Gnudi or malfatti, as they are also known, are a kind of gnocchi, which is why they are also just called gnocchi by some people. Gnudi and malfatti are 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. 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, and that’s what they are called in Tuscany. So basically, gnudi are naked ravioli. 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!
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. However, I am pretty confident that they were not created in Napa Valley (US) by Theresa Tamburelli, when she ran out of dough, as claimed by local historian Lauren Coodley, in her Napa: The Transformation of an American Town.
Malfatti is apparently famous in the Napa Valley, thanks to the Cittoni family, who runs the kitchen in Val’s Liquor, and whose patriarch, Clemente Cittoni, learnt to make it at the hands of Theresa. You can read more about the malfatti phenomenon in the Napa Valley in this article.
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. Suddenly, every American food blogger and food site started making them! And of course, Jamie Oliver is never far behind, even if, as usual, he messes up the recipe!
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.
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.
Chilli pesto – I make it so often, I think there’s almost always a jar of it in my fridge,
but I’ve never got around to posting it! So one of these days… ! Here we go, 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.
Cooking Gnudi and Malfatti at Home
As mentioned above, gnudi are little balls, while malfatti are little rolls, like fat fingers. The images here are of gnudi. 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.
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 amounts of the 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.
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.
Gnudi and malfatti can be frozen. Once the gnudi and malfatti are formed in balls or logs, they can be frozen. Open freeze them on a tray for 2 hours. 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.
Baked gnudi. 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.
That’s it! If you fancy anymore Italian recipes, be sure to check out the Italian page for more beauties like:
Have a superb weekend, all!
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. 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.
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.
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.