Tuesday, August 7, 2007


The inspiration for this slightly ambitious Saturday afternoon cooking project came from the lovely and talented Fanny, who I am hoping will soon be teaching pastry workshops with me in Nice (stay tuned on the Petits Farcis website). When I saw her version of a Jamie Oliver recipe for caramelle with ricotta, basil and black olives, I had the irresistible urge to dust off my pasta machine and invite a couple of friends over for dinner.
I intended to make her recipe, but as I began to knead the pasta dough I remembered a cooking class I had taken three years ago at the Agriturismo I Fontanini in Emilia Romagna, the region that brought us parmesan cheese, 25-year-old balsamic vinegar and Parma ham (need I say more?). In this exceptional class, four generations of women from the same family - counting the two-month-old baby, who had probably absorbed every movement in the womb - taught us to make tortelloni, which are a bit like tortellini only bigger and filled with ricotta and herbs or vegetables. I have never forgotten their delicate taste and texture, the pasta so thin you could see right through it.
The 80-year-old nonna had been making fresh pasta by hand every day of her life since childhood, and her skill and efficiency were more than a little intimidating. I came home with a long wooden rolling pin specially for pasta, which I'm deeply ashamed to say is still in its plastic packaging. I do use my hand-cranked pasta machine occasionally, but with Barale at the end of my street and the impressively stocked deli Exquis d'Italia five minutes away I had never reattempted the tortelloni recipe.
After all this time I wasn't sure if I remembered how to shape this pasta, and the Internet for once proved not much help - I couldn't find step-by-step directions for tortelloni. Luckily, I had taken some scribbled notes and it turned out that my hands had a better memory than my brain. Once I started to shape the pasta, it all happened naturally and before long I even found myself working at a good pace. Sam got involved in this project, and while I can't say that he was turning out tortellini with the skill of an Italian nonna (neither was I) he did have a lot of fun feeding the pasta through the machine and making his own shapes with the dough.

I made the basic filling from I Fontanini's recipe, adding only some parsley to the ricotta, parmesan, egg and seasonings, but you can also use a larger proportion of herbs or vegetables (say, onion, artichoke, zucchini or borage leaves) and reduce the amount of ricotta. You'll notice that the recipe is imprecise, which is the way it's supposed to be. The tortelloni are served with a simple sauce of melted butter and sage, rather than anything like tomato that might detract from their subtle flavor.
I have to admit that I used my pasta machine to roll the dough, but next time I am getting out that rolling pin - really!

I'm submitting this recipe to the weekly Presto Pasta Night roundup at Once Upon a Feast.

Tortelloni with cheese filling
from Agricurismo I Fontanini
Serves 4

Egg pasta:
200 g flour (7 1/2 oz)
2 eggs

500 g ricotta (1 lb 2 oz)
1 egg
100 g Parmesan (4 oz)
Flat-leaf (Italian) parsley
Grated nutmeg
Salt and pepper
Butter, sage and parmesan to serve

For the pasta, sift the flour onto a work surface and make a well in the center. Add the eggs and knead for about 15 minutes to create an elastic and smooth dough. (If you mix the dough in a food processor, use a little more flour for a firmer dough.) Let the dough rest for at least 30 mins.

Meanwhile, make the filling: Mince the parsley or other herbs or vegetables and put in a bowl with the ricotta, egg, parmesan, grated nutmeg and salt. Mix until smooth.

Flatten the dough with a rolling pin and roll into a paper-thin sheet, or roll as thinly as possible in your pasta machine. Cut it with a rotary cutter into 6 cm squares. (Note: keep the sheets of rolled pasta covered with a towel to prevent them from drying out.)

Put a little filling in the center of each square, then fold the dough over the filling to make a triangle and press along the edges to seal.

Bring the edges of the triangle together to complete the shape.

Cook the tortelloni in plenty of salted boiling water unti they float to the surface (a little longer if your pasta is not paper-thin), then drain carefully with the slotted spoon and pile in the warmed serving dish, alternating with the melted butter, parmesan and sage.


fanny said...

Hi Rosa,
your tortelloni are beautiful and look super-yummy.
And your son is a gorgeous little cook!

This totally makes me want to make pasta again (see I'm always looking for an excuse to make pasta ;)

Love xxx
- fanny

Ruth Daniels said...

What a wonderful post. Great story, handsome boy, and stunning photos plus a terrific recipe. Who could ask for more.

Thanks for sharing with Presto Pasta NIghts.

Rosa said...

Thanks for inspiring me, Fanny! I really am going to use that rolling pin next time - it's probably easier than dragging the pasta machine out from the back of the cupboard.

I'm glad you like it, Ruth, after reading so many pasta recipes!

roxanestoner said...

Thank you, Thank you, Thank you Rosa! I can't wait to try out this recipe. You are very generous to share this with us the pasta lovers. Cheers!

Wendy said...

Very impressed. Embarrassed to say that I haven't even tried to make fresh plain pasta yet. Making tortelloni definitely appeals to me though.

Lucy said...

Those Nonnas are amazing women really. The class was clearly inspirational; though I must say that the mere thought of hand rolling pasta makes very nervous. Love the flexibility of the recipe and am so pleased that you got Sam on board. Feeling less intimidated of pasta-making by the minute!

Rosa said...

Roxane: Nice to hear from you again, and so glad you like this recipe!

Wendy: Fresh pasta is really very simple, the only problem is that it takes up a lot of space! You will probably have to make it a few times before you feel really confident - it's something you have to get a "feel" for and then it's a piece of cake, so to speak!

Lucy: Hand-rolling takes patience and muscle, but I remember it being hugely satisfying during the class - enough for me to rush out and buy an extra-long rolling pin!

Susan said...

Rosa, your lovely photos have demystified and removed the "fear factor" from fresh pasta making. There's really nothing like it, and it shows. Thanks for the invaluable tutorial.

Rosa said...

Susan, I thought it was funny that so many recipes for tortellini/tortelloni don't tell you how to shape them. It's easy, but it helps if someone shows you once!

Dayna said...

This looks so delicious. I had just tried my own recently and was also so pleasantly surprised at how my kids loved to join in with the rolling and construction!
Nice to have kids get involved. A true way to appreciate food - and help them enjoy eating it too!

Rosa said...

I love your mudcakes, Dayna! I'll definitely be trying those with Sam when I get back from Le Marche.

chemcookit said...

Hey Rosa!
So glad I found your blog thanks to Presto Pasta Nights! I love it, so nice to see also many pictures of Itlay. And your tortelloni look gorgeous.. I do love making pasta with kids too. :)

Rosa said...

Hi Marta, I'm glad to have discovered your blog too and am looking forward to exploring it when I get back from Italy!

Sunshinemom said...

I must try this! The shapes look very nice. This will be my first homemade pasta! Could you clear a few things for me? Is it whole wheat flour or refined flour that you use? I am veg. Could you suggest a veg alternative for the eggs please? Until a year back my son used to do the same with the chapati/puri dough. I am sure Sam had a good time:)And do they taste like momo coverings? - Thanks!

Rosa said...

Hi Sunshinemom,

For this pasta you can use all purpose flour, cake flour or Italian "00" flour, which is a soft flour. The eggs are what make the pasta rich, but if you do a Google search you will find several recipes for homemade pasta without eggs. I'm not sure what momo coverings are, so I can't answer that question!

Anonymous said...

Hi Rosa,

I just used your tortelloni recipe. I loved the end result. It was great. I have one question for you though. How doughy should the pasta be. Should the dough be real hard to knead or should be smooth like bread.