Pasta in Italy is a wonderful demonstration of adapting to the ingredients one has to hand. Fillings, shapes, sauces and even the names attributed to this commodity reflect the diversity of the country’s ingredients, people and cultures from the snow-peaked mountains of the North to the sun-drenched expanses of the South. With that in mind and having transformed half of the garden into a vegetable patch confused as to whether summer was coming or going, it was time for some homegrown beets to get the Italian treatment.
The diversity of pasta lends itself to something that can be wonderfully humble and unpretentious – spaghetti aglio e olio or spaghetti al limone, for example – through to more complex and delicate filled pastas. In this dish, the filling of leaves provides an earthy and crunchy contrast to the creamy cheese and pasta parcel, a silky puree of beetroot adds a sweet touch and a touch of nutty walnut paste tops it all off.
Recipe a reduced version from Giorgio Locatelli’s excellent Made In Italy: Food and Stories
300g shelled walnuts (double if not shelled)
1 small garlic clove
good olive oil
Prep the walnuts by toasting them in a 170C oven for 4-5 minutes, wrap in a cloth and rub to loosen the skins. Shake and pick out walnuts to cool, removing any large remaining pieces of skin with a knife.
Crush the garlic in a mortar, add the walnuts and work to a smooth-ish paste. Stir in olive oil slowly (around 2 tablespooons) to loosen and create a lovely texture.
This can be stored in sterilised jars for around 4 weeks.
400g raw beetroot, leaves and stalks removed (or spinach, kale, swiss chard etc)
good olive oil
Cook the beetroot in your preferred way – I roasted for one hour in a 180C oven with some oil and seasoning. I’m sure boiling them would be just as good.
Remove skins and roughly chop. Blend the flesh adding a slow trickle of olive oil at the end to emulsify slightly. Season to taste and set aside.
For an extra fine puree, pass mix through a fine sieve before adding oil.
400g fresh pasta dough (see here for a good start)
Leaves and stalks from beetroots, roughly chopped
1 garlic clove
100g ricotta or queso fresco (this worked really well and worth trying at home – a world apart from supermarket ricotta), seasoned with pepper
Lightly fry the garlic in olive oil and add the leaves, stirring on a medium-high heat. Once slightly wilted, take off the heat and set aside.
Roll the pasta dough a handful at a time, leaving the remainder wrapped in the fridge. Roll through each setting of the machine before folding over 3 times and repeating until you have a silky textured sheet with smooth edges, as thin as possible without it breaking during filling.
Lay the sheet on a floured surface and cut a few squares from it. Place a teaspoon of the cheese and of the beetroot in each and fold over into a triangle, getting as much air out as possible. Use a little water to moisten finger if to dry to seal. Join the two long corners together to form a ring. Set aside on a floured surface.
When all the parcels are made (I’d do four at a time and then bring out the remaining dough to start again to avoid drying out), drop into salted water at a rolling boil. Leave for 2-3 minutes until cooked before draining.
Toss in a little olive oil or melted butter to prevent the tortellone from sticking.
Quickly reheat beetroot puree and place a large spoonful onto each plate followed by pasta. Add drops of walnut paste and fried sage leaves.