Whimsical names abound in Italian cookery, especially when it comes to pasta. For example, strozzapreti means “priest choker,” fazzoletti means “little handkerchiefs,” orechiette means “little ears,” and last but not least, farfalle meaning “butterflies.”
In this country, malfatti have come to refer to something akin to a pasta-less form of ravioli; in other words, just the filling. According to one story, malfatti were invented at a California restaurant in the late 1920’s for hungry late-night diners. Out of ravioli, the owner, a Mrs. Tamburelli, made small balls of ravioli filling, rolled them in flour, boiled them and served them up in tomato sauce. The new dish proved quite a hit and was humorously dubbed “malfatti” because of the way it was invented.
It seems probable that the origins of malfatti go back much further than the ’20s. But truth of the story aside, small, soft dumplings of one kind or another have held an important place in Italian cuisine for a long, long time. There are many regional variations; gnocchi, gnudi, cavatielli and malloredus to name but a few.
Our version is quite simple, comprised mainly of ricotta cheese and eggs, with a little finely grated parmesan cheese and fresh parsley and just enough flour to help hold everything together.
The richly-flavored, savory sauce is very easy to make, using reconstituted dried wild mushrooms, a prepared truffle-based sauce (sold by Earthy Delights) and rich cream. Use your favorite dried mushrooms; we used meaty lobster mushrooms, which lent their own distinctive flavor and color to the sauce.
This recipe is meant to be a guideline, but there is plenty of room for experimentation. Cooking should be fun, so feel free to use your imagination and creativity and make this wonderful dish your own.
Malfatti with Wild Mushroom and Truffle Cream Sauce
- 1 lb ricotta
- 1/4 cup flour, plus more as needed
- 4 egg yolks, plus 1 whole egg, beaten
- 2 Tbsp fresh Italian parsley, chopped, plus more for garnish
- 1/4 cup finely grated parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
Put the ricotta in a fine sieve or cheesecloth-lined colander over a bowl to drain off excess liquid. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate to drain overnight. The next day, gently stir together the ricotta, a scant 1/4 cup of the flour, the beaten egg & yolks, parsley, grated parmesan, salt and pepper until a soft dough forms. You can add a little more of the flour if the mixture seems too sticky, but use just enough to hold everything together.
It’s a bit of a trick to form the malfatti, but you’ll quickly get the hang of it. Start by dipping 2 tablespoons into cool water. With the first spoon, scoop up a heaping tablespoon of the ricotta mixture. Scoop the mixture out of the first spoon with the other spoon to form a smooth, egg-shaped oval. Place each malfatti on a baking sheet lightly dusted with flour. Repeat until all the mixture has been used.
Reconstitute the dried mushrooms by placing them in a small bowl and covering with very hot water. Allow them to steep for 20 – 30 minutes or until soft and pliable. Drain the mushrooms, reserving the soaking liquid. Rinse the mushrooms in cool, running water to remove any traces of grit or debris. Drain again and chop coarsely.
Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large, heavy pan. Add the mushrooms and cook for 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Reduce the heat to medium-low and add 1 cup of the soaking liquid to the pan, taking care not to introduce any sediment that may have settled to the bottom. Raise the heat back up to medium and cook for another 5 minutes. Stir in the prepared truffle sauce, then add the cream. Continue to cook until the liquid has reduced and become quite thick. Turn off the heat and keep warm.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Reduce heat to a gentle, but steady simmer. Use a spatula to gently lift a few of the malfatti from the baking sheet and slip them into the pot of water. Cook until the malfatti bob to the surface, about 3 – 5 minutes. Gently scoop them out with a skimmer as soon as they are cooked. Drain well and place into warm plates or bowls.
When all malfatti are cooked, top with the warm sauce and sprinkle with additional parmesan cheese. Serve immediately.
Many of the ingredients used in this recipe, and other recipes on the Earthy Delights Blog, can be purchased online at our retail website, Earthy.com. We welcome you to visit the Earthy.com website to view our extensive selection of hard-to-find ingredients and our complete Recipe Collection of over 500 tested recipes.
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