Thursday, May 05, 2005

Look in the sky, is it a naked ravioli? a malfatti? a dumpling? a gnocchi?

It just fell apart. We dropped the tasty ricotta, spinach, ball into the boiling water and loomed large over it with anticipation. It sunk to the bottom and dissolved causing the water to turn a murky tint of green, with melted flour and cheese. The recipe we originally followed came from the book titled “Italy on a Platter: Recipes for Gourmets” by Osborne Putnam Stearns.

Giuliano Bugialli called his spinach, ricotta mixture "naked ravioli" (ravioli nudi or ravioli alla fiorentina) in his book “The Fine Art of Italian Cooking”. This book is available through Jessica's Biscuit catalogue at an incredibly low price. His recipe is basically the same, but with more explanation in terms of history and cooking, but even with this advice we failed to achieve the proper effect.

We did a google search with “spinach ricotta balls” and there we found something called a malfatti (which means badly made) It was described as being similar to, or as a green gnocchi (but note that Bugialli claims this recipe is never referred to as spinach gnocchi, page 268) it has up to eight tablespoons of flour clearly not making it gnocchi or naked ravioli. We won’t get bogged down with gnocchi, it is a topic for another discussion. By the time we served the dish we had added and subtracted varying amounts of flour and eggs attempting to get the mixture consistency right for boiling, but every time we dropped them into the water they dissolved. To ensure the ricotta and spinach mixture was not too wet, we strained it over night. Prior to that, the ricotta cheese had been strained the night before. Still no success when we dropped them into the hot water. We had experimented with boiling, frying and baking the balls by the time they were served. What we believe we need to do is to find a ricotta cheese that is thicker. The dryness of the spinach ball seems to be key to success.

On further investigation, the internet provided the same basic recipes of ricotta and spinach balls fried or baked in the oven, served covered with melted butter and Parmesan cheese. Some recipes fry the spinach before shaping the balls, rather than boiling it. We found these recipes were served with tomato sauce, red pepper sauce and even a thickened butter, flour and milk concoction which all seemed like they would work albeit these are not the authentic spinach balls of Arno, Italy according to Bugialli.

The guests were coming and we had to figure out a way to salvage this mixture of spinach and cheese. Baking was the way we saved the meal. We topped the spinach balls with butter and Parmesan cheese and it served nicely as a side dish.

Read about ravioli nudi:
Bugialli, Giuliano.
“The Fine Art of Italian Cooking”
New York: Gramercy Books,1990.

The original “spinach-ricotta balls” recipe came from:
Putnam Stearns, Osborne.
“Italy on a Platter”
Ward Ritchie Press, 1965.

“Pallette di ricotta e spinaci
Wash 1 lb spinach to remove sand or use canned spinach. If fresh spinach is used cook in its own moisture 5 minutes; squeeze dry; chop; add 3/4 1b ricotta (or substitute American cottage cheese), 1/2 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper, 2 tbl grated Parmesan cheese, 2 egg yolks, unbeaten. Mix well with fingers; shape like small eggs. Dust with flour. Drop a few at a time in boiling soup or water. Counting from the time they rise to the surface let them simmer 4 minutes; drain; repeat until all are cooked; put them in a hot serving dish. Sprinkle them with 4 tbl melted butter, 2 tbl grated Parmesan or Romano cheese. Serve hot to 4 persons.”

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