Ever since the New York Times published chef Anna Klinger's recipe for malfatti back in November, 2002, I've loved eating these fat little pillows of ricotta, chard and nutmeg and loved part of the process of making them. Also known as gnocchi gnudi (nude gnocchi) these require no rolling, cutting or flicking off fork tines. You just plop a tablespoon of the gnocchi mixture into a wineglass, twirl the glass wine-snob-style and watch the rather sticky little glob turn into a perfect little oval. That's the part I love.
Here's the part I don't love: preparing the chard:
Bring a large pot of water, heavily seasoned with salt, to a boil. Trim the (4 pounds of) chard, removing all stems and large ridges. Add half to the boiling water and cook until soft, about 3 minutes. Fish out and plunge into a bowl of ice water. Repeat.
Squeeze out chard with your hands. On a dish towel, spread the chard in a circle the size of a pie. Roll up the towel and have someone help you twist the ends to squeeze out as much moisture as possible. Pulse in a food processor until fine. Squeeze out in a dish towel once more, until very dry. You will have about one cup.
All that trimming and boiling and draining and squeezing is, to be honest, a pain in the butt. And since most of the time my only kitchen companion is Georges the cat, the have-someone-help-you-twist-the-towel-ends step is challenging. Georges is a very dignified cat; he does not twist chard-filled towels.
Recently I've been substituting spinach for the chard and finding I make this variation a lot more often. Georges approves.
One more reason I love these malfatti (which translates as "misshapen"): they taste like pasta but are relatively low-carb. As I'm a bit misshapen myself these days and am dining with the ghost of Dr. Atkins at the table, they soothe my pasta yearnings.
Anna Klinger's Malfatti--Modified
1 pound best-quality fresh ricotta
Enough fresh spinach -- blanched/extremely well-drained/chopped super-fine -- to equal 1 cup
8 ounces butter
1/4 cup flour, plus more for shaping
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
4 large egg yolks
1 large whole egg
Freshly ground black pepper
Fresh sage leaves
Drain the ricotta in a sieve lined with cheesecloth overnight in the refrigerator. [Do not skip this step] Measure out 1 + 1/4 cups.
Blanch enough fresh spinach to equal one cup, post-blanching. [I have no idea how much this is -- if you've ever cooked fresh spinach you can eyeball the amount. If not, buy more than you think; spinach is cheap. I get the already trimmed baby spinach from the salad greens section of my market.]Drain it very well, but towel-twisting really isn't necessary.
Melt half the butter. Mix spinach and ricotta. Add melted butter, 1/4 cup flour, 1 heaping teaspoon salt, the nutmeg and mix again. Drop in egg yolks and whole egg, pepper and mix again.
Sprinkle a cutting board with flour. Shape into 1-ounce balls, about 1 tablespoon each, dropping them on the cutting board. You should have 25 - 30.
Put a teaspoon of flour into a narrow wineglass. Drop in a ball and swirl until it forms an oval. Repeat. (You'll need to add bit more flour along the way or even change to a cleaner glass.) You may freeze them at thes point.
To serve, bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Drop in the malfatti and cook at gentle boil until they float. Watch carefully; this can happen in a matter of moments and the delicate malfatti can disintergrate if overcooked. (Straight from the freezer they will take only an additional minute or two.)While the gnocchi are cooking, brown some buttter until it smells nutty. Add fresh sage leaves and cook 30 seconds. Add a bit of salt and use the sage butter to sauce the drained gnocchi. Top with grated Parmesan.