Gnudi and Malfatti, Naked and Poorly Made Ravioli

Gnudi recipe. Gnudi or malfatti, as they are also known, are a kind of gnocchi; balls and rolls of spinach and ricotta without any pasta covering them. So, naked ravioli.
Gnudi in grey frying pan
Gnudi Recipe
Gnudi

Gnudi or malfatti, as they are also known, are a kind of gnocchi; little balls or rolls of spinach and cheese, cooked in boiling water, just like pasta. Think spinach and ricotta ravioli but only the filling, with no pasta dough covering it.

Estimated reading time: 8 minutes

What are Gnudi and Malfatti?

They are one of my favourite Italian recipes for entertaining, because, besides the fact that I could eat them everyday, after all these years of making them, I have yet to come across someone who’s familiar with them!

A long, long time ago, someone, somewhere in Italy, must have run out of flour, and decided to go ahead and just cook the filling!

Gnudi means naked, from the word, gnuda. So that makes perfect sense right? Naked ravioli.

And that’s what they are called in Tuscany. Sometimes, they are also known as Ignudi, the same meaning, which is why I cannot help but think of Michael Angelo’s The Ignudi in the Sistine Chapel, every time I’m cooking them!

Balls and balls of gnudi
Balls and balls of gnudi

Malfatti, on the other other hand, is what they call them up in Lombardy, and they are little rolls, like thick fingers.

Malfatti means poorly made, referring to their rather rustic look – roll, cut, dust in flour, and there you have it – malfatti!

I’ve heard it said that these rustic, poorly made, naked ravioli have a long history, going back to Roman times, and perhaps even earlier. I’ve not really been able to glean any more information on this, despite years of intermittent reading.

Gnudi in Chilli Pesto
Gnudi in Chilli Pesto

Gnudi are also sometimes made with just the cheese and a starch, whether flour or semolina, and this is the version (with semolina) that in recent years has gained a huge following in the US, after gnudi were added to The Spotted Pig’s menu by April Bloomfield.

But that’s a recipe for another day!

Malfatti
Malfatti with Rosemary Brown Butter

Gnudi and malfatti are often served in the traditional sage and butter sauce, although I serve them just as often with other sauces; a simple tomato sauce is always quick and easy but my favourite besides sage and butter is chilli pesto. The deep, full on flavour of the chilli pesto is the perfect foil to the rustic, guileless nature of the gnudi.

Click here for the recipe or on the picture below.

What do gnudi and malfatti taste like?

Well, they are very, very moreish. There is no way you can stop at one. Or 6! Have you ever had a spoonful of ricotta or mascarpone? How was that? Heaven, right? Multiply that and add touches of nutmeg, salt, pepper and spinach. And that’s before you take into account whatever sauce you’re serving it with.

It’s like biting into a cloud of nirvana.

So let’s take a look at a few things to note in making gnudi or malfatti.

Gnudi in Sage and Butter Sauce
Gnudi in Sage and Butter Sauce

Cooking Gnudi and Malfatti at Home

The gnudi recipe I am featuring today, is the traditional spinach and ricotta one, learnt at the hands of Mamma Anna, a former flatmate’s mum, as mentioned in my Carbonara post. I have also been fortunate enough to have had both gnudi and malfatti in little off the beaten track eateries in the Tuscan and Lombard regions. And they all varied in composition and sauce that they were served in.

The Shape

As mentioned above, gnudi are little balls, while malfatti are little rolls, like fat fingers. To make malfatti, just follow the recipe, and roll into a long log about 2.5-5cm (1-2″) thick, before cutting into fingers about 7.5cm/3″ long. Cook and serve in the same way.

Malfatti
Malfatti

The Binding Agent

Some people use flour, as I do, some use semolina, while others use breadcrumbs. We only use a small amount, just to bring it together, as the overriding flavour is that of creamy ricotta and spinach.

Spinach to Ricotta Ratio

This is probably where the biggest difference lies between recipes. Some prefer a higher spinach ratio, while others, like me, prefer an almost equal amount of the two. My advice is to follow the recipe here, and then play with it!

Type of Spinach

I’ve only ever used fresh spinach, you can use frozen too, but be very vigilant about squeezing it dry, as it does contain more water.

Gnudi in Chilli Pesto
Gnudi with Red Chilli Pesto

Make Gnudi and Malfatti Ahead

Naturally, they are best when eaten warm. You can shape them up to about 6 hours ahead, cover lightly with a damp cloth or foil and keep in the fridge, until it’s time to cook them.

I have also cooked them hours ahead, dropped them in boiling water for 30 seconds, then proceeded with serving them with whatever sauce.

Can you freeze Gnudi?

Gnudi and malfatti can be frozen. Once the gnudi and malfatti are formed in balls or logs, they can be frozen.

  1. Open freeze them on a tray for 2 hours.
  2. Then place them into a freezer bag or a container and freeze for up to 1 month.

Variations of Gnudi

As mentioned above, you can make gnudi without the spinach. Just use equal amounts of ricotta and semolina flour (fine semolina) and follow the rest of the recipe.

Leave the egg out for eggless gnudi or eggless malfatti.

How to Bake Gnudi and Malfatti

After cooking them in water, place them in a baking dish, grate your favourite cheese all over, some breadcrumbs and bake in the oven at 200˚C (400˚F) for 20-30 minutes until golden brown. Or with béchamel sauce or any other sauce you fancy.

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Lin xx

Gnudi in grey frying pan

Gnudi and Malfatti, Naked and Poorly Made Ravioli

Gnudi recipe. Gnudi or malfatti, as they are also known, are a kind of gnocchi; balls and rolls of spinach and ricotta without any pasta covering them. So, naked ravioli.
5 from 50 votes
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Course: Starter or Main
Cuisine: Italian
Keyword: gnudi, malfatti
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 45 minutes
Servings: 8 (Makes about 48 gnudi)
Calories: 259kcal
Author: Azlin Bloor

Ingredients

  • 400 g ricotta
  • 500 g fresh spinach
  • ½ tsp salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • generous amount of freshly ground nutmeg
  • 1 large egg lightly beaten
  • 60 g grated parmesan PLUS extra to serve
  • 2 Tbsp all purpose flour
  • a bowl of all purpose flour for dusting

Sage and Butter Sauce

  • 120 salted butter
  • 20 sage leaves
  • some Gnudi cooking water
  • pinch of salt
  • 2 tsp freshly grated parmesan cheese
  • freshly ground black pepper

Instructions

Let’s make Gnudi

  • Place the ricotta in a colander and leave to drain.
  • Rinse your spinach and place in a large saucepan, cover with a lid and leave to cook on medium heat for about 5 minutes, until the spinach is cooked right through. Alternatively, place in a large microwaveable bowl and cook for 2-3 minutes until the spinach is fully cooked.
  • When the spinach is cool enough to handle, squeeze any excess water out, either just using your hands or place in a colander and press down. Tip the spinach onto a chopping board.
  • Using a large, sharp knife, chop the spinach up fairly finely, see the images. Tip all the chopped spinach into a large bowl.
  • Add the ricotta in, along with the salt, pepper and nutmeg. Using a large fork or ladle, mix it all in, breaking up the ricotta well and making sure everything is mixed in.
  • Add the egg, parmesan and flour in, and once again, mix everything thoroughly. I use my hands at this stage.
  • Tip half the flour onto a large plate. Take a baking sheet and generously flour it, leaving some flour in the bowl for your hands.
  • With well floured hands, form balls out of the gnudi dough. Roll each ball in the flour on the plate, shake off excess and place on the floured baking tin, until it’s time to cook. Keep going with the rest of the dough.
  • If making malfatti, take a quarter of the dough and roll it into a long, thin log about 2.5cm/1″ thick, on a well floured surface. Cut into 7.5cm/3″ long rolls and place on the floured baking sheet until it’s time to cook them. Pictures soon!
    Malfatti
  • When ready to cook, bring a large pan of water to boil on high heat. Add 1 heaped teaspoon salt to it.
  • When the water is boiling, reduce the heat to medium-high, then slowly drop about 12 gnudi in at a time, depending on the size of your pan. Cook the gnudi for 2-3 minutes; they are done when they float to the surface. Fish them out with a slotted spoon/skimmer and place them aside and keep warm, while you finish the rest off.
  • Let’s now make the sauce to serve them with.

Sage and butter sauce

  • Heat a large frying pan on medium heat and melt the butter.
  • Add the fresh sage leaves to the butter and stir for 1 minute.
  • Add a couple of ladles of gnudi cooking water to lighten and stop the butter from browning (unless you prefer a browned butter sauce).
  • Add a pinch of salt and some freshly ground black pepper.
  • Add 2 tsp of freshly grated parmesan cheese, stir, lower heat and simmer for a minute.
  • Check seasoning and add more salt if necessary. The sauce is done.

Finishing our Recipe

  • Gently add the cooked gnudi in, and, give the pan a gentle couple of shakes to roll the gnudi in the butter, and cook for a minute to heat right through and absorb the sauce.
  • Lighten the sauce with more pasta water if necessary.
  • Serve the gnudi with more parmesan and some freshly ground black pepper.
    Gnudi in Sage and Butter Sauce

Notes

Nutrition is based on 8 servings.
Prep and total time also does depend on the amount you are making. Halve the recipe, if you like.

Nutrition

Calories: 259kcal | Carbohydrates: 6g | Protein: 12g | Fat: 22g | Saturated Fat: 8g | Cholesterol: 52mg | Sodium: 525mg | Potassium: 422mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 1g | Vitamin A: 6719IU | Vitamin C: 18mg | Calcium: 275mg | Iron: 2mg
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22 thoughts on “Gnudi and Malfatti, Naked and Poorly Made Ravioli”

  1. Marilena Piazzi Betancourt

    Dear Azlin, I am discovering your recipes for the first time. I am a very old lady and the malfatti have been in my life forever, their taste is delicate and refined. Therefore, I find it offensive when your readers take the liberty of dissacrating your original recipe, by adding sauces of various nature, garlic, etc. I imagine that in doing so they obtain an acceptable result, but their product can no longer be called gnudi nor malfatti, they are just step relatives of the original ones.
    There is also an old version made with Amaretti, that is even more celestial as is, without any touch ups.
    With gratitude and admiration,
    Marilena from Milano

    1. Hi Marilena, thank you for taking the time to leave me a comment. When I teach, I always tell my students that the first time they make a recipe, they really should make it exactly as it’s meant to be. How else are they going to know otherwisewhat it’s supposed to taste like? But not much I can do about these things!

      And thank you so much for reminding me of the gnudi made with amaretti, something I totally forgot about! I had it twice, both times around Christmas, and I am pretty sure they had pumpkin too? I also remember once having a tortellini filled with pumpkin and amaretti, in Lombardy.
      I’m sure I wrote down the recipe for the gnudi with amaretti (sometime in the 90s), I’ll have to see if I can find it somewhere in the loft! Thank you again.

  2. Dear Azlin, I had ravioli gnudi for the first time in an Italian Restaurant in Brussels in 2013 and fell in love with the dish. Last month my husband and I were talking about some of our favourite meals we’ve ever eaten and that one instantly came to mind. I am not a very confident cook but I found your recipe and decided to be brave and have a go! I cooked them with the sage butter sauce… Wow! We were both in heaven it was so delicious! Thank you for sharing this amazing recipe! I am over the moon 🙂

  3. 5 stars
    What a creamy, dreamy treat this recipe is and the post is an equally delicious lesson in food history. I would love to serve it with chilli pesto too. Can’t wait till I try this!

  4. 5 stars
    Just made these for me and my dad—these are heaven on a plate, or sex on a plate, depending on your religion. I added two cloves of grated garlic to the sauce and couldn’t be happier with the outcome. This recipe is definitely going in my “keep forever” file. Thank you so much for sharing it!

    1. Haha, I totally agree with you on that, Lisa! And I’m always game for garlic! I’m pleased you enjoyed it, thank you for taking the time to leave me a comment.

  5. These Gnudi are simply so delicious and easy to prepare. I tried them and cheated a bit: for the sauce I took red pesto from the supermarket. Thank you for sharing this fantastic recipe Azlin!

  6. These are simply phenomenal! I have never heard of these before. Definitely trying them this weekend. Thanks for all those tips, they’ll come in handy. I like the idea of the chili pesto too.

  7. Gabriella Conti

    Amazing, I have never heard of these, and my grandfather is Italian! Thank you, Azlin, I am going to surprise my grandparents with these when I go visit in 2 weeks. Can I make them at home, then reheat at their place, as you suggested? That should work?

    1. Yes, absolutely, Gabriella. If you’re making them hours ahead, cover in an airtight container or use a clingfilm to cover the container. Let me know what they think.

      1. Gabriella Conti

        Oh wow, the gnudi were a huge hit at the party, thank god I made so many! At first I thought maybe too many, they can freeze them, but they all got eaten up, and everybody wanted the recipe! I’ve given them all your website address.
        My grandparents really, really loved them. My nonno had tears in his eyes, he said his mother used to make them. So thank you very, very much for introducing me to them! I’m a fan for life!

  8. Cara, if you weren’t married, I’d propose to you right now! You take my breath away with all these Italian recipes. I was just explaining to some friends here in London about gnudi, we haven’t seen them on a menu. Now, I can show them your pictures and recipe! Grazie! My mamma sends her kisses!

    1. Hahaha, you are simply hilarious! You know, I’ve never come across them here in the UK, either. Maybe we can open up an Italian restaurant – fly your mamma over, she can oversee the kitchen and tell me where I’m going wrong! Love to your mum too! xx

  9. Kelli Jansen

    This is such an amazing post, Azlin! Your posts are such delights to read, there is so much depth to them, you go to such lengths with your information and background knowledge. Pinned and waiting to make!

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