23 May 2012

Tuscan Malfatti or ... Making Gnocchi

Last night's dinner was one more for my culinary bucket list. Making a good batch of gnocchi has always been a goal, but I was intimidated by the dough and the cooking process. To boot, when I did some research, I learned that there are a bunch of different gnocchi recipes out there and all sorts of combinations of flours and cheese and vegetable additions that can make these soft little dumpling -like bites so different from each other! When I Googled 'gnocchi', I found out that they are usually served as a first course, but I was planning them as a main dish. I also discovered that they can be served in different ways - dressed with a variety of tomato sauces, in soup broths, or tossed with herbed butters. My goal initially was just to be successful in making them and if I failed, we were going to go out to a restaurant to salvage the dinner hour. So ... here's my 'making gnocchi' story.

The recipe I chose to make is a Tuscan malfatti, actually. It combines a puree of herbs with wilted spinach, ricotta cheese, all purpose flour and an egg yolk to make a soft, sticky gnocchi dough. It doesn't look like much when you mix the dough up, but the result was delicious.

Making the little gnocchis reminded me of playing 'hot potato'. The dough is incredibly sticky, so I dripped a bit of olive oil into the palm of one hand and rubbed it in. I used a teaspoon to scoop a dollop of dough the size of a walnut into one palm, tossed it quickly back and forth like a hot potato until it formed the traditional oval shape and plopped it onto a plate that I'd rubbed well with olive  oil.

The recipe made about 36 little dumplings, easily enough to feed four. I was concerned that the gnocchi would disintegrate once they were put into the boiling water, so I let them dry in the open air for about an hour before I screwed up my courage and boiled the water for cooking them. While the water came to a boil, I fortified my courage with a little Zinfandel ... wimp that I am.

So, there I was with two plates of these little dumplings and a boiling pot of water ... gently boiling, not rolling boiling. A slotted spoon lowered the first few into the water and then I waited. Gnocchi drop out of sight at first. Were they sticking on the bottom of the pot? Were they turning to a green glue down there? Where were they ??? And then ... suddenly they began to pop to the surface and roll around a bit midway up from the bottom of the pot ... and they were still in nice little ovals!!! Amazing ...AAAAMMMMAAAZZZIIINNNGGG!  When they remained on the surface for a minute, I spooned them out and onto a pretty platter and cooked the rest ... and yes, I taste tested them. Soft anf fluffy little dumplings with a major garlic and chive kick under the green spinach and cheese fluffiness.

Now, I had these beautiful little dumplings and I had to dress them up a bit, sooo... I did two things. I melted some butter and chopped some sage leaves. Yum, a toasted butter with wilted sage. Then I let the dried dumplings sizzle in the sage butter for a few minutes until they got a little bit of a crust on their outsides - just a little bit of a crust, mind you. Then I kept them in a warm oven while I steamed some vegetables and whizzed some fire-roasted tomatoes into the leftover Romesco sauce that I had sitting in the fridge.

We loved these little Tuscan malfatti both ways ... sprinkled with a bit of Parmesan cheese and eaten with the browned sage butter and dipped in a hot Romesco tomato sauce ... they were so much prettier than the shrink-wrapped wizened gnocchi that I've seen on the supermarket shelves ! To boot, they were made with the first of the fresh spinach from our garden. As we knoshed, we discussed what constituted light and fluffy ... were these as light and fluffy as we'd find in a really good Italian restaurant? Don't know because we've never ordered them when we're out. Then we nibbled a few more ... they were soft and pillow-like. There was a definite herbal undertone. The sage butter was inspired. There were about half a dozen left by the time we decided that they would pass muster with Marcella Hazan. Then, we wondered what she was having for dinner, as we poured another glass of Zinfandel.

Tuscan Malfatti aka
Spinach and Ricotta Gnocchi
a recipe from Around The World In 450 recipes

Serves 4 for first course or 3 for main dish


6 cloves garlic, unpeeled
1 oz. mixed fresh herbs – flat-leaf parsley, basil, chives, thyme
8 oz. fresh spinach leaves, washed and trimmed of long stems
9 oz. low-fat ricotta cheese (or whole milk variety)
1 large egg yolk
⅔ c. grated parmesan cheese, divided in half
⅔ c. all-purpose flour
¼ c. butter
2 tbsp. fresh sage leaves, minced
Kosher salt and black pepper

Making the Gnocchi:

  1. Bring a small pan of water to a boil and drop the garlic cloves in, cooking for 4 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and slip the peels of them. Pop them in a blender bowl and whiz to break up into small bits.
  2. Chop the mixed fresh herbs and add them to the garlic. Whiz to make a minced mash.
  3. Place the spinach leaves in a non-stick pan with just the water that remains on them after washing. Cover and wilt over medium heat. Remove and let the leaves cool. Squeeze as much water out as you can and then, chop the spinach well.
  4. Place the spinach, ricotta cheese, and egg yolk in a mixing bowl and stir to break up the spinach and disperse things
  5. Add the herb mash and stir well.
  6. Add the flour and half the parmesan cheese, salt and black pepper and mix to make a dough. Don’t over mix or the gnocchi will be tough and heavy.
  7. Rub olive oil on your hands and roll the dough into small walnut-sized ovals, placing them on an oiled platter.
  8. Let sit for about an hour.
  9. Bring a deep pasta pot of salted water to a gentle boil. Drop several gnocchi at a time into the water and let them cook until they float to the surface and stay there … this takes about three or four minutes. When they have floated on the surface for between 30 seconds and a minute, remove with a slotted spoon to a plater and let them dry out a bit. Cook the rest of the gnocchi.
  10. Melt the butter in a large non-stick fry pan. Add the fresh minced sage and cook for a minute. Add the cooked gnocchi and let them develop a bit of a crust on their outsides.
  11. Turn them back onto the platter and drizzle the butter over top. Top with the other half of the Parmesan and serve as is or with a tomato sauce of your choice for dipping.


  1. I always like dumplings. Gnocchi qualifies.Your gnocchi with spinach looks delicious. The making reminds me of making cheese when the cheese is being shape like a bun or a ball.

    There is a place here in Napa that makes malfatti that is very popular and seems everybody likes.

    1. Yes, Edgar! It was interesting getting them into their little oval shapes ... later, I read that some people sift flour into wineglasses, plop a dollop of dough into the glass and swirl the glass like they would a glass of wine and the centrifugal force makes perfect little shapes ... no misshapen dumplings ... I'll try it next time because I'm one that must see to believe. Ha!

  2. YUM. I remember the first time I made gnocchi... The recipe I used called for rolling the dough into a long thin tube, chilling it, and then cutting it into little half-inch discs. I remember I had the same thought about the boiling water.

    1. I bet your recipe was the more flour-based recipe ... flour and semolina flour ... yup ... I looked at a recipe that had more of a plain pasta look to it ... next time, I'll try that one!

  3. This reminds me of a "naked ravioli" recipe that I have made. It's funny how I make something for the blog and never make it again. I certainly need to remedy that!

  4. Gnocchi is on my culinary bucket list too Susan. These look and sound so much better than the boring stuff in the grocery store. Ricotta and spinach is one of my favourite food combinations. Yum! Have a great Memorial Day weekend!

    1. Thanks dearie! Hope you had a great visit home! Glad you're back in Toronto safe and sound ... with good cookies! ;-)

  5. I love Gnocchi and I find it fun, yet time consuming to make. I usually make a large batch and then freeze them for quick dinners on the run. This recipe looks delicious; I love the spinach and the herbs. I think I must try them and I'll take your advise on the Zin!!!

  6. It looks and sounds so good! I have still never made gnocchi... I need to change that.

    1. There are a bunch of neat dishes that I've never made, but always wanted to ---- hence, the culinary bucket list project. Get your own list going, Pam!

  7. Looks yummy! I've been wanting to make and try gnocchi for quite a while now.

  8. A pretty vegetarian centerpiece for a meal. They DO look light an pillowy. Congratulations on the effort and success! Happy Memorial Day.


Anonymous comments will not be accepted. Please be aware that due to spamming concerns, I must be able to track back.