The diversity of Italian regional cuisine, continues to inspire me and in this post I am unraveling some of the intricacies of Italian egg pasta, from tagliatelle to tortelli.

I really like the texture and taste of pasta made with eggs; the number of eggs in the dough can significantly influence the texture, with a higher egg count often resulting in a firmer bite.

When we think of egg pasta, what may immediately come to mind are the classics: tagliatelle, pappardelle, fettucine, and lasagne. These are all variations on the theme of ribbons or squares or rectangular sheets of pasta, each with its own story and preferred accompaniments.


Pappardelle, slightly broader than tagliatelle, and are widely used in Tuscan kitchens. They’re frequently paired with strong meaty sauces – usually tomatoes and herbs slow cooked with beef, pork or lamb. Celebrated across the region of Tuscany is the classic dish of pappardelle with cinghiale (wild boar) and in season, pappardelle with porcini mushrooms.

Fettucine are more narrow than tagliatelle. Both tagliatelle and fettucine are usually sold as nidi (nests). These delicate ribbons are more fragile than their broader counterparts and the strands are coiled in the shape of small nests and nestled snugly in their packaging.

Tagliatelle are from the cuisines of somewhere from Bologna or Modena (Emilia Romagna), or in the Marche region. The dough is generally made with less eggs. Ragú alla Bolognese is the renowned dressing for tagliatelle but once again traditionally there were meat based sauces but this is now changing.

Small shapes or thin strips of egg pasta are also excellent in broth – take the very fine egg noodles called fillini (fili means threads) and tagliolini are fine strips of pasta (or tajerin in Piedmontese). Quadretti/quadrini are little squares and this shape is popular all over Italy. It is usually made with the bits of fresh pasta that are left over from making pasta ribbons and lasagna rectangles. Oddly cut pasta is also popular.

Cannelloni, like lasagne, are made with rectangular shaped cuts of pasta, with the pasta folded over the filling.

But egg pasta isn’t only cut into ribbons and sheets; it’s also about the crafting of the varieties of pasta ripiena (filled/stuffed pasta) usually filled with a combination of meat, cheese and/or vegetables. Each variety, with its distinct shape, character and sauce, tells a story of the region where it is made.

There are many shapes of filled pasta mainly from the regions of Emilia Romagna, Lombardy, Liguria and Piedmont. The most widely known type of filled pasta are the ravioli, mainly from Liguria. Ravioli come in various sizes and are made with various fillings and are common all over Italy.

Depending on how familiar you are with eating in various parts of Italy or eateries in your home country that have regional Italian, stuffed pasta specialties, you may be familiar with tortellini, tortelli, (larger version), cappelletti cappellacci (larger version) anolini/agnolini and agnolotti (larger version).

And as you would expect, there are regional variations in the shapes, size and fillings.  For example, the classic filling for tortelli in Parma and Piacenza (Emiglia Romagna) includes ricotta and herbs, but you can also find them filled with meat. In Mantua (Lombardy) it is pumpkin, with amaretti and mustard. Most of these tortelli are the usually formed by cutting a circle of pasta,  placing the stuffing on one side and folding the other half of pasta over the stuffing. I call this moon shaped. But in Maremma (Tuscany) the tortello is square shaped and larger than ravioli, and stuffed with ricotta, spinach, nutmeg and cheese. In Mugello and Casentino (Tuscany) the usual filling is potato, parmesan and nutmeg and is dressed with a strong meat sauce.

In the very norther region of Val D’Aosta the tortelli are square or rectangular and stuffed with spinach or minced veal, but in the Marche region the filling is a combination of mountain herbs.

The one tortello that sticks in my mind is the very unusual Cremasco tortello:(Republic of Venice) filled with amaretti (almond biscuits) and mostaccini (spiced biscuits) egg yolk, raisins, candied fruit and grated cheese. This makes so much sense to me because Venezia was the centre of the spice trade. These Venetian tortelli are dressed with brown butter and sage dressing.

In South Tyrol, schlutzkrapfen are traditionally made with a mix of barley or rye flour and stuffed with a mixture of spinach and ricotta or with turnips and potatoes, depending on availability. Sometimes smoked pork is added.  It is not a big surprise that the region has an Austrian culinary influence.

Although most of these stuffed pasta types I have mentioned are found in Northern Italy, I will include the ricotta ravioli as made in the southern east corner of Sicily. My zia Niluzza who lived in Ragusa made the best traditional, large ravioli filled with ricotta and served with a strong tomato and a pork based sugo. The ravioli are also exquisite dressed with black ink sauce.

Culurgiones are from Sardinia and their filling consists of boiled potatoes, onions and mint, some also add pecorino others ricotta.

Except for the small tortellini that are cooked in broth (capon, beef, chicken), all of the filled pasta shapes are cooked like pasta in boiling water and dressed with various sauces typical of the region where they originate.

The possibilities for sauces are many, for example there are various combinations that could be based on cheese, cream, butter, ham/prosciutto,  peas, mushroom, brown sage butter, walnut or simple tomato/ tomato and meat sugo, including pork sausages.

There are stuffings made with fish, fish and vegetables: crab is popular. And of course there are light fish sauces to dress the fish stuffed pasta, these are usually butter and fish fumet based. Black ink sauce is marvellous.

And what is still interesting that in Italy, a local would respect and mostly protect the tradition, even though in recent years, there’s been a shift towards lighter vegetable-based sauces that are so popular now in modern cuisine.

One very simple sauce that is  very common in dressing egg pasta of all shapes and packages is the brown butter and sage sauce.

Some of you may know brown butter sauce as the traditional beurre noisette (hazelnut butter), a French sauce made simply by heating unsalted butter (salted butter tends to foam more and has more sediment).

Brown butter has a rich, nutty flavour and with the addition of fresh sage, it is used to dress egg pasta in northern Italy. It is a popular autumnal dressing that complements ingredients such as mushroom, pumpkin and potato.

Brownt butter and sage dressing for egg pasta (4 people):

50 g of butter

15-20 sage leaves

Melt the butter over low heat in a pan. Add the sage leaves letting them sizzle gently for a few minutes. Ensure to constantly stir the butter being careful not to burn it.  When you have done this, take the pan off the heat and transfer the butter to a separate bowl. This will ensure that it doesn’t burn due to residual heat.

Once the pasta is cooked, drain the pasta, empty the pot and put the pasta back inside. Remove some of the leaves from the butter (optional) before dressing the pasta.

Stir gently to coat the pasta. At this stage I also like to add black pepper.

Grated Parmesan is a must.

One of my aunts was Piedmontese and was an excellent cook. Her daughter (my cousin Rosadele) and my Sicilian uncle lived in Genova (Liguria). The two women were champions for making Piemontese and Ligurian specialties especially stuffed pasta – agnolotti in soft fresh cheese sauces and pansoti in walnut and marjoram pesto were two favourites.

My parents and I visited the relatives in Genova every year on our habitual yearly summer trip from Trieste to Sicily. We ate very well.

Having lived in Trieste and with relatives spanning from Piedmont to Sicily (Ragusa and Augusta, quite different cooking), I count myself lucky to have this culinary heritage that I enjoy exploring  .

PESTO DI NOCI (Walnut pesto/ sauce for pasta)



TORTELLI DI ZUCCA (Large tortellini stuffed with pumpkin) Ristorante Cartoccia in Mantova

PAPPARDELLE (Pasta with Hare or game ragù)

PAPPARDELLE Continued…..

SQUID BLACK INK sauce: Montalbano’s pasta with black ink sauce

QUADRUCCI IN BRODO, Squares of home-made Pasta in Broth

TORTELLINI, how made in Bologna

EMIGLIA ROMAGNA and their love of stuffed pasta


Sicilian 289 Sphaghetti w Sea Urchins.tif.p
When in Sicily eating Spaghetti With Sea Urchins (Spaghetti chi Ricci) is a must.

They are relatively unknown culturally in Australia and have been next to non-existent commercially.
Sea urchins have a unique taste – they are considered a delicacy by Italians and are popular particularly with the Japanese, French, and Greeks. The gonads of both sexes of sea urchins are referred to as roe (which sounds nicer than testes and ovaries).

They are called ricci in Italy (means curly, the spines of sea urchins are curly at the ends) and when I was a child visiting Sicily, I remember finding sea urchins under rocks on the beach — family and friends wrapped their hands in newspaper and went looking for them at low tide. Most of the time it was very easy to find 4 to 6 sea urchins for each of us to eat raw — the urchins were simply cut in half using a very sharp knife, revealing the yellow-orange roe that was easily removed with a teaspoon and eaten from the spoon with a squeeze of lemon juice.

The next favourite method of eating them was as a dressing for pasta.

In my book, Sicilian Seafood Cooking there is a recipe for this. I had great trouble finding sea urchins to cook (and to be photographed) for my book that was published November 2011.

Sicilian 285 Sphaghetti w Sea Urchins.tif.p

At the time I found it surprising that there are about 42 species of sea urchins found in Australian waters and although they can be found in many locations, only a few are good tasting. Most are exported to Japan. The market price for fresh, chilled sea urchin roe varies considerably depending on colour and texture.

The Tasmanian sea urchin fishery is now the largest in Australia and I purchased Tasmanian roe from a specialist sea-food vendor (Ocean Made) who deals mainly with restaurateurs. I found some whole sea urchins at the Preston Market but when I opened them I found them very inferior in quality.

In the photographs (from my book Sicilian Seafood Cooking) you see the work of the photographer Graham Gilles and food stylist Fiona Rigg. I was the cook. The photo of the boats at Mondello  (Sicily, close to Palermo) is by Bob Evans.

Spaghetti are traditionally used for this recipe, but I also like ricci with egg pasta, either fresh or dry  — narrow linguine  — a delicate taste, which in my opinion complement the sweet, fresh taste of the roe.

I ate my best ever pasta with sea urchins in a restaurant in Mondello (close to Palermo) and I am sure that this included lemon – grated peel and juice so I have included these in the recipe.

And one last thing — the sea urchins are not cooked and are mixed with the hot pasta at the time of serving. The aroma is indescribable. Bottarga is sometimes grated on top of the pasta and anchovies are commonly added to the sauce to accentuate the taste, but this is optional.

For 6 people

spaghetti, 500g. If I am using fresh pasta, I use 600g
sea urchins, 3-8 per person
garlic, 4-5 cloves, chopped finely
extra virgin olive oil, ¾ cup
salt and freshly ground black pepper or chili flakes
parsley, ¾ cup cut finely
anchovies, 3 cut finely (optional)
1-2 red fresh chilies cut finely

finely grated lemon peel of 1 lemon, and the juice

½ cup of your best quality, extra virgin olive oil to drizzle on top of the pasta at the end.
If you have purchased whole sea urchins, using a short and very sharp knife or scissors cut into the shell and enter the riccio di mare via the mouth (you will see the opening).
Split the sea urchins in half and remove the soft urchin flesh using a spoon. Place the roes into a bowl and discard all the rest. Break up the sea urchins into smaller pieces – they are soft so use a spoon.
Cook the pasta and while the pasta is cooking prepare the sauce.
Heat the ¾ cup of olive oil, add the garlic and over slow heat cook the garlic slowly until it becomes translucent.
Add chili and anchovies – the anchovies will dissolve in the hot oil.
Add this mixture of oil to the hot just drained pasta at the same time as the sea urchins and toss quickly to coat.
Add the parsley, lemon peel and the juice. Toss well to combine. Serve immediately and top each portion with a drizzle of your best olive oil – this is best done at the table.
Finally there has been some interest in eating Sea Urchins:
Date with plates sends chills down urchins spine:
Sea urchins, sometimes called sea hedgehogs, are the black, spiky creatures that lurk at the bottom of the ocean.
They prey on the kelp beds that are a vital habitat for the rock lobsters and abalone of the north-east coast of Tasmania and are considered one of the state’s worst marine pests. But have you ever thought of eating them?

Diver and seafood exporter Dave Allen has helped pioneer the sea urchin export industry in Australia and, in the process, has set about saving the reefs from being stripped bare by these pests.
Laura Banks. From Sunday Age, March 2, 2014.

I was pleased to see that sea urchins will be featured in a dinner called The Delicious Pest at The Melbourne Food & Wine Festival on March 9, 2014.

Sea Urchin Roe is seasonal and as mentioned above, it is available from (Ocean Made), fresh  and frozen when it is not in season.

Roe is also available from David Stringer at Kina, Sea Urchins Australia:

We deliver all over Melbourne and Australia wide. We use air freight and provide the freshest sea urchin roe available across the country. All our processing is done with the highest degree of care in order to make our product the best and we pride ourselves on excellent customer service and quality of product. Last year we won a Victorian seafood of the year award for best customer service and quality of product.
We have a minimum order of 20 X 100gram or 150 gram punnets.
If that seems too much then you could suggest our products to friends to see if they would like to be included in the order. Please also note that when we have further shops open in Victoria then we will list them on our website. Customers can also sign up to our newsletter and stay informed of seasonal conditions, new products or anything regarding sea urchins.
Our new prices for 2015 are being implemented as we speak.
Welcome to Sea Urchins Australia.



SMOKED SALMON PASTA (Pasta al salmone affumicato)

I was given a slab of Tasmanian smoked salmon recently, the type of brand that says grown in the pristine waters of Tasmania (there are several brands) but which fail to add that their method of farming (aquaculture) pollutes the pristine waters of Tasmania.

We ate much of the smoked salmon rolled and stuffed with herbs or plain with rye bread, horseradish and salad (green leafs or celeriac, or fennel) and I used the left overs for a pasta dish, pasta al salmone affumicato. You may still see this on some Italian menus (all over Italy);  if I go by my age, this dish has certainly been around for a long time.

Many of the recipes for this sauce include cream. I have always used good quality unsalted butter. Vodka is common, especially if it is made in the north of Italy, but more often than not I make it with white wine. Sometimes I add lemon juice and nearly always grated lemon peel.

I like to use ribbon egg pasta, for example taglierini or tagliatelle, but farfalle or penne are also common in recipes. In the north of Italy I have also eaten it with black poppy seeds sprinkled on top, my father used to say that this was the German influence.

The sauce is prepared very quickly and egg pasta does not take too long to cook.

egg ribbon pasta, 500g
smoked salmon, thinly sliced , 250g
extra virgin olive oil, ½ cup
spring onions, thinly sliced, 6-8
parsley, chopped, 1 cup
unsalted butter, 200 g
vodka or white wine, ½ cup
salt and freshly ground, black pepper to taste
lemon, juice of 1 and grated peel
Sauté  the spring onion in the oil until golden.
Add  the vodka (or white wine) and evaporate. Add the parsley and allow to soften. reduce or switch off heat.
Cook the pasta  and just before it is ready (al dente) add the salmon to the sauce (to warm), butter ( to melt) and seasoning. Switch off heat.
Dress the pasta, add lemon juice, place on a serving platter and sprinkle grated lemon peel on top.
I am pleased to find that there appears to be a source of smoked salmon, which is sustainable. The farm is reputed to grow salmon in natural conditions, without chemicals or antibiotics, using environmentally sustainable practices.