The word ‘malfatti’ in Italian literally translates to ‘badly made’ which is crazy really because these gorgeous little dumplings from Brescia in Lombardia are a thing of beauty being much more colourful and lighter than the traditional gnocchi you may be more familiar with. I like to eat these throughout the year but they’re especially good on cooler days or on days when you feel a bit blue and need something to remind you just how lovely you are. Much of the food originating from the Lombardy region of northern Italy shares this quality; the warming saffron-infused risotto alla Milanese, for example, and tortelli di zucca, a sweet pumpkin ravioli; Panettone, the soft, sweet bread dotted with raisins and candied fruit we eat at Christmas and the cute Colomba, a dove-shaped Easter bread sprinkled with almonds. All of these things are beautifully nurturing without the stodginess we associate with the comfort food of the northern hemisphere. This recipe is very simple and can be put together less than half an hour. So, get out your prettiest bowls and serve these little wonders drizzled with hot sage and lemon butter; I promise you that the world will seem a much better place if you do. This recipe serves four people so it’s a great excuse to invite your life-affirming friends to come around, preferably carrying wine.
400g spinach leaves, washed and dried
250g fresh ricotta
1 large free-range egg, lightly beaten
Nutmeg, lots, freshly grated
130g Parmigiano-Reggiano, finely grated (plus extra for serving)
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to your taste
40g Tipo 00 flour
100g fine semolina flour
Sage and lemon butter
16 fresh sage leaves
Juice of half a lemon.
How I make it
Put a little water in a large lidded frying pan and place on a medium heat. Cover and sweat down the spinach in batches. Leave aside to cool, squeeze out all the water and chop finely. Set aside.
Meanwhile, gently mix together the ricotta and flour to form a paste. Add the cooled spinach, egg, nutmeg, cheese and seasoning and mix well.
Place half the semolina flour in a shallow bowl – you’re going to use this to coat your Malfatti – and evenly spread the rest on a baking tray.
Take a small amount of the mixture and gently roll it into a ball about the size of a walnut. Roll it about in the bowl of semolina flour to completely coat it and place it on the floured baking tray. Repeat until you have created 24 Malfatti, six for each person.
Bring a large pan of water to the boil, add the Malfatti and simmer for 2-3 minutes; they will float to the surface when they’re ready.
At the same time, in a small frying pan, melt the butter and gently fry the sage leaves for a minute or so. Finish off with the lemon juice.
Quickly drain the Malfatti, place them in shallow bowls and drizzle with the butter sauce. Sprinkle with the remaining Parmigiano-Reggiano and serve immediately alongside a classic green salad
In the Spring, try swapping the spinach with young nettle leaves. Wearing latex gloves, carefully cut the nettle leaves off the stalks. Fill a sink with cold water and wash the leaves using a slotted spoon to stir them around before transferring them to a clean tea towel to absorb the excess liquid. Cook them as you would the spinach (the process will kill the sting).