Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Baked Spinach and Ricotta Malfatti

These are divinely delicious and addictive little dumplings. Malfatti translates as 'badly made' in Italian, for 
unlike gnocchi, their dumpling cousin, Malfatti are 'roughly' made, so you don't have to fuss too much when making them. They're also called gnocchi gnudi or ravioli gnudi, meaning ‘naked ravioli, because they're made from the ravioli filling, but without the pasta.

Ricotta, spinach, egg, parmesan and nutmeg are combined in a bowl

The mixture is then formed into little egg-like shapes and dusted with flour

Less filling than gnocchi, these luscious little spinach and ricotta dumplings are light, airy pillows of pure heaven. Made with smooth ricotta, fresh or frozen spinach, eggs, Parmesan cheese and nutmeg, they contain little flour, except for the flour used to roll them in. Oh yes, there's also a wee bit of butter in the luscious Béchamel sauce that is poured over the Malfatti along with a dollop or two of fresh tomato sauce, a sprinkling of parmesan cheese and some fresh basil, before they bake in the oven for about 45 minutes, until they're bubbling, golden and delicious. So if you’re craving pasta but want something low in carbs with plenty of greens, these Baked Spinach and Ricotta Malfatti are easy to make, impossible to ruin and mouth-wateringly good.

Baked Spinach and Ricotta Malfatti hot from the oven

Four delicious Malfatti as a first course, with a sprinkling of basil

Baked Spinach and Ricotta Malfatti
Makes about 30 dumplings. Serves 4 as an entrée or 8 as a small plate.

2 300g packages chopped frozen spinach, thawed

1 300g tub fresh ricotta cheese
3 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Freshly grated nutmeg
Salt and pepper
Fresh basil, chopped for garnish
Butter for greasing baking dish
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups fresh tomato sauce

Béchamel Sauce: Makes 4 cups
4 cups whole milk
7 tbsp unsalted butter
½ cup all-purpose flour
Salt and pepper
Freshly grated nutmeg

Thaw the frozen spinach, then drain and squeeze well with your hands, as extra water will make it difficult for the dumplings to hold their shape.

In a medium bowl, combine the spinach, ricotta cheese, eggs, half the Parmesan cheese and a grating of nutmeg. Season with salt and pepper, and stir with a wooden spoon until well mixed. Set aside. Preheat the oven to 350°F.

While the oven is preheating, prepare the béchamel sauce by first heating the milk in a saucepan. In a separate saucepan, melt the butter, then add the flour, stirring with a wooden spoon and cooking the roux until it becomes lightly golden, about 5-6 minutes. Add a ladleful of the warm milk at a time, stirring constantly so it does not form lumps. Continue adding the milk until it has all been incorporated. Season with salt and pepper, and a generous grating of nutmeg. Continue cooking and stirring on low heat for another 10 minutes. It will thicken and become very smooth. Remove from the heat and cover.

Liberally butter a large 9"x12" baking dish, then spoon a little of the béchamel sauce to cover the bottom. Put the flour onto a flat plate and pat your hands in the flour. To make the dumplings, use your hands to form them in the shape and size of a small egg, slightly elongated. Then dust them each very lightly in the flour and put them onto the béchamel in neat rows. Cover the dumplings with the remaining béchamel, then dot the surface with tomato sauce and sprinkle with the remaining Parmesan cheese.

Bake until the top is lightly golden, about 40-50 minutes. Serve piping hot with a good sprinkling of fresh basil on each serving.

Simple Tomato Sauce

Makes about 4 cups

4 garlic cloves, peeled and lightly crushed
6 tbsp olive oil
3 lb ripe, fresh tomatoes, skinned and chopped (or two 28-ounce cans of whole, peeled tomatoes with juice)
Salt and pepper
12 fresh basil leaves, roughly torn

If using canned tomatoes, dump tomatoes and juice into a bowl and break up the tomatoes with your hands. Put the garlic and olive oil into a saucepan over medium heat. When the garlic begins to sizzle, add the tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, about 20-25 minutes, until the tomatoes have melted into a thick, smooth sauce. If using canned tomatoes, the cooking time is slightly less, about 15 minutes from when the tomatoes begin to boil. Add the basil and turn off the heat.

You will need about 2 cups of the tomato sauce for the Baked Spinach and Cheese Malfatti. The leftover sauce can be stored for 3-4 days in the refrigerator or frozen for future use.

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