon after we moved to Washington State in 1980, one of Don’s friends, Angelo, invited us to his home for dinner. He and Don had worked together when we lived in Napa, California.
Coincidentally, here they were working together again. It was great to listen to Angelo and Don as they reminisced their past lives and experiences in California.
Angelo prepared an Italian dish that he called malfatti in tomato-garlic sauce, and he served it in a puddle of the delicious sauce. He said that he used ricotta cheese and that was the secret to the soft texture of the little dumplings.
They are so incredibly easy to make. Watch our video above to see how you can make them.
WHAT IS MALFATTI?
Malfatti is an Italian dish that is a variation of gnocchi. It is basically a small dumpling made with drained ricotta cheese, chopped spinach, garlic, eggs, and parmesan cheese. The ricotta makes them pillowy soft, delicate and irresistible.
They are quite easy to make. You simply stir the ingredients in one bowl, form them into balls, then drop them into simmering water. Read the post below for all the details and tips.
How to make Malfatti
There are only a few steps to making the best malfatti ever. We will give you some tips and try to explain all the how-tos.
Drain the ricotta
The first thing you should keep in mind is the ricotta. Some brands of ricotta have more moisture in them. You want fairly dry ricotta. In order to get the moisture out of the ricotta, you need to drain it over-night.
Line a mesh strainer with cheesecloth and dump the ricotta onto the cheesecloth. Place that over a bowl so the liquid will have something to fall into, then put it in the fridge to sit for 6 to 8 hours.
If you don’t drain the ricotta first, your malfatti will end up too wet and will fall apart when you place it in the simmering water. I suppose you could combat the moisture by adding more flour to the mixture but that will change the texture.
If you wait for the ricotta to drain, the texture will be perfectly delicate and cheesy without falling apart.
Chop the Spinach
To make this recipe super easy, we used frozen, pre-cooked spinach. If you want to use fresh spinach, you will need about 10 to 12 cups of fresh spinach leaves and cook it down.
Whether you use frozen or fresh spinach, you need to chop it up pretty well. If you don’t chop the spinach, the little malfatti dumplings will end up with large fibrous strands of spinach.
Use Good Parmigiano-Reggiano
Parmigiano-Reggiano has an aged, complex flavor that just can not be beaten. You can use cheaper substitutes but the flavor won’t compare to the real thing.
We recommend buying a block of Parmigiano-Reggiano and grating it yourself. The pre-grated stuff is a bit more expensive and seems to lose its flavor.
Use fresh nutmeg and lemon zest for the best flavor
Nutmeg and lemon zest are two more of the secret ingredients that add so much flavor and freshness to the malfatti. Pre-grated nutmeg just does not compare to freshly grated nutmeg. That may sound a little obsessive but go test it for yourself.
To get a nice, fine dusting of nutmeg and lemon zest, use a zester like this one that has a small grate. Don’t use a zester like this one or you will end up with large chunks of bitter lemon zest and nutmeg. The goal is to disperse very tiny bits of flavor throughout the malfatti.
Taste the batter before adding the salt
I know I am going to get some hate mail for telling you to taste the raw batter. Yes, I do realize the batter has raw eggs. So I will clarify by telling you to taste the batter IF you are not pregnant or immune compromised and you are willing to take the small risk of sampling raw eggs.
Seriously though, I taste the batter BEFORE adding salt because the Parmigiano-Reggiano is already fairly salty. I have noticed the pre-grated cheese has less salty flavor than a fresh block of cheese. It is easier to add a bit of salt after I taste the mixture than to remove salt if the cheese made it salty enough.
Set the balls of dough on a bed of flour
Roll small scoops of dough into little balls then coat them in flour. When you set them aside, set them on a plate or sheet pan that you sprinkled with more flour.
We used semolina flour because it is coarse and does not absorb as much moisture as all-purpose flour. However, if you do not have semolina flour, you could use all-purpose flour or even cornmeal.
The point of keeping the raw balls of dough on flour is to make it easier to pick them up later when you place them in the boiling water. If you lay them on a plate without flour, they will tend to stick to the plate.
Cook the malfatti in batches
While you roll all the little pillowy malfatti balls, bring a large pot of salted water to a gentle simmer. Once the malfatti are shaped, place them into the hot water. You only want to cook about 6 malfatti at a time. If you crowd the pot of water with too many, the water will cool down and they won’t cook as fast.
You will know they are finished cooking when they float to the top. Use a slotted spoon to remove them from the water and set them aside while you cook the rest.
A quick recap of important tips:
So for all those who, like me, just skim through a post, here is a quick recap of the steps.
- Drain the ricotta
- Chop the spinach finely
- Use real Parmigiano-Reggiano
- Use fresh nutmeg and lemon zest (and a small grate on the zester)
- Taste before adding salt
- Set the balls of dough on a bed of flour
- Cook the malfatti in small batches
We used this recipe for Tomato-Garlic Sauce to serve with the malfatti. It is a delicious made-from-scratch recipe that gets a lot of flavor from a long simmer. If you don’t want to take the time to make a sauce, just grab your favorite store-bought marinara sauce.
HISTORY OF THE MALFATTI:
Here is what I have learned of the creation of malfatti: It all began in the late 1920’s at the historic Depot Restaurant in Napa, California. It was late in the day and Theresa Tamburelli, the owner/chef, was all out of prepared ravioli. Enter….a hungry San Francisco baseball team ordering….you guessed it, ravioli.
Ms. Tamburelli quickly rolled small balls of ravioli mixture through flour, then boiled them up. She served them to her hungry guests in a puddle of tomato sauce and garnished with fresh herbs.
The team loved them and since it wasn’t exactly a ravioli she called them Raviolini! Malfatti is slang for ‘mistake’. The name of the dish eventually changed to reflect it’s origination.
SOME OTHER RECIPES WE ARE SURE YOU WILL LOVE:
- Fresh Vegetable Lasagna with Homemade Spelt Noodles
- Linguini with Spanish Chorizo and Romesco Sauce
- Italian Meatballs and Spaghetti with Tomato Garlic Sauce
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Soft and Pillowy
- Use this recipe for Tomato-Garlic sauce or use your favorite store-bought brand
- 1 pound fresh ricotta cheese, drained overnight in the refrigerator (see notes)
- 1 (9-ounce box) frozen spinach, defrosted and water squeezed out
- 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 2 eggs
- 1 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, plus more for sprinkling
- 1/4 teaspoon fresh nutmeg
- zest from one lemon
- Kosher salt
- 1/4 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting the outside of the malfatti’s
- Semolina, for holding the malfatti’s (or substitute regular flour)
- Grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, for garnish
- Basil leaves for garnish
Prepare the Tomato-Garlic sauce or pour a store-bought sauce into a sauce pan and let it warm up while you make the malfatti.
To Make the Malfatti’s:
- Unwrap the ricotta cheese from the cheesecloth; the texture should be pretty dry and crumbly. Put the cheese into a large bowl and break it up with a fork.
- Finely chop the squeezed spinach and the garlic and add it to the ricotta.
- In a small dish, add the eggs and whip them briefly with a fork, add the eggs, grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, nutmeg and lemon zest to the ricotta mixture. Mix until well combined.
- Taste and season with salt, the cheese is salty so you may not need to add additional salt. Stir in the flour.
- Dust a pie plate generously with all-purpose flour. Coat a sheet tray generously with semolina flour (or all-purpose flour).
- Using a small 1-1/2 inch cookie/ice cream scoop place balls of the cheese mixture onto the flour dish. Roll the balls around to coat them in flour. Roll each flour coated cheese ball around in your hand to slightly firm up the ball. Do this gently so as to not squish the cheese balls. Arrange them on the semolina lined tray.
To cook and assemble:
- Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil over medium heat, then reduce the heat until the water is at a simmer.
- Carefully add the malfatti to the simmering water. Cook until the malfatti float and have begun to swell, 3 to 5 minutes. Do this in small batches.
- Using a spider or slotted spoon, carefully remove the malfattii from the cooking water, blot on paper towels and place on an oven-proof serving platter. You can keep the cooked and drained malfatti, on an oven-proof dish, in the oven on the lowest setting, to stay warm while cooking the remaining batches.
- On individual serving plates, spoon some sauce on each plate and spread it out until it becomes a 4 to 5-inch circle. Arrange 5 or 6 malfatti on each circle of sauce. Sprinkle with Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, garnish with basil and serve immediately.
To drain the ricotta, line a fine mesh strainer with cheesecloth and place the ricotta in the cheesecloth. Set the strainer with the ricotta in it over a bowl and place it in the fridge to drain overnight.
Amount Per ServingCalories 329 Total Fat 13g Saturated Fat 7g Trans Fat 0g Unsaturated Fat 5g Cholesterol 100mg Sodium 518mg Carbohydrates 33g Fiber 2g Sugar 1g Protein 20g