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Passport & Plate - Paola's Malfatti | Spinach and Ricotta Dumplings

Italy | Friday, 14 March 2014 | 5 photos

300 grams spinach, previously boiled and drained
300 grams fresh ricotta cheese, with excess water drained
1 egg
3 tablespoons Parmesan cheese (plus extra for garnishing)
2 tablespoons breadcrumbs
a pinch of salt
a pinch of pepper
a pinch of nutmeg
white flour (to coat the dumplings)
4 tablespoons butter
10 fresh sage leaves

How to prepare this recipe:
Wash 300 grams of fresh spinach (frozen will work too). Boil the spinach, drain it, and press out the excess liquid. Saute the spinach in a pan with some olive oil for a few minutes and let it cool. When it’s cool, chop it finely with a knife and drain off any remaining water. Put the spinach in a bowl and add the ricotta (equal parts ricotta and spinach is a good rule). Add 3 tablespoons of grated Parmesan cheese and 2 tablespoons of breadcrumbs. Season with a pinch of salt, pepper and nutmeg. Beat one egg and add it into the mixture, stirring thoroughly to combine all the ingredients. To make the malfatti, sprinkle your work surface generously with flour. Form the mixture into walnut size balls and roll them lightly in flour. You want the flour to coat the entire outside of each dumpling, as this will protect them from opening in the boiling water. Do this until you’ve used all the mixture. Add the malfatti, 5 at a time, to a pot of salted boiling water. Wait until they rise to the surface, about 1-3 minutes, and remove them with a slotted spoon. To make the sauce, heat the butter and sage leaves in a small saucepan until the butter is melted. Drizzle the sage butter over the malfatti and sprinkle liberally with Parmesan cheese. Serve the dumplings on individual plates, sit down, smile and chat about the day with the ones you love. Buon appetito!

The story behind this recipe:
The first time I ate malfatti I was nervous. Each bite I took, eyes bounced in my direction. Each time I sank my fork into the dumplings, those eyes followed me. The eyes belonged to Paola, the mamma of my Italian boyfriend. This was our first meeting. I’d met her son on a starlit July evening in the harbour of a Cinque Terre village. Since our meeting we hadn’t left each other's side -- I even cancelled my flight home for him. He took that move as a particularly strong sign of summer love, and brought me home to meet his mother. He still lived with her; she ironed his clothes, made his bed and cooked his meals. And they were the best of friends. Paola made malfatti on our first meeting. Before that night, I’d never eaten a home cooked meal in Italy (I was a tourist and so I ate in restaurants). The hot dumplings melted in my mouth. They were boiled, like gnocchi, so the mellow flavours of warm dough and ricotta were the perfect vehicle for the pungent sage butter that doused them. The earthy spinach gave an “al dente” substance to each bite. I didn’t know it at the time, but that meal in Paola’s kitchen was the first of many. I married her son and lived in her home for a year. She became a dear friend and my favourite shoulder to cry on. I eventually moved back to Canada and took her son with me. We have a daughter now, and we make her Paola's malfatti often. Paola passed away suddenly last year, and I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye. If I travel to Italy with you, I’ll dedicate my week to researching, documenting and sharing the regional, home cooked food of working class Italians that I first tasted in Paola’s kitchen. I’ll dedicate my journey to connecting with local people -- mammas like Paola, who, with plump hands and warm hearts, feed anyone who comes through their kitchens. These families, through bad times and good times, in poor times and rich times, through sickness and in health -- preserve local food traditions that I’m passionate about sharing.

About biancag

That's me...passing my Italian mother in law's recipe your way. Buon appetito!

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