Malfatti;Italian ricotta and spinach dumplings

Malfatti; Italian ricotta and spinach dumplings

 

Malfatti, which loosely  translates as “poorly made” in Italian, are billowy dumplings of ricotta and spinach. Essentially gnocchi, but without the dough casing. A wonderful choice for a gorgeous light meal that is sure to satisfy even die hard meat sauce lovers.

Malfatti speak for themselves. Unlike gnocchi, there is no fiddling about making perfectly shaped dumplings. These have a very rustic homemade allure that harkens back to 17th century northern Italian cooks in the countryside. Malfatti can be steamed, boiled, sauted, or gently cooked in a simple tomato sauce.

I make my own ricotta (see recipes here) paired with the simplest tomato sauce (see recipe here) made with imported Italian tomatoes or tomato passata, fresh Italian tomatoes which have been passed through a food mill to remove the skin and seeds. Imported passata is readily available. To a passata just add onions, garlic, salt and pepper, and olive oil and you have the simplest of red  sauces made in no time.

 

Malfatti: makes about 15    3 servings

Malfatti in red sauce

Malfatti in red sauce

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • large bunch of young spinach leaves, chopped
  • 6oz/170g ricotta cheese
  • 1 organic egg, whisked
  • 1 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • ¼ tsp finely grated nutmeg
  • 2 tbsp all-purpose flour
    prepared red sauce
  • whole dried red chiles (optional)

Heat the oil in a skillet over medium high heat. Add the spinach and saute just until the spinach has wilted, about 1 minute. Transfer the spinach to a paper towel to absorb excess water and set aside.

Place the ricotta in a mixing bowl and add the wilted spinach, egg, ¾ cup of Parmegiano-Regiano, salt, pepper, nutmeg, and flour. Fold the ingredients together until just combined and coming together.

Cover the mixture and refrigerate for 30 minutes. This will make the malfatti easier to form.

Then scoop out a generous tablespoon size portions of the mixture and form into elongated egg shapes without being too concerned about their uniformity. Think malfatti!

Place them on a parchment lined tray, cover, and refrigerate until you are ready to cook them in red sauce.

Preheat the oven to 350f/180c

Warm the red sauce and pour a cup or so in a baking dish. Then add the malfatti to the dish and add more sauce to nearly cover the malfatti with only the top exposed. Add the dried chiles if using and transfer the baking dish to the oven and bake for 20 minutes.

Open the oven and add the remaining ¼ cup grated Parmigiano over the tops of the malfatti. Turn the baking dish for even baking and continue baking until just lightly browned, about 15 minutes.

Serving:

Serve the malfatti as pictured in a pool of red sauce along with a mixed greens salad and some crusty bread.

A perfect summer meal!

KEFTA Moroccan Meatballs

KEFTA Moroccan Meatballs

 

I love Moroccan food for so many reasons, but above all it is how it reflects the exotic spirit of the country itself. Awash with vibrant colors, mind boggling souks, the sun bleached architecture of Tangiers, Marrakesh’s rich red earthiness, and sweeping landscapes stretching from the Atlantic eastward towards the Atlas mountains and southward to the edge of he Sahara desert are breathtaking. Likewise, eating your way through Morocco is a sensory journey through time and cultures that have influenced the very essence of the country and its cuisine. So whenever I am cooking Moroccan meals at home it is always like reliving all those exotic aromas and vivid flavors of Morocco all over again.

Kefta refers to the classic Moroccan dish of traditionally seasoned lamb meatballs simmered in a lemon infused broth as well as the meatballs themselves. Served with steamed couscous and a fiery harrisa sauce, this is a traditional Moroccan meal you will find yourself serving again and again. It is a real crowd pleaser!

I have taken a few liberties in the recipe that follows. I have made the kefta slightly larger than the traditionally smaller and denser size in pursuit of a more tender and juicy finish. I have also tempered the chile heat a bit, but this is a pretty fiery dish in Morocco so feel free to pull out all the stops. You won’t regret it I promise you.

Kefta with Couscous and Orange Radish Salad

Kefta with Couscous and Orange Radish Salad

 

Kefta; Moroccan Meatballs    serves 6

For the kefta:   makes 24

  • 1 lb/450 g ground lamb
  • 8oz/ 225 g ground beef
  • ½ cup dried bread crumbs
  • ¼ cup milk or water
  • 1 onion, grated (about 1 cup)
  • 1/3 cup minced broad leaf parsley leaves
  • 1/3 cup minced coriander leaves
  • 1 egg, whisked
  • 1 tsp dried mint
  • ½ tsp dried marjoram
  • 1 tsp ground roasted cumin seeds
  • 2 tsp ras el hanout (click here for info and recipe)
  • ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
  • ½ tsp chile flakes (or more to taste)
  • 2 tsp ground red chile powder (or ¼ to ½ teaspoon cayenne)
  • 1 ½ teaspoons sea salt + more to taste
  • 1/3 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup chickpea flour (or all purpose flour)
  • ¼ cup olive oil

For the broth:

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoons butter
  • 1 large onion grated (about 1 ½ cups)
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • ½ tsp ground toasted cumin seeds
  • ¼ tsp crushed saffron threads
  • a pinch of turmeric
  • 1 ½ tsp sea salt + to taste
  • ¼ tsp freshly ground pepper
  • 1 tsp sweet paprika
  • 1 tsp red chile powder or to taste
  • 1/3 cup minced broad leaf parsley
  • 1/3 cup minced coriander leaves
  • 3 whole dried red chile pods
  • 2 garlic cloves, whole peeled
  • 3 ½ cups water + more as needed
  • zest and juice of 1 lemon

Place the ground lamb and ground beef in a mixing bowl and mix them together until combined.

In a small bowl combine the bread crumbs and milk (or water) and stir and set aside to soak for a few minutes. Then squeeze out the milk from the crumbs and scatter them over the meat mixture. Add the onions, parsley, and coriander.

Whisk the egg and pour over the meat mixture.

In a small bowl mix together the mint, marjoram, cumin, ras el hanout, cinnamon, chile flakes, chile powder (or cayenne), and salt and pepper and scatter over all. Then using both hands mix all the ingredients together until completely combined. Cover with cling film and refrigerate for at least1 hour or over night.

Once the kefta mixture is well chilled measure out 1 ½ oz/ 40 g portions and gently roll each portion into a round meatball/ kefta. Try not to overwork the meat when rolling the balls. This will ensure that the meat will be tender and juicy rather than dense and hard when cooked.

Place the flour in a shallow bowl and gently roll each kefta in the flour until evenly coated. Place them on a parchment lined tray, cover with cling film, and refrigerate for 1 hour. This will ensure the kefta will retain their shape when browning them.

Place a large non stick skillet over medium high heat and add the oil. Once the oil is hot add half of the kefta and brown them on all sides. Set the browned kefta aside while you brown the second batch and prepare the broth.

Select a pot that is large enough to hold all the kefta in a single layer. Place the pot over medium heat and add the olive oil and butter. Swirl the pan until the butter has melted and combined with the olive oil. Add the onions and saute until the onions are soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Clear a well in the center of the pot and add the tomato paste. Press the paste against the bottom of the pan to caramelize it before stirring the onions and the paste together. Add the ginger, cumin, saffron, turmeric, salt, pepper, paprika, and red chile power. Stir the ingredients together until well combined. Then stir in the parsley and coriander and saute while stirring for a couple of minutes. Add the whole chile pods, garlic, and the water and stir. Once the broth is boiling, lower the heat to a rolling simmer and cook for 15 minutes.

Then gently lower the kefta into the broth using tongs. There should be enough liquid to nearly cover the kefta. If not stir in more water as needed. Once the both returns to a boil reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 30 minutes without disturbing the kefta. Skim off fat and foam as it collects on the surface and discard. Just before you are ready to serve stir the lemon juice into the hot broth and taste for seasoning, adding more salt if needed. Remove the garlic cloves and discard.

Serving:

When you are ready to serve transfer the kefta to a serving bowl and add the broth and the whole chiles. Or, for individual servings, place 4 kefta per serving into shallow bowls or pasta plates along with broth, omitting the whole chiles.

Be sure to serve plenty of broth with the kefta. Garnish with lemon zest and serve with couscous, and an orange radish salad as pictured. 

Harissa

Harissa

Place a small bowl of harissa ( click here fore recipe)

on the table which can be dabbed on the kefta for extra spicy heat or stirred into the

broth.

The couscous with currants pictured is topped with fried precooked chickpeas and
toasted cumin seeds.

Chocolate Oatmeal with Toasted Almonds & Greek Yogurt

Chocolate Oatmeal with Toasted Almonds & Greek Yogurt

 

I resently found myself reading an article in the Bangkok Post entitled “Yes, adults can have chocolate for breakfast” by my favorite NY Times food columnist Melissa Clark. Well, yes indeed…why not? I was in the kitchen early the following morning cooking up Melissa’s recipe which turned out exactly as described and, as always, was absolutely delicious.

In the article Melissa cuts right to the chase. “…there will always be something grey and Dickensian about a bowl of morning porridge. ” Who hasn’t had those very same thoughts while stirring and peering into the saucepan of simmering opaque pasty grey oatmeal. Unless that is you add chocolate.” There is  the game changer!

The idea of mixing grain with chocolate has been around since the Maya and Aztecs’ invented atole. Atole is a warm gruel made with corn based masa harina (corn meal/ flour) flavored with chocolate, panela (unrefined cane sugar), and canella (cinnamon). That said, a chocolate oatmeal is still  a bit of a revelation that turns oatmeal into a much more enticing prospect for breakfast along with some added health benefits a well. Unsweetened cocoa powder is naturally fat free and loaded with antioxidants. Just try to keep the sweetener of choice to a minimum.  Bitter sweet is better than too sweet!

Before continuing, a quick rundown on oats available for making oatmeal. There are steel cut oats, rolled oats, and instant oats. Steel cut means the whole oat groat is cut into smaller pieces. It resembles rice and will have a pronounced bite when cooked.For rolled oats, the whole oat groats are steamed and then rolled to flatten them. Rolled oats will cook faster while still retaining a bite. Quick, or instant, oats are precooked groats that are dried, and rolled. They cook faster, but most of the texture is lost in the process.The cooked quick oatmeal tends to be mushy.

Melisssa’s recipe calls for steel cut oats, but rolled oats are more readily available and work just fine with a slightly shortened cooking time.

To read Melissa Clark’s article and recipe (click here)

 

Brown Butter Chocolate Oatmeal (Recipe; Melissa Clark, NY Times)        makes 4 servings

 

Rolled oats sauted in butter

Ingredients:

  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1 ½ cups steel-cut oats
  • 3 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder, preferably Dutch-process
  • ¼ tsp fine sea salt
  • 4 1/2 cups water, or 2 1/4 cups water and 2 1/4 cups milk
  • Raw sugar, honey or maple syrup to taste

Toppings:

Cream, milk or coconut milk

  • Butter
  • Flaky sea salt
  • Sliced bananas
  • Shredded coconut
  • Sliced dates
  • Sliced avocado

Preparation:

1  In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Let cook, swirling occasionally, until it turns a deep golden brown and smells nutty, 2 to 4 minutes. You’ll know it’s close when the bubbling quiets down as the moisture cooks off. Add oats and saute until they turn golden at the edges, 2 to 4 minutes. Scrape the sauted buttered oats into a bowl and reserve.

2  To the same pot (no need to rinse it out first) add 4 ½ cups water (or half water and half milk) and bring to a boil. Add the cocoa powder and whisk well to dissolve lumps. Whisk in buttered oats and salt.

3  Lower to a gentle simmer. Let cook stirring occasionally until the oatmeal begins to thicken, Then stir more frequently until done to taste, 20 to 30 minutes. Turn off the heat, cover the pot, and let sit for 5 minutes. Check the thickness, thin with boiling water if needed. Stir in sweetener to taste and serve with toppings of your choice.

Meatballs....perfect (Basics)

Meatballs….perfect (Basics)

 

Just a mention of meatballs and spaghetti is probably going to conjure up a flashback to one of those cafeteria lunch offerings we would all rather forget from our childhood. And of course most of us didn’t have an Italian Nona to cook for us, so we were left with the next best option, the ubiquitous Italian American restaurant versions of meatballs and spaghetti which were just often delicious enough to keep us coming back. 

Fortunately, the true glories of meatballs have surfaced in nearly every culture and cuisine throughout the ages. From China’s Qin Dynasty, the Romans, the Persians, and of course the modern day Italian’s cuisine we are all familiar with today.

The recipe that follows does not stray far from the wisdom of the Italian Nona. My one exception is making the meatballs larger than the smaller traditional Italian “polpettes”. I much prefer the tender juiciness of these meatballs that are slowly simmered in a simple traditional “passata” tomato sauce. Serve them as they are or with pasta along with a beautiful crisp salad and you have a perfect pairing for simple meal for any season.

Meatballs (Basics)

Meatballs (Basics)

 

Meatballs…(Basics)     makes twelve 2 ½ oz meatballs

  • 1 pound/ 455 g best quality ground beef
  • 1 pound/ 455 g lean ground pork 
  • 2 thin slices pancetta, minced
  • ½ cup dry breadcrumbs
  • 3 tablespoons whole milk
  • 1 ½ cups grated Parmigiano-Regiano
  • 1 small onion, minced (about ¾ cup)
  • 2 small garlic cloves, minced (about 1 tablespoon)
  • ½ cup finely chopped Italian parsley leaves
  • 1 extra large organic egg, whisked
  • ¾ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes (or more to taste)
  • 1 ½ teaspoons flaked sea salt + more to taste
  • 1 cup flour
  • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • Passata tomato sauce
  • 3 bay leaves

In a large mixing bowl combine the ground beef, ground pork, and minced pancetta. Toss with your hands until well combined and set aside.

In a small mixing bowl combine the bread crumbs and milk. Set aside for 5 minutes and then squeeze out the excess milk.

In a medium bowl combine the milk soaked bread crumbs, 1 cup grated Parmegiano-Reggiano, minced onion, minced garlic, chopped parsley, whisked egg, ground pepper, pepper flakes, and sea salt. Toss the ingredients together until well combined. Then scatter the mixture over the ground meats and pancetta.

Using your hands, toss all the ingredients together until they are completely combined. Cover the mixture with cling film and refrigerate for 1 hour.

Once the chilled meatball mixture has firmed up, remove from the fridge, and weigh out 12 2 oz portions. Roll each portion gently between the palms of your hands until uniformly rounded. Do not over compress the mixture as you roll the meatballs. The less densely compacted they are the more tender and juicy they will be when cooked.

Gently roll each meatball in the flour until evenly coated. Shake off excess flour and place the meatballs on a tray. Cover the filled tray with cling film and refrigerate for 30 minutes. This will firm up the meatballs so they retain their shape while browning them.

Preheat the oven to 350 F/ 180 C

Remove the chilled meatballs from the fridge. Place the olive oil in a wide shallow braising pan or oven proof skillet set over medium heat. When the oil is nearly smoking add half of the meatballs to the pan and cook them until evenly browned on all sides. When done remove the meatballs and set them aside on a platter while you brown the remaining meatballs.

Once all the meatballs are browned, pour most of the oil out of the pan and remove any remaining bits left in the pan using a paper towel. The pan should look fairly clean. Add a bit more fresh oil if necessary.

Return the browned meatballs to the braising pan and pour the preheated “passata” tomato sauce into the pan until it nearly covers the meatballs leaving just the tops exposed. Tuck the bay leaves into the sauce and transfer the pan to the oven. The braising can also be done on the stove top if an oven is not an option.

After 30 minutes open the oven door, turn the pan, and add more sauce if needed. Return the pan to the oven for another 30 minutes. When finished the sauce should have thickened somewhat and the tops of the meatballs nicely glazed.

If you are serving the meatballs on a bed of pasta as pictured, have the pasta cooked al dente and ready for serving as soon as the meatballs come out of the oven.

Serving: Place the pasta on individual plates and top with 3 meatballs per serving. Spoon sauce over the pasta and a little over the meatballs. Top each meatball with the remaining grated Parmegiano-Reggiano and serve.

 

“Passata” Tomato Sauce:

  • 2  24 oz bottles or cartons of Italian passata tomato sauce (Mutti brand is very good)
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 ½ to 2 teaspoons sea salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • a pinch of sugar
  • ½ teaspoon ground red chile (optional)
  • chicken stock as needed

“Passata” describes a process where vine ripe Roma tomatoes are passed through a food mill and then cooked. The process removes the seeds and skin from the tomatoes and once cooked makes a simple tomato sauce with just a few added ingredients.

I highly recommend using imported passata. There are several brands available. Mutti is my favorite and makes a beautiful sauce bursting with flavor.

Place a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the olive oil and when nearly smoking pour in the passata and stir. Once the sauce comes back to a boil lower the heat to a simmer. Stir in the salt, black pepper, sugar, and chile powder if using. Cook for 30 minutes, stirring from time to time. Add hot chicken stock if the sauce needs thinning.

Keep the sauce warm on the stove top to add to the meatballs for braising or for saucing pasta before serving.

You will most likely have left over sauce which you can freeze for later use.

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