One of the dishes I always include on my Italian cookery courses is malfatti. I find not many people have tried these lovely ricotta dumplings, either in restaurants or at home, but they are much simpler to make than say gnocchi or ravioli, and they are incredibly versatile too. Sit them on a simple fresh tomato sauce, or toss them in a sage beurre noisette, or a caper butter with some broad beans and asparagus for example.
At this time of the year, I like to substitute the spinach that I usually use in my malfatti with wild garlic, firstly because it's tasty and secondly because it's free if you can find it growing out and about. You can usually smell it some way off and whenever I come across the tell-tale scent of those broad green leaves and dainty white flowers, I get as excited as when my wife finds a new pair of shoes.
This year, wild garlic has sprouted in the herb garden at work for the first time, and John the gardener was as excited as I was when he first came across it. Three small clumps popped up next to the French sorrel, and it gave me an idea for this new dish which sings of spring. A sharp sorrel pesto works beautifully with the creamy dumplings and a few oven-dried tomatoes add some necessary sweetness to balance the acidity of the pesto. If you don't have access to sorrel then use a simple basil pesto instead.
Wild Garlic Malfatti, Oven-dried Cherry Tomatoes, Asparagus, and Sorrel Pesto.
About 20 wild garlic leaves, wilted in a hot pan, squeezed dry and finely chopped
250g ricotta, drained in a sieve over a bowl, preferably over night.
50g parmesan, grated
1 large egg, lightly beaten
40g plain flour
salt and white pepper
16 baby plum or cherry tomatoes,
4 asparagus spears, blanched
For the sorrel pesto
50g sorrel leaves
1 bunch flat leaf parsley
1 clove garlic, crushed
2 tbsp pine nuts, toasted
6 tbsp olive oil
30g parmesan, grated
salt and pepper
It's important to mix the sorrel with parsley in this pesto as pure sorrel on its own is overpoweringly sour. In a food processor, pulse all the ingredients except the oil and seasoning until a rough puree has formed. With the motor running pour the oil steadily into the mixture. Taste and season. Transfer to a jar and keep in the fridge.
To prepare the tomatoes, turn the oven on to 100°C. Cut the tomatoes in half. Line a baking tray with baking parchment then place the tomatoes on the tray, cut side up. Sprinkle with salt and place in the oven for 2 hours. Remove and allow to cool. Alternatively, and to be more energy efficient, place the tomatoes in the oven after you have cooked your evening meal. Leave them overnight and as the oven cools down the tomatoes will dry out. Just don't forget they're in there when you next come to turn the oven on!
To make the malfatti, mix all the ingredients in a bowl. Prepare a tray with some more flour. Take spoonfuls of the malfatti mixture and drop on to the floured tray. Lightly toss the dumplings in the flour, just to coat then gently shape them by dancing them around in the palm of your hands. They don't have to look perfect, malfatti means 'badly made' after all! Place on a plate or tray and when all are ready, transfer to a fridge to firm up.
When ready to cook, fill a large pan with salted water and bring to the boil. When the water reaches a rolling boil turn it down slightly then tip in the dumplings. Do not allow the water to boil too vigorously or the malfatti may bash into each other and break up . Allow the malfatti to rise to the top and from this point cook for a futher 7 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen paper.
To plate up place a spoonful of sorrel pesto around the bottom of a serving bowl. Arrange the malfatti, asparagus and tomatoes on top, building up some height. Dress with parmesan shavings, a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, and some wild garlic flowers.