In a restaurant in Modena we met a beautiful elderly woman who was the mother of one of the three chefs of a fabulous restaurant in Modena and her daughter is the owner. It is often the case that mothers and skilled mature women are responsible for making stuffed pasta in restaurants. They are after all very skilled and practised in this area having made it over many years at home.
La signora comes the restaurant each morning to make the stuffed pasta – tortellini and tortelloni (the squares of pasta are cut much bigger). Both are closed and folded in the shape of a navel. The traditional fillings are usually made with ricotta, spinach and Parmigiano Reggiano and covered with a melted browned butter and sage dressing.
In Bologna the stuffing the for tortelli and tortelloni is likely to be made of prosciutto, mortadella, roast veal and Parmesan.
More often than not, stuffed pasta is dressed with a ragù….today one of us had a ragù made with a mixture of …selvaggina, wild meats – boar, rabbit, maybe pheasant.
Tortelloni di Zucca have mashed cooked pumpkin filling. Nutmeg, crumbed amaretti and mostarda mantovana – pickled fruit in a sweet mustard syrup. I ate Tortelloni di Zucca in Ferrara. But you may be surprised to know that in Ferrara they called these Capellacci….little hats…..Capelletti like tortellini, are the smaller version and these are usually cooked in broth (brodo).
And there are Ravioli.
The pasta for all stuffed pasta can be white (egg, flour and water) or can be green (spinach).
In a restaurant in Bologna we ate ravioli stuffed with ricotta and spinach but in a restaurant in San Giovanni in Marignano the variation in the stuffing was ricotta and marjoram and the dressing was made with asparagus. It is after all spring in Italy, even if it is raining now in Bologna.
I met some very interesting people while I was in Italy. One such person is Sergio Manbrini and he has a restaurant called Cartoccia in Mantova (Mantua).
Sergio founded and directed the first Legambiente of Mantua, a group dealing with issues aimed at investigating the relationship between health, nutrition, agriculture and the environment. He is now an author as well as an activist on environmental issues and a restauranteur.
His first book is Fango Nero and as you would expect it has a political message. Sergio began his working life in a factory and like the character in his book, he began to question the social, industrial and economic events that were happening in the 70’s and the consequential changes to the society and the environment he lived in. He decided to radically change his way of life and motivate others to do the same.
It is therefore of no surprise that the restaurant only uses organic, dio – dynamic, raw ingredients. All good!!
Of prime importance when I travel is to eat the local food and traditional dishes of that particular town and region (yes, to this degree – the variations and specialities of dishes exist in the short proximities). I could not go wrong when my partner and I ordered from his menu.
Tortelli di zucca conditi con burro e salvia. being a purist, I selected the classic traditional version dressed with butter and sage. These are large tortellini stuffed with yellow pumpkin and certainly a classic dish from this area (photo above). On the menu he also had the tortelli dressed with, sugo di pomodoro e salsiccia mantovana (dressed with a tomato sauce with pork sausage from Mantova).
Tagliatelle con castagne, ricotta e radicchio con speck (Tagliatelle made with chestnut flour and wheat, dressed with ricotta and radicchio and speck).
Luccio in salsa con peperoni capperi, acciughe on polenta (Pike, a fresh water fish with peppers, capers, anchovies on polenta).
Verdura grigliata (we ate this as an appetiser – seasonal vegetables including Cavolo Nero).
During lunch I had many interesting conversations about global and local issues. We discussed the food we were eating and my interest in sustainable fish and in the environment and I was told how pike swam in the lakes of Mantua when the water was not polluted. Pike is now bred and fished nearby in very clean waters, as the lake is so polluted that no swimming is permitted. We discussed the pros and cons of aquaculture and the importance of maintaining our interest and commitment to such an important issue.
This is not Sergio’s recipe for Tortelli di Zucca. I used to have an aunt who was Piedmontese and lived in Genova, she was an excellent cook and she used to make them. In her recipes she always included Mostarda di frutta di Cremona, an Italian condiment made of candied fruit and a mustard flavoured syrup. In my home we ate Mostarda with Bollito misto (boiled meats) and This is all I have left of the jar of Mostarda in my fridge. Cremona is not far from Mantova or Genova and the tortelli being a classical dish from these parts of Italy, it would contain Mostarda di Frutta as well as amaretti. It is an interesting taste and quite sweet.
You may consider making them into ravioli. Tortelloni are big tortellini and there is no way that I can describe adequately how you can fold them in writing… Basically they are squares of pasta, small amount of filling, pasta square is folded in half, one point of triangle folded down, other two points joined together. I am sure that if you are interested there would be something on the internet about this.
The filling is sufficient for a pasta made with 250g of white hard wheat flour and 3-4 eggs. There are plenty of recipes on how to make home made fresh pasta and I will not bore you with that.
A non-watery type of pumpkin is best. If boiled, the pumpkin must be well drained.
Fresh pasta in sheets.
1.5kg pumpkin peeled and seeded and cooked (baked or boiled in little water)
1 tablespoon butter melted
50g Amaretti biscuits, crumbed
2 tablespoons of chopped fruit from Mostarda di Frutta (pear and apricot are good)
100g Parmigiano grated
½ tsp ground nutmeg
Salt, pepper to taste
Melt 1 cup of unsalted on gentle heat. When the butter begins to bubble add 7 leaves of fresh sage and continue the heat for 1 to 2 minutes. The butter will be a caramel colour.
Make the sauce last of all.
Mash the (cold or warm), cooked pumpkin and add all of the other ingredients. The filling should have the consistency of a paste (not runny). If it does not, you may need to add some fresh breadcrumbs from good quality bread (no crusts).
Fill and shape into ravioli.
Cook ravioli in salted boiling water for 4-5 minutes, they will float to the top.
Dress with sage butter, add some freshly ground pepper, Parmesan
(optional), and serve.
I enjoyed my lunch very much and I wish Sergio well…. he persists when it is so easy to give up.
This is Franco the miller who mills cereali a pietra – in other words he produces stone-ground flour from high quality wheat. He and his partner have an old water mill and they are experimenting with reviving old strains of wheat – so far so good! And there are farmers who are growing the old grains and buyers who are supporting it. Many of them are restaurateurs who are making pasta and bread in their restaurants.
The area of Sicily where this is happening is Chiaramonte Gulfi– I am so impressed and interested in what is happening in this south-eastern part of Sicily (see post about Massimiliano the Butcher).
The grain smelt wonderful and watching the stones grinding and the sifting process was an amazing experience. The flour needs to be kept in cool conditions or used quickly as it does not have any additives or bleaches, the germ of the wheat is maintained in the milling – flour that is good for us in other words.
Franco does not waste the by-products. The bran is sold as animal fodder and he has customers and supporters who are interested in using the finer bran in baking. We sampled some bran biscuits produced by one of his followers.
There was another reason why I was interested in this mill and that is that my grandparents in Ragusa used to have an old water mill down by the river at the bottom of Ragusa Ibla. It no longer functioned as a mill and they used it as their get-away from the city, especially in the summer months, and grew their herbs and vegetables there. Being a regular visitor to Ragusa as a child I loved the mill (we travelled from Trieste and visited my grandparents each summer for two months each year).
I bought some of Franco’s flour home to my aunt, Zia Niluzza, who lives in Ragusa and still makes pasta by hand on special occasions. My visit this time was the special occasion and she produced her exceptionally good, traditional ricotta ravioli that are a specialty of this area of Sicily.
The ravioli di ricotta from Ragusa are usually served with a strong sugo (meat and a tomato-based sauce), which here is made with pork meat and pork sausages and tomato pasta. In Ragusa they add a little sugar (1 teaspoon per cup of ricotta; other local variations include a little orange peel or finely cut marjoram.
My aunt also made her special gnochetti.Rather than eating one kind of pasta at a time, we piled both ravioli and pasta into the one plate and helped ourselves to more sugo – but I noticed that she now uses less pork and I did not detect any pork rind in it. This is also a common additive in this part of Sicily. We are all health conscious these days.
For the ravioli you will need fresh pasta sheets and strong sugo made with meat tomatoes and tomato paste.
For the filling:
Drain the ricotta
Place it in a colander lined with cheesecloth and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or overnight.
Mix the ricotta with a little salt and some sugar (1 cup of ricotta- 1 teaspoon of sugar).
Make the ravioli:
The most authentic and quickest way to cut the ravioli is by hand. There is no
prescribed size – they can be either round or square (about 7cm/3in across)
or half-moon shaped (a 9cm/4in circle folded over).
To make individual ravioli, cut pasta into circles or squares. Place heaped
teaspoons of stuffing in the centre of each, continuing until all the stuffing
is used. For half-moon shapes fold the pasta over the filling. For others, lay
another circle or square on top, then moisten the edges with a little water and
press together carefully to seal properly (press hard on the edges and spread
the pasta to a single thickness, so they cook evenly).
Set the finished ravioli on a lightly floured cloth. They can rest in a cool
place for up two hours.
To make more than one raviolo at a time:
Cut the pasta into long rectangular strips about 9cm wide. Place heaped
teaspoons of stuffing about 5 cm apart (beginning about 2cm/.in from the
margin of the sheet). Cover with another strip of pasta of the same size.
Cut each raviolo free with a knife or serrated pasta wheel. Repeat the
process, until all the pasta and the stuffing is used up.
Cook ravioli as you would any pasta. Lower them into the water a few at a
time and scoop each out when it floats to the surface.
Dress them carefully with the sauce so as not to break.