Photo: Emma Alter
A couple of weeks ago my husband and I went to a dinner for Frances Mayes, author of Under the Tuscan Sun. She has just written a new book entitled Every Day in Tuscany, and like her previous work it details her life in Italy. Ms. Mayes is a poet, and her books are very evocative and the reader gets a wonderful sense of the people and the place. Oh, and the food. There is lots to read about food in Every Day in Tuscany and includes some recipes which I have already tried out.
So, we found ourselves in Sopra, a very fine Italian restaurant in Toronto whose chef Massimo Capra also writes an occasional recipe column for the daily newspaper, the Globe and Mail. We listened to Ms. Mayes talk about her Italian village and she answered some questions and then we had an absolutely fantastic dinner. For my husband, the highlight of the dinner was Black Truffle and Ricotta Agnolotti with Brown Butter Asparagus.
I decided to try to replicate this recipe and it turned out extremely well. There are some minor tweaks I would do to the recipe, such as adding salt and pepper to the filling (we thought the Parmesan cheese would make it really salty, but it didn't) but it was really delicious. We made our own pasta, but you could buy sheets of fresh pasta and use that. Of course, the lexicon for pasta in Italy is vast, and I thought we were making ravioli, but it turns out that we were making agnolotti. The difference is that ravioli is made of two sheets of cut pasta with the filling inside and agnolotti is made from one sheet with the pasta folded over and pinched shut.
This made a lot of agnolotti. We had enough for three people and I froze enough for another two helpings. I didn't have any black truffles, and I bet you don't either, so I used some dried morels that I rehydrated. You could use fresh wild mushrooms as well, just don't use too many and overwhelm the delicacy of the pasta. I did have some truffle oil, which I drizzled over top just before serving. I was aiming to recreate a dish so I kept it to plain ricotta filling, but you can always add things to the filling like cooked chopped spinach, or stinging nettles or asparagus. I use semalina flour in my pasta, but you can use all-purpose flour. The recipe calls for two eggs, but I used three because I had pullet eggs and they are quite a bit smaller than regular eggs. Even so, the dough was a bit too moist and I could have added a little more flour.
Although I did put this together myself, it's pretty close to Chef Capra's dish, so the credit goes to him.
Ricotta Agnolotti with Brown Butter, Asparagus and Morels
For the filling
1 3/4 cups fresh ricotta cheese
1 1/2 cups Parmesan cheese, grated
Salt and Pepper to taste
1. Place all ingredients in a bowl and stir until mixed together. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
For the pasta
1 1/2 cups semolina flour
2-3 eggs, lightly beaten
1. On your counter or in a bowl put flour and make a well in the centre. Place eggs in the centre of the well and with a fork gradually incorporate the flour into the eggs until it forms a ball. Knead the dough until it is smooth, 5 to 10 minutes. Cover and allow the dough to rest for at least 30 minutes.
2. If you are using a rolling pin, roll the dough out until it is as thin as you can get it. If you are using a pasta maker continue running the sheet through the machine until you reach the setting number 7. you can make it thinner if you like, but it is more likely to tear.
3. Lay the sheet of pasta out on a floured surface and spoon about a teaspoon size of filling onto the top half of the dough all along the sheet, leaving about 3/4 of an inch to an inch between them to allow for the agnolotti to be closed. Fold the lower half over the filling. Cut the agnolotti at the centre of the space between the fillings and pinch all around the outside to close. Use a bit of water on the tip of your finger tip if you have trouble keeping it closed. Place in a single layer on a floured baking sheet as you finish all the agnolotti. If you don't flour the surface or you place them on top of each other they will stick together.
For the sauce
1/4 cup unsalted butter
4 or 5 dried morels, rehydrated in warm water for 15 minutes, then drained and chopped
1/2 bunch asparagus, washed and woody ends removed
Shaved Parmesan cheese
Fresh thyme, rosemary or sage
1. In a small saucepan melt butter over a low heat until it stops foaming. Add the morels and asparagus and cook until the asparagus is tender.
2. Meanwhile heat a large pot of water. Once it is boiling add the agnolotti, taking care not to add to many to the pot at once. Fresh, homemade pasta takes only a few minutes to cook. Fresh, packaged pasta may take a few more minutes. Remove agnolotti from the water and drain. Place agnolotti on a serving platter and spoon butter, morels and asparagus over top. Drizzle with truffle oil, add shaved Parmesan and garnish with fresh herbs.