Spinach Malfatti or “Poorly Made” Spinach Dumplings

Sometimes you run across the most interestingly named dishes while browsing through cookbooks or surfing the internet. Malfatti, or “poorly made”, refer to a type of rolled spinach and cheese dumpling, and like the cookies brutti ma buoni or “ugly but good”, also from the Italian, the result is much tastier than the name would suggest.

Although they’re commonly served with a browned butter and fresh sage sauce, I’ve also found a version served with a marinara sauce and one with halved and sauteed grape tomatoes.

The dish is tasty but also an example of frugality … stretching a bit of cheese, spinach from the garden, and leftover bread in the form of bread crumbs, into a tasty and filling meatless dish.

Spinach Malfatti – I forgot to add the lemon zest to the dumpling mixture so I sprinkled it over the cooked dumplings instead. It was still tasty.

Regional naming variations:
ravioli nudi or gnudi (naked ravioli), gnocchi or ravioli verdi (green dumplings or ravioli), gnocchi di ricotta e spinaci (ricotta and spinach dumplings), strozzapreti (priest stranglers)

Spinach Malfatti (‘Poorly Made’ Dumplings) – serves 4

1 pound of fresh spinach (or a 10 oz/300 gm package of frozen spinach)
1/2 pound (8 oz, 225 gm) ricotta
1 cup breadcrumbs
1 tsp grated nutmeg
1/2 cup Grana Padano cheese (or Parmigiano-Reggiano)
2 eggs, slightly beaten
zest of one lemon, lemon reserved for sauce
flour for rolling the malfatti (all purpose or tipo “00”)

Sage Butter Sauce

1/2 cup (1 stick, 4 oz, 113 gm) unsalted butter
2 tbsp fresh sage, whole, torn or chopped as preferred and depending on the size of your sage leaves
1/4 cup cooking water from the dumplings
lemon, reserved for juice

Blanch the spinach in boiling water and then finely chop. Remove all the excess water out of the spinach by squeezing it really well in a dishtowel. (For convenience, a thawed 10 oz/300 gm package of chopped frozen spinach that has been squeezed dry may be used.)

Combine the spinach with ricotta, breadcrumbs, grated nutmeg, lemon zest, grated Grana Padano cheese, and eggs.

Flour your work surface, and divide the dough into 4 pieces. Roll each piece into a log, about an inch thick. Cut each log into dumplings about an inch wide. Toss the dumplings with a bit of flour if you’re not going to cook them right away.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a gentle boil then add the dumplings and cook until they float to the top, about 3 to 4 minutes. Before you drain them, reserve 1/4 cup of the cooking water.

The bar shaped dumplings are most often called ‘malfatti’ while the round ones are what seem to be called ‘gnudi’

Making the sage-butter sauce

Melt the butter in a saute pan over medium heat. Add fresh sage, and cook until the butter just begins to brown. Then whisk in about 1/4 cup of the pasta cooking water, gradually, so it emulsifies with the butter. Add your drained dumplings to the butter and shake the pan gently to coat.

Just before you serve the dumplings, squeeze some lemon juice over them and grate a little more grana padano cheese over the top.


14 thoughts on “Spinach Malfatti or “Poorly Made” Spinach Dumplings

  1. I think my kids would eat this even though it’s meatless and has spinach 🙂 Looks yummy and I had never thought of making sage butter. I’ll have to try that! Do you think it would work as a pasta “sauce” the same way we use olive oil and herbs?

    1. The malfatti are similar to gnochi but with the ricotta cheese in place of mashed potato. Little pillows of chewy/tender pasta. The browned butter flavoured with sage is tasty and definitely works as a sauce especially with the grated grana padano or parmesan.

  2. I really love everything about this recipe; the dumplings, the presentation, and the seasonings. It’s really a beautiful summer dish. I’m sure I would finish the entire plate in one sitting. Could you give the dumplings a quick sauté in a buttery pan to crisp up the edges a bit?

    1. I did saute them briefly in the browned butter but just to coat them though as I was concerned the butter would burn. Maybe if you used a light olive oil you could get a crisper surface. Let me know what happens if you give it a try.

      PS: Since I wanted a ‘saucy’ pasta, I also added the pasta water which would also prevent the outside from getting crispy.

  3. I’ve been wanting to make these for a long time, but never got around to it! Pinning for later!

    As much as I like the name, I have to admit the Priest Strangler one got me to chuckling…maybe because the spinach can be stringy sometimes?

    1. The reference to ‘priest strangler’ is one I’d heard before in reference to an elongated form of cavatelli but I found it while researching a recipe I wanted to use for the malfatti so I thought I’d list it. It’s a reference to greedy priests in Italy who would show up at supper time and expect the housewives in their parishes to feed them. I guess the poor family didn’t appreciate the extra mouth to feed and would ‘hope’ the pasta would choke the priest.

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