When I want fresh, homemade pasta—but don’t want the fuss of an elaborate cooking project—I turn to my favorite Sardinian pasta shape: malloreddus (1). Also known as gnocchetti sardi, this shape requires neither a rolling pin nor a hand crank, and the process of making them is so simple that it can become a truly relaxing, even meditative, cooking project.
Most traditional fresh pastas are made using eggs and finely ground white flour. The malloreddus dough, on the other hand, is comprised of water and durum wheat semolina flour. If you don’t have a lot of experience making homemade pasta, then this eggless malloreddus dough is perfect practice because it’s exceedingly forgiving and utterly affordable.
Making malloreddus is similar to shaping gnocchi. After the dough has been kneaded and allowed to rest for about 30 minutes, one small handful at a time gets rolled into a long, thin snake shape about ¾-inch thick. This snake then gets chopped into little pillow shapes using a bench scraper (or a sharp knife).
The malloreddus are formed by lightly pressing down on each pillow with your thumb and then gently pushing the dough forward across a ridged wooden board. If you don’t have a board, then simply do this same process on any flat surface. (If you want the ridges, then just use the tines of a fork.) Without the ridges, your finished product will resemble a pasta shape called cavatelli rather than malloreddus, but in terms of taste and texture these shapes are nearly identical, so really it’s all good.
In Sardinia, you’ll likely see malloreddus served with a long-simmered meaty ragu. At home, though, I like to boil the malloreddus, then toss them in brown butter with a squeeze of lemon juice and a heaping handful of grated pecorino for a near-instant pasta fix. Recently, I’ve been enjoying malloreddus in homemade broth. This preparation takes a little more time, but the bouncy bite of the pasta shells swimming in a rich homemade broth is unbeatable and utterly comforting. Served this way, the malloreddus are almost reminiscent of chicken and dumplings.
Serving malloreddus in broth is completely untraditional, but alone in my home on a chilly evening, it just feels right. One night, on a whim, I added a pinch of saffron to the broth, which gave the dish a subtle, aromatic complexity. It also serendipitously happens to nod to traditional malloreddus preparations, which will sometimes use saffron either in the pasta dough itself or in the accompanying ragu. (If you don’t have saffron, then feel free to skip or add a tiny pinch of turmeric for that musky egginess, and the color of course.)
Both the broth and the malloreddus can both be made days in advance. The broth benefits from being made in advance, actually, because it allows you to easily skim away any excess fat that congeals on the surface (save this fat and use it to make eggs in the morning). Meanwhile, the malloreddus can be frozen immediately after they are formed, and then when it’s time to cook them, simply drop them into a pot of salted boiling water.
The dish comes together nicely, with shredded chicken thighs (used to fortify the broth earlier) and sauteed Lacinato kale (to bulk up the soup), making this a hearty and substantial meal in one single bowl.
If you’ve always wanted to make fresh pasta but you’ve never given it a try, this recipe is the perfect opportunity for you to get started. Even an inexperienced hand can make beautiful-looking malloreddus—and if they happen to look a little askew, they’re guaranteed to taste great anyway.
Saffron Brodo With Malloreddus, Chicken & Kale
Serves: 3 to 4
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour 40 minutes
- 2 pieces bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs (about 1 pound)
- Kosher salt
- 2 teaspoons canola oil (or any high-heat neutral oil)
- 1 sweet vidalia onion, peeled and cut in half
- 2 dried or fresh bay leaves
- 3 sprigs fresh thyme
- ⅛ teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 1 pinch saffron
- 1 cup durum wheat semolina flour
- 3 teaspoon olive oil, divided
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 1 bunch lacinato kale, stemmed and sliced into bite-size pieces
- Finely grated Pecorino Romano, for garnish (optional)
- To make the broth, lightly season all sides of the chicken with salt. Set a large pot over high heat and add the canola oil. When the oil is hot and shimmering, add the chicken skin-side down and the onion cut-side down. Reduce the heat to medium and let the chicken and onion cook undisturbed for 8 to 10 minutes, until the chicken skin is deeply golden brown and the onion is beginning to char. Flip the chicken and onion, and continue cooking for another 5 to 7 minutes, until the flesh side of the chicken also begins to caramelize.
- Add the bay leaves, thyme, and red pepper flakes. Cook for 1 minute, stirring regularly, to let the flavors of these aromatics bloom in the rendered chicken fat. Next, add 7 cups of water, along with the saffron and a pinch of salt. Use a wooden spoon to scrape the bottom of the pot, releasing any caramelized bits that are stuck (these caramelized bits add lots of flavor!). Let the brodo simmer gently for 1 hour and 30 minutes, then shut the heat and transfer the chicken to a mixing bowl.
- Strain the brodo using a fine mesh strainer. When the chicken is cool enough to handle, remove and discard the skin and bones. Shred the meat and add the meat back to the brodo. Now, at this point, you can refrigerate the brodo overnight, which will allow the excess fat to congeal, and then you can easily remove the excess fat the following day. Or, if you’re in a rush, use a ladle to skim off some excess fat. The brodo can be made up to a few days ahead of time and stored in the refrigerator. If you’re not refrigerating your brodo overnight, then you should make the malloreddus dough while the brodo is simmering.
- To make the malloreddus, add the semolina flour to a mixing bowl. Make a well in the center of the semolina, and add 1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons of water to the center of that well, along with 1 teaspoon of olive oil and a pinch of salt. Use a fork to mix the semolina with the rest of the ingredients. When a dough has formed, transfer to a flat surface. If there are little bits of dried flour left behind in the mixing bowl, discard these rather than trying to incorporate them into the dough. Begin kneading the dough. If the dough sticks to your palms, add 1 tablespoon of semolina at a time, until you can knead the dough without it sticking to your palms. Knead for approximately 10 minutes (or, you can transfer the dough to a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook). Stop kneading when the dough becomes smoother and tears less easily during the kneading process. Let it rest for at least 30 minutes, wrapped tightly in plastic wrap.
- After the dough has rested, tear a small piece of dough (about the size of a golf ball) and roll it into a thin snake shape, about ¾ inch wide. Cover the remaining dough with plastic wrap. Use a bench scraper to cut the snake of dough into little squares, about ¾ inch big. The dough should look almost like gnocchi at this point. If you have a ridged wooden gnocchi board, take a square of dough, place it on the board, and press down with your thumb gently while also rolling the dough forward slightly along the board. You should end up with a ridged, shell-looking shape. Repeat this process with the rest of the dough, storing the finished malloreddus on a rimmed baking sheet.
- When all of the pasta is made, you can either toss it in a handful of extra semolina flour and freeze it in an air-tight storage container (these can be made ahead of time and stored in the freezer for up to a few months), or if you’re ready to eat the brodo now, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the malloreddus to the boiling water, and stir gently to prevent them from sticking. Quickly, the malloreddus will rise to the surface of the boiling water. When they’re all floating at the top of the water, cook for two additional minutes, then remove them from the boiling water and set them aside for a moment. Toss them in a tiny drizzle of olive oil so that they don’t stick to each other.
- To finish this dish, set a large pot over low heat and add 2 teaspoons of olive oil along with the garlic. Turn the heat to medium-high and cook the garlic, stirring occasionally, until it begins to caramelize, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add the kale, and stir regularly until it has just begun to wilt. Add a pinch of salt, and continue cooking for 1 more minute.
- Add the brodo with the shredded chicken, along with the cooked malloreddus. Cook until everything is steaming hot. Taste the brodo, and adjust with more salt as needed. Serve immediately.
(1) Hundreds of years ago, shepherds in Sardinia thought the crumpled shape of this pasta looked similar to that of a baby newborn calf—so in one Sardinian dialect, malloreddus loosely translates to "calves."