Of Mice and Men…Ricotta Gnocchi and Malfatti

George is to gnocchi as Lenny is to malfatti. Literally meaning, ‘badly made’ or ‘ill shaped’ Malfatti is the mongoloid brother of gnocchi but beauty is only skin deep (I don’t believe that but let’s go with it) as malfatti takes the crown any day.

Traditionally made from potatoes gnocchi hails from Northern Italy

The original gnocchi hails from Northern Italy, where the cooler temperature and terrain are conducive to harvesting potatoes, the dish’s chief ingredient. As a cursory recipe: you boil potatoes (Yukon Gold works – the higher the starch content the better), process through a vegetable mill (do not puree), add a liberal amount of salt, sometimes egg yolks, and then flour. You lightly knead the dough, make dowels then cut them into individual gnocco and if you believe in fashion over function as I do, you can decorate each one with ridges made via fork or cheese grater (A friend let me know the ridges help hold the sauce, but obviously I add them for FASHION). The potato gnocchi is a perfect accoutrement to a Bolognese or braised meat sauce ~ obviously meant to be a hearty wintertime dish.

Ricotta gnocchi is pure play ricotta deliciousness

The next iteration is the ricotta gnocchi. Much lighter and more airy than its hefty cousin, the ricotta gnocchi is a pure play on great ricotta. For those of you who have some spare time on your hands, please head down to Di Palo’s in Little Italy, which is known to make the best ricotta in NYC ~ brought to fame by Bill Buford’s Heat, a culinary tale of working in Babbo’s kitchen. Check out Eric’s extensive review of Di Palo’s here – but in sum, the ricotta is made in the back of the shop by family hands that have learned the craft across generations. Patrons wait hours for the ricotta alone…My preparation of the dish includes Chanterelles and sage butter. There is no need for a thick overpowering meat sauce for ricotta gnocchi due to the nature of the canvas. If you prefer a more porcine version, I also prepare the dish occasionally with guaneciale and truffle oil (I know it’s cheating…).

Gnocchi dough recipe. Set it and forget it

So you’re probably asking yourself, “TOM! How can I make these doughy pillows of heaven in my OWN home??” 36 easy payments of $9.95!… or just follow the directions below:

  • 3 pounds fresh goat-milk ricotta
  • 1 1/2 cups of flour
  • 4 eggs
  • ½ cup of pecorino Romano
  • Chopped Italian parsley
  • Salt, Pepper, Nutmeg to taste

Many recipes call for you to drain the ricotta overnight, but unless you make your own (and that’s a completely different post) ~ you really won’t yield much liquid. I just push my ricotta through a strainer and work from there. Mix all the ingredients together (reserve ¼ cup of flour for grip and cutting) and knead until all ingredients are evenly dispersed ~ but try not to work the dough too much. Once you have an amorphous yet solid ball of dough, make long dowels. Make ridges along the dowel by scoring with a fork then cut individual 1 inch gnocchi with a spoon to create oval shaped gnocco. You can boil these, but they form a crispy crust if you flash fry them in canola oil ~ don’t use butter or olive oil as they have lower burning points.

Flash Fry

In a separate pan, melt a generous portion of salted creamery butter and add fresh julienne Chanterelle mushrooms and sage leaves. Fry until mushrooms brown then take off the fire and remove the sage leaves as they are now infused in the butter. C’est tout! Now just mix the sage butter/Chanterelle mixture with the gnocchi and sprinkle some of the remaining pecorino on top of the dish.

My friends devouring the Gnocchi family style

Al Di La restaurant in Park Slope for gorgeous malfatti

Recently, Peck made a visit out to Al Di La all the way out in Park Slope, Brooklyn and tried the aforementioned malfatti ~ in my opinion the star of the night and completely worth the trip. Think of ravioli filling without the wrapper ~ malfatti at Al Di La was a mixture of swiss chard, ricotta, eggs, parmesan, nutmeg, sage leaves and butter, bound together, briefly poached in boiling water and then broiled to create a crispy ‘skin’ encasing the ricotta mixture. The malfatti were also bathed in sage butter; something I was envious of.

Al Di La’s Malfatti from roboppy’s flickr stream

Getting all risky business with gnocchi and malfatti

The point of this post is to get all of your creative juices flowing. With whichever incarnation of the dish you choose, you have a certain amount creative license. This isn’t like a finicky soufflé where one wrong move in the kitchen renders the gak of our childhoods (dig deep for that reference). There are only a few fundamentals to which you should adhere. The malfatti affords you the ability to mix fresh ricotta with a myriad or ingredients ~ butternut squash, pumpkin, beets, beef cheeks, even baccala ~ just try it! use the egg and pecorino/parmesan as a binding agent and poach and broil. Choose an infused butter (sage, rosemary, lavender, thyme, etc) to accompany your dish. The possibilities are endless. All you need to remember is the preparation. Between the potatoes, creamery butter, guaneciale, truffle oil, and multiple cheeses, these dishes may not be the healthiest to become staples in your diet but in the words of Tom Cruise in the 80’s classic, “Sometimes you just have to say, what the &#*$”…..

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