Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Ricotta and honey tortelli with pecorino, sage, almonds and butter

Continuing with last week’s theme of simple and quick Italian-based meals, it occurred to me that it had been far too long since I last dug the pasta machine out. I love the therapeutic nature of kneading smooth dough before rolling it into thin sheets and delicately shaping. And this is where the true beauty lies; once you have mastered the dough the options are limitless. On busy work nights simple, rough strips of pappardelle can be cut to be tossed through a swiftly made ragu. With a bit more time on your hands intricate and delightful little raviolis or tortellini can be made. Fresh pasta is always such a satisfying thing to make, and always tastes completely different to the shop bought stuff. 

This dish in particular was heavily inspired from a recent visit to one of my favourite Italian restaurants; Trullo in Highbury. Their simple ingredient and flavour-driven food never fails to be brilliantly satisfying. The starter that Katie had on that occasion was tortellini filled with ricotta and honey, a combination of salty and sweet that I had never experienced in pasta before. It was light and fresh yet carrying that sweet satisfaction and comfort of a good pudding. I was instantly inspired, and it wasn’t long before I was in the kitchen trying to make something along the same lines.
As with all simple Italian cooking, try and source the best quality ingredients possible. In Stoke Newington there are a couple of cracking little Italian delis that are like traditional treasure troves. Counters lined with rows of brilliant cheeses and cured meats, freshly made pasta and marinated antipasti. I could have stayed for a very long time.
Serves 2
For the pasta:
200g ‘00’ grade pasta flour 
2 medium eggs 
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil 
A good pinch of salt
For the tortelli filling:
200g good ricotta cheese 
3 tbsp grated pecorino 
2 tbsp honey 
A sprinkle of dried chilli flakes 
A few gratings of nutmeg
For the sauce:
60g butter 
3 tbsp flaked almonds 
6 sage leaves
To finish:
Finely grated pecorino 
A few gratings of nutmeg 
Black pepper

To make the pasta, mix the flour and salt in a bowl and form a well in the middle. Crack in the eggs and drizzle in the olive oil. Combine well with a wooden spoon, then use your hands to knead really well for about 10 minutes, or until the dough is silky smooth and elastic in texture. Wrap with cling film and allow to rest in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.
While the pasta is resting make the tortelli filling. Spoon the ricotta into a bowl and mix well with the honey, nutmeg, chilli and pecorino. Season well and taste; you want just the right contrast of salty and sweet. Cover and set aside. 

Fill a large saucepan with water, add a good amount of salt and bring to the boil.
Roll out the rested dough in a pasta machine right down to the thinnest setting. Cut 3-4” squares out of the sheet and carefully spoon a heaped tablespoon of the ricotta filling into the middle. Lightly brush around the filling with water. Fold the pasta squares in half to form rectangles, using your fingers to seal all around the filling and expelling as much air from inside as possible. Repeat until all of the filling is used up. Dust the finished tortelli with a little flour and set aside while waiting for the water to boil.
Put a large, non-stick pan frying on a medium-high heat.
When the water is at a rolling boil, gently drop in the tortelli and cook for 2.5-3 minutes.
As soon as the pasta is cooking, melt the butter quickly in the hot pan. Add the almonds and the sage leaves and allow to crisp up as the butter turns a nut-brown colour. When the tortelli is ready, transfer to the butter pan with a slotted spoon. Carefully toss to cover with the butter on all sides.
To plate up, spoon three tortelli onto each plate. Sprinkle some of the sage leaves and almonds over the top and drizzle with a little of the butter sauce. Finish with more grated pecorino and nutmeg.

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