Italian Spinach Ricotta Dumplings Recipe (Malfatti) in Napoli Sauce Is Perfectly Imperfect by Donna John

Italian Spinach Ricotta Dumplings Recipe (Malfatti) in Napoli Sauce Is Perfectly Imperfect

If you've never made homemade pasta before or have and it didn't turn out too well, this authentic malfatti recipe is for you! Malfatti means "badly formed" in Italian, and it describes these Italian ricotta dumplings to a tee. These badly formed spinach ricotta dumplings may look hard to make, but they're not. The Napoli sauce is even easier to make.

Make the Napoli sauce first and let it simmer while you prepare the malfatti. The Napoli sauce starts by cooking onion and garlic in olive oil until soft. Add a can of crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, water and a pinch of sugar, and let the sauce simmer of the stovetop for about 20 minutes.

The simple malfatti dough is made with baby spinach that's been wilted with onion and garlic. Ricotta cheese (dry ricotta, not wet ricotta) is stirred in along with basil, an egg, an egg yolk, Parmesan cheese and flour. The mixture is shaped into quenelles (football shaped) and boiled until they float. Put them onto a bed of the Napoli sauce in a casserole dish and bake until they start to lightly brown. Serve with additional grated Parmesan and fresh basil leaves.

Be sure to buy the driest ricotta you can find. If it's very wet, it will be hard to shape and handle the malfatti. Serve these easy Italian baked ricotta dumplings in Napoli sauce with a salad and hot, crusty bread. My pesto breadsticks would go great with this dinner

Cuisine: Italian
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 45 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour
Servings: 4 to 6



  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 small onion, minced
  • 1 can (24 ounces) crushed tomatoes
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste 
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 teaspoon granulated sugar


  • 1 bag (10 ounces) baby spinach (about 6 packed cups), chopped
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 a small red onion, minced
  • 1 pound (16 ounces) ricotta, drained well (ricotta needs to be somewhat dry)
  • 1/4 cup basil leaves, julienned 
  • 1 egg 
  • 1 egg yolk 
  • 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan, plus more for serving
  • 1/2 cup flour

Here's how to make it: 

  1. To make the sauce, heat the olive oil a skillet. Add the garlic and onion and cook, stirring, until soft, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add the crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, water and sugar. Season with salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer, reduce heat and cook on low, stirring often, for about 20 minutes. 
  2. To make the malfatti, heat the olive oil in a skillet. Add the spinach, onion and garlic. Season with salt and pepper. Cook until spinach is wilted. Remove to a bowl and let it cool. 
  3. Add the ricotta, basil leaves, egg, egg yolk, Parmesan cheese and flour to the cooled spinach. Mix well. Season with salt and pepper. If the mixture is too wet to form into dumplings, add a little more flour. Form the dumplings into football shapes (about 1 1/2 tablespoon per malfatti). 
  4. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Cook the dumplings a few at a time until they float to the surface, about 2 minutes. Remove to  paper towels. Repeat until all the dumplings are cooked. 
  5. To assemble the casserole, pour the sauce into a baking dish. Top with the malfatti. Bake in a preheated 350-degree F oven for about 15 minutes. Serve with additional grated Parmesan cheese and fresh basil leaves. 

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Olive Oil $4 & Up
Tomato Paste $1 & Up
Flour $2 & Up

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Elisa Schmitz
I used to make stuffed shells all the time, but I haven't made them in years now. Thank you for the inspiration! #yum
I’ve always wanted to make pasta by hand. Such a cool recipe.

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