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
200 g flour (7 1/2 oz)
500 g ricotta (1 lb 2 oz)
100 g Parmesan (4 oz)
Flat-leaf (Italian) parsley
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.