Italian Malfatti with Tomato Sauce

Any recipe containing spinach always gets my attention. I love spinach! And of course, I prefer using fresh leaf spinach when available. There are only few recipes, mostly Czech recipes, where frozen chopped spinach works well. So when I saw Italian malfatti in a Czech food magazine, and found out that the green pieces were spinach leaves, I knew instantly I had to try to make them.

I have never eaten malfatti nor heard of them before. I learned that best malfatti are home prepared and their name, translated from Italian, means "bad made". Such name doesn't do them justice, does it? But don't be fooled by their name. They are sometimes referred to as "naked ravioli". That sounds much better, kinda sexy, I would say.

Malfatti is a traditional Tuscan dish and it's basically ravioli filling without dough. They mostly contain ricotta and only a small amount of flour which make them very light and airy, especially when you compare them to traditional gnocchi. On top of that, they are very easy to make! And they contain plenty of greens! I think someone should officially change their name! What's bad about them?

I served malfatti with spicy tomato sauce, but you can also just drizzle it with melted butter and scatter some extra parmesan on top. Doesn't it look like a perfect spring dish?

And look, spring has finally arrived to London too! I mean real spring with sunny days, blooming trees and baby ducks! :)

Note: I didn't put the exact quantity of flour/semolina, you need to add enough to make soft dough, still a little sticky. I started with 50g and added more gradually until I got the consistency I wanted.

Italian malfatti with spicy tomato sauce
Serves 4

1 tbsp butter
1 shallot, finely chopped
100g fresh spinach leaves, washed, hard stems removed
salt and freshly ground pepper
pinch of grated nutmeg
250g ricotta cheese
50g grated parmesan
1 egg
1 egg yolk
50-100g semolina (plain flour works too)

For the sauce
2 tbsp olive oil
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1/2 of dried chilli pepper
400g canned tomatoes

1 tbsp fresh basil leaves
extra parmesan, to serve

1. Melt the butter in a frying pan and saute shallot for about 4 minutes. Add spinach leaves, season with salt, pepper and nutmeg and cook for 3-5 minutes until wilted.

2. Drain in a sieve placed over a medium bowl, pressing to squeeze out excess liquid. Save the squeezed liquid. Chop the spinach.

3. In a large mixing bowl, combine drained ricotta, parmesan, egg, egg yolk, chopped spinach and spinach liquid. Season with salt if needed. Start adding flour/semolina, mixing well between each addition, to get a soft mixture but not very sticky. If you make too thick mixture, the malfatti will get heavy and chewy.

4. Sprinkle some flour on a plate. Form the mixture into a small egg-shaped pieces using two spoons dipped into hot water. Place them carefully on a plate, sprinkle some more flour over and refrigerate for 1-2 hours.

5. Prepare the tomato sauce. Heat olive oil in a pan, add garlic and chilli and fry for a minute. Stir in the chopped tomatoes, season with salt a pepper and cook, stirring occasionally for 15-20 minutes.

6. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the maflatti in batches so that they have enough space and water to cook. When they come out at the surface continue to cook for another 1-2 minutes. Remove them with a slotted spoon, drain and keep warm until all the malfatti are done.

7. Divide the malfatti between plates, pour tomato sauce over and sprinkle with parmesan and basil leaves.