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Spinach and ricotta malfatti with tomato-sage sauce

The world of pasta and gnocchi is unbelievably large and complex. We are used to a world of pasta in boxes that are carried in most grocery stores, but this world extends far beyond that. Every small village and town in Italy and the surrounding areas has a world of pasta that is waiting to be discovered. Unique shapes, complex sauces and soft and delicate gnocchi dominate this world and are always welcome on my tables.

Gnocchi is slowly catching on in India and today we have them being highlighted by some of the premier chefs in India. But there are many variations to the traditional gnocchi and malfatti is one such delicacy.

Malfatti literally means "badly made" and this is where the beauty of this dish lies. Malfatti is for the home chef with no pasta skills. These balls are ugly, misshapen and obtuse, but then they are the most delicious form of pasta I have ever made. Its origins are thought to be in Lombardy or Tuscany where cucina povera, or "poor cooking" without frills dominates the cuisine.

The magic in this dish is the softness of the malfatti. It is like a cross between a gnocchi and a ravioli, soft, fluffy and melt-in-your-mouth perfect. The flavours are delicate and complimented by the robust tomato-sage sauce.

This is one of those cookbooks that hides on my shelf, one of the problems of having a library of cookbooks. It is a beautiful cookbook filled with wonderful Venetian recipes. I got to experience first-hand the wonderful cuisine of this beautiful city, the locals are proud of it and always claim that their cuisine is the best in Italy. But we also heard that phrase repeated in Florence and Rome! You will definitely see me cook more from here soon.

For more recipes from this cookbook, click here.



Ingredients:

1 lb baby spinach

1 cup Italian "00" flour

1 cup ricotta

1 large egg, lightly whisked

2 1/2 cups grated Parmesan cheese

1 teaspoon pepper

Salt, to taste

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

1 1/2 cups semolina


Grated Parmesan, to garnish


For the tomato-sage sauce:

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 cloves garlic, minced

6 tomatoes, finely chopped

Salt, to taste

1/2 teaspoon sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons dried sage



Start by making the tomato-sage sauce. Heat the oil in a small pot and fry the garlic till lightly golden. Add the tomatoes, salt, sugar and sage and cook on low heat for 20 minutes till you have a thick sauce. the tomatoes should be broken down completely. Taste for salt and sage and adjust as needed. Set aside and keep warm on the stove.


To make the malfatti, steam or blanch the spinach in water for 2 minutes. Cool and drain thoroughly by pressing down on the spinach. Chop finely.


Mix all the ingredients for the malfatti, except the semolina. You should have a dry mess that sticks together.


Add some of semolina to a wine glass and gently drop in a table tennis-sized ball of the mix. swirl around coating the ball with semolina. Remove and repeat with the rest of the malfatti balls.


Bring a large pot of salted water to a gentle boil. Gently drop in the malfatti balls. Once the balls are cooked, about 3 minutes, the balls will rise to the surface. Scoop them out with a slotted spoon and drain in a colander. Work quickly so the malfatti does not cool down.



Layer a spoonful of the tomato-sage sauce on a plate. Add the matfatti balls on the sauce and garnish with Parmesan. Serve while hot.



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