Cocoa Ravioli Stuffed with Gorgonzola and Walnuts

I won’t take any credit for this recipe. It comes from Venice, a wonderful book by Katie and Giancarlo Caldesi on the secret cuisine of this romantic city. As it happens, the recipe was in turn taken from the Pastificio Serenissima in Castello, so at least I cannot be blamed for outright stealing. Mixing cocoa in the pasta dough might sound a bit odd, although Italy (and not only) has been manufacturing coloured pasta for a long time now. I am sure you have all seen it, it’s usually found in tourist shops all over the country. Pasta usually comes in red, green, brown and black, made with beetroot, spinach, cocoa and squid ink respectively. As the book says, the cocoa lends a certain depth of flavour and nuttiness to the pasta, which then complements the filling perfectly.

If you don’t have a pasta maker, please consider investing in one. I rolled this pasta by hand and I can tell you that, on top of being extremely hard and tiresome, the process takes a huge amount of time and gives you results which are in no way similar to the almost transparent pasta you can get with a good pasta machine. In Italy, these devices are usually called Nonna Papera. The name is probably derived from the character by the same name (in English, Grandma Duck) which appears in Disney cartoons together with Donald Duck and his family. Etymology and history aside, I do think such a device would make your life a lot easier. Otherwise, be my guest and allocate plenty of time to roll the pasta by hand.

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Ingredients (for the pasta)

  • 200g ’00’ pasta (you can easily find this in major supermarkets)
  • 2 whole eggs
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 15g cocoa powder
  • 1 tbsp water, if necessary

Ingredients (for the filling)

  • 50g walnuts, finely chopped
  • 200g Gorgonzola (Stilton or any hard blue cheese is also fine)
  • 100g ricotta
  • 30g Parmesan, finely grated
  • salt and pepper

Ingredients (for the pasta sauce)

  • 75g butter
  • a sprig of rosemary
  • squeeze of lemon juice
  • 30g Parmesan, grated

Method

  1. To make the pasta, pour the flour and cocoa in a mixing bowl and combine. Make a well in the middle, then crack the eggs and the egg yolk into the well. Using a table knife, gradually combine the flour into the eggs starting with the flour around the eggs and working your way out. Keep mixing until you form clumps of mixture.
  2. Use one hand to incorporate the bits together. Lightly wet your hand to bring the dough together if the mixture is too dry and won’t hold,, but be careful not to add too much water. Remove the dough from the bowl and place on a lightly floured work surface. Knead the dough by flattening and folding it for around 5-7 minutes, adding a little bit more flour if the dough is very sticky. Ultimately, you want to reach the consistency of a very soft and pliable dough which doesn’t stick to your hands or the work surface. Leave the pasta to rest covered in clingfilm for at least 20 minutes.
  3. To roll it out, either do it by hand or put it through a pasta machine to obtain long sheets of very thin pasta.
  4. To make the filling, combine all of the ingredients together and season with salt and pepper. The original recipe stated to use soft Gorgonzola, but I believe it’s best to use the harder variety.
  5. To make the ravioli, use a biscuit or a ravioli cutter to cut round shapes on the sheets of pasta you have rolled out. Dollop 1 tablespoon of filling in the centre of each ravioli round, then cover with a second round and press the rim together to seal it properly. You can also dab the rim of the ravioli with some water to ensure the dough sticks together. Proceed until you have run out of filling or dough.
  6. To cook them, bring a large pan of salted water to the boil, then tumble the ravioli in and cook for approximately 5 minutes. Drain.
  7. To make the sauce, melt the butter in a large frying pan with the rosemary for a couple of minutes. Add the lemon juice and shake the pan to blend it together. Discard the sprig of rosemary. Add the pasta to the pan and shake it to cover the ravioli evenly with the sauce. Dust with the grated Parmesan and serve immediately. Enjoy!

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Conchiglioni Bake

Today we look at a very easy yet delicious pasta recipe. In the UK, people are very fond of pasta bake and it is a cheap and cheerful way to dress pasta in a cheesy sauce and bake it, turning it into a wholesome dinner dish. Rather than using standard pasta, however, this recipe uses conchiglioni, a large shell-shaped pasta you can easily find in most supermarket nowadays. Faithful to the tradition, this pasta bake recipe is full of cheese, in the form of the comforting Parmigiano Reggiano and the salty Pecorino. Don’t worry, though, as you can easily substitute with your favourite cheese. A good mature cheddar or a soft Emmentaler would do this recipe justice too.

If you don’t want to use cooked ham, bacon (unsmoked, non streaky) is also a good choice. Alternatively, you could try and use Parma ham, sausages or leave the pig component out altogether and make it a vegetarian dish instead. This recipe is also very handy as it can be assembled the day before, then all you need to do is continue from step 8 the day you want to bake it. It also lends itself to freezing quite beautifully.

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Ingredients

  • 300g conchiglioni (pasta shells)
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 500g chestnut mushrooms
  • 150g cooked ham, diced
  • 2 courgettes
  • 100g Parmigiano Reggiano, grated
  • 50g Pecorino, grated
  • olive oil
  • parsley

Ingredients (for the béchamel sauce)

  • 500ml whole milk
  • 50g unsalted butter
  • 50g plain flour

Method

  1. Start by making the béchamel sauce. Melt the butter in a heavy bottomed saucepan over a medium heat, then take off the heat and whisk in the flour until you can’t see any more lumps. Put the saucepan back on the heat and gently cook until the flour slightly darkens in colour (the roux stage).
  2. Slowly start feeding in the milk and mix continuously to prevent large lumps from forming at the bottom of the saucepan. Always stirring with a wooden spoon, cook the sauce until it thickens and it covers the back of the spoon. Transfer to a jug, cover with clingfilm to prevent a skin forming and leave to cool.
  3. To make the filling, start by finely chopping the mushrooms and the garlic. Add them to a large pan with 8 tbsp of olive oil and cook over a high heat until nicely browned. Turn off the heat and add 2 tbsp chopped parsley. Stir that in, then leave aside to cool.
  4. Dice the courgettes and ham, then gently fry over medium heat in a saucepan with a drizzle of olive oil. Season with salt and pepper, then set aside.
  5. Transfer all but a couple of tablespoon of the mushroom mixture to the bowl of a food processor fitted with the blade attachment, then add the courgette and ham mixture, half of the béchamel sauce, half the grated Parmigiano and the grated Pecorino. Pulse a couple of times to obtain a coarse but blended mixture.
  6. In the meantime, cook the pasta shells according to packet instructions, but drain them when they are slightly harder than al dente. They will cook in the sauce later on. Set them aside and drizzle them lightly with olive oil to stop them sticking.
  7. Fill the conchiglioni with the coarse mixture, then lay them side by side in an oiled oven dish.
  8. Mix the leftover béchamel sauce with the mushrooms you kept aside, then spread that on top. Spread the remaining Parmigiano on top, then grill in the oven for about 10 minutes or just until the top is golden.

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