I may be spoiled for pasta now.
On the first morning of our first day in Italy, we walked to the Academia Barilla, an institute in Parma dedicated to the preservation of Italian food culture. (And to that end, the Academia Barilla Gastronomic Library houses a collection of over 11,000 cookbooks dating back to the 16th century – it’s open to the public and can be accessed online. More on that later, because WOW.)
We were set up with little piles of flour and dark-yolked eggs, and mixed up dough the way you see them do it on TV – not in a bowl, but by making a little volcano out of the flour and cracking the eggs in, then stirring/corralling the eggs as they try to escape from ditches in the flour until it all comes together into a smooth, yellow dough that’s oh-so satisfying to run through a pasta machine into smooth, thin sheets, then cut into piles of ribbons or fill with chard and ricotta.
A twentysomething journalist from Brazil was in our group, and reminisced about his Italian Grandmother’s kitchen on a Sunday afternoon, when they would all gather around the table and assemble whatever shape of pasta was on the menu for Sunday lunch, which lasted until dinnertime.
They talked and caught up around the table, as we got to know each other around ours. It’s fascinating to me that it’s not unusual there to begin dinner by cracking eggs into a pile of flour, much like we might truss a chicken or mix up a meatloaf; fresh pasta is quick, inexpensive and simple, not a special weekend project like it most often is here. In creative English, a local chef told us that tortelli – called ravioli everywhere but in Parma – was a great way to use up scraps of leftovers and veggies that were starting to wilt and might otherwise wind up in the compost bin.
It was the first of many plates of tortelli – interestingly, no matter where we went, most of them were stuffed with ricotta and chard, tossed in butter and doused in grated Parmigiano-Reggiano. (Natch.)
Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
I love how the stuffed, uncooked tortelli look like little planets.
And what better side for fresh pasta than more pasta? (Apologies for the artificial light here.)
I also kind of love that this recipe is delivered with the presumption that the reader has a basic knowledge of cooking. I left it as-is, except for the pasta dough instructions, which were originally merely “mix flour with the egg”. If you don’t have a ravioli pan, which are inexpensive at most Italian markets, you can fill them flat on the counter, then cut in between. Just make sure you squeeze out any air pockets as you seal them, lest they wind up their own wee floatation devices in the pot.
Swiss Chard & Ricotta Tortelli
via Academia Barilla
Fresh pasta dough:
300 g all-purpose flour
3 large eggs
250 g fresh ricotta
300 g Swiss chard
150 g Parmigiano Reggiano, grated
100 g butter
salt, to taste
freshly grated nutmeg, to taste
Place the flour in a pile on your work surface. Make a well in the top and crack in the eggs. Stir gently with a fork, then continue to blend, using your hands, until the dough comes together. Wrap in plastic or cover with a towel and let rest for 30 minutes.
Wash and clean the Swiss chard; cook in salted boiling water. Drain, squeeze and finely mince.
Mix the Swiss chard with ricotta, salt, pepper, nutmeg, and 3/4 of the Parmigiano Reggiano cheese.
Roll out the pasta dough with a pasta machine in order to obtain a sheet.
Place some filling on one half of the sheet; fold the other half on top.
Seal properly with your hands and, using a pasta cutter, cut the tortelli.
Cook in salted boiling water, drain them and sauté them in melted butter.
Sprinkle with the rest of the Parmigiano and serve.