Bärlauch, literally bear's garlic, is a delicious wild garlic native to Central Europe, and like asparagus, it's currently turning up on many an Austrian chef's menu. I wanted to get the flavor of this distinctive seasonal ingredient in my asparagus dish, but it's simply not available in the U.S. I despaired of finding anything to recreate bärlauch's delicate bite, until I did some research and discovered that it's a close cousin of ramps, a wild leek that's found in my neck of the woods. Once picked, it only lasts a few days, and to get it you either need to forage for it or find a chef with a stash.
And then I discovered that an awesome local restaurant, Bluegrass Tavern (I wrote about the chef in the Urbanite, you can check out that article here) was having a special one-day-only sidewalk market ... and that they were going to have some ramps. Oh, happy day! I got there early and scored four bunches:
Now all that remained was to make my dish. Insofar as malfatti means "badly formed," I think my dish is aptly named. To be honest, it's not exactly what I originally had in mind - I wanted to make larger gnudi, but my mixture was too soft - and so I had to adjust. According to Poppa Trix, who declared the dish a success, it worked out well in the end, but I always have a hard time enjoying something that doesn't come out exactly as I want. It's the control freak in me.
But, as you are not (I presume) suffering from a preconceived notion about my mini malfatti, I expect that you will be able to enjoy them just as Poppa Trix did, and so I will share the recipe here, along with a few tips that I learned the hard way.
Start by steaming a pound of white asparagus into mushy oblivion. Ring it out, and roast it at 200 degrees for about an hour to dry it out. Puree this. To this, add 1 1/2 cups of ricotta that has been drained overnight, 1/4 cup flour, 1 tsp salt, a few grinds of pepper, a dash of paprika, and 2 to 4 egg yolks, plus one egg.
Why 2 to 4 you ask? Well, it was the eggs that tripped me up. I was modeling the method on the Swiss chard gnudi I made here, which called for four egg yolks, but I didn't take into account the extra moisture the asparagus would bring to the table. I dumped all the eggs in at once and was left with a mushy mess, to which I had to add more flour until it would bind. Instead, I should have started with two eggs and kept going until the mixture would hold together. When I tried to form my large gnudi, the poor things just collapsed like pancakes.
Assuming you achieve the proper consistency, you could make large quenelles, as I wanted to, or you could make smaller, robin's-egg-sized ones, as I did here. Simply scoop up a heaping teaspoon of the mixture, plop it into a wine glass that's been filled with 1 tablespoon of flour, and give it a swirl. (I outlined the process photographically here.) Place the mini malfatti on a floured cookie tray and refrigerate for about 30 minutes. In small batches, plop them into vigorously boiling salted water and remove them immediately when they float.
Even though they weren't what I wanted, I must admit they were soft and light, and the flavor of the asparagus really shone through. They went perfectly with my new favorite thing, ramp and pea pesto:
Don't forget to check out all of the other awesome asparagus dishes - Natasha and Lazaro will post a round up on their respective blogs on Friday. Happy spring!