One of the many things I love about Italian food is how eating a particular dish can take you instantly (and without the jet-lag) to a particular region or place. With one bite of osso buco I'm in Milan; grape bread transports me to Florence; and orecchiette with broccoli to Puglia. The beetroot filled pasta with the rather exotic-sounding name "casunziei all'Ampezzana" takes me to Cortina d'Ampezzo (commonly known as Cortina), high in the Dolomites, north of Venice, in the Veneto. Traditionally these are crescent shaped, but I love them round: little full moons with lurid pink hearts.
There is a little work involved - but I never seem to remember once I'm sitting down to a plate of them; finished with brown butter and poppy seeds. I often make these on Sundays - we eat some for lunch and I freeze the rest. It's the easiest thing in the world to pull a little bag of them out of the freezer and pop them into waiting boiling water while the butter melts - dinner is ready in less than five minutes.
Life will be easier if you have a few pieces of special equipment for this dish; namely a pasta machine (I use mine every week so it's a worthwhile investment), a piping bag fitted with a medium-large nozzle, and a fluted round ravioli cutter (roughly 6cm in diameter, pictured below). None of these are particularly expensive, but you can also get by with a rolling pin (a little patience), a teaspoon, and a round cookie-cutter.
The dough for this pasta is a little different than the one I usually make (for fettucine for example) - it's rolled a fraction or two thinner, contains milk and is the only dough to which I add salt - I want it to be a little humid so that it sticks and creates a nice seal.
Casunziei all'Ampezzana (Beetroot Ravioli with Poppy Seeds)
Serves 4-6 (approximately 60 ravioli)
For the filling -
600g small beetroots - a little smaller than golf balls (about 20), scrubbed
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
60g parmesan, freshly grated - plus extra for serving
sea salt, freshly ground black pepper, freshly grated nutmeg
For the dough -
400g "00" flour - plus extra for dusting
2 small, organic eggs
120ml whole milk
Semolina (or extra "00") for dusting
To serve -
80g unsalted butter
1 tablespoon whole blue poppy seeds
First, roast the beetroot. Place them in a large baking tray, drizzle with olive oil and season with sea salt. Cover tightly with foil and bake in an oven at 180C, until tender when pierced with the tip of a knife (about 45 minutes).
While the beetroot is roasting, make the pasta dough. Place the flour and a pinch of sea salt in a mound on a clean benchtop and make a well in the centre. Pour the milk and crack the eggs in the well and bring together with a fork until everything is completely incorporated. If the dough feels too sticky add a little more flour: if it is too dry add a splash more milk. Knead for about 8-10 minutes, until the dough is homogenous and feels silky, smooth and elastic. It should spring back when pressed with your finger. Wrap the dough in plastic and set aside to rest for at least 30 minutes (and up to two hours) at room temperature.
Once the beetroot is cool enough to handle, slip off their skins and puree in a blender or food processor until smooth. Transfer to a large bowl, stir through ricotta and parmesan, and season generously with sea salt, black pepper and nutmeg. Cover and allow to rest in the fridge while you roll the pasta.
Generously dust two large baking sheets with semolina and set aside. Lightly dust your benchtop with flour.
Once the dough has rested, cut into six pieces and leave all but one wrapped in plastic. Pass the dough through the widest setting of a pasta machine 5-6 times, folding and rotating 90 degrees each time. The resting will have allowed the gluten to develop and this will stretch it in all directions. Adjust the machine to the next setting and pass the pasta through each setting once only, until it is slightly transparent (the second-last setting works well for most machines). Lay the sheet on the floured benchtop and continue until all the dough is rolled (you may need to cut them in half depending on the length of your bench).
Mark circles with the ravioli cutter along one of the pasta sheets. Brush the edges of each circle with a little water. Pipe about two teaspoons of the filling onto the centre of each circle. Gently lay another sheet over the top. Carefully press down around the mounds of filling with your fingers, expelling any little pockets of air and creating a seal between the two sheets. Cut out the ravioli with the cutter and place them onto the baking sheet making sure they don't touch. Continue with the remaining sheets. Allow the ravioli to rest for about 30 minutes.
In a medium frying pan, melt butter over medium-high heat until nutty and brown, add poppy seeds, season with sea salt and remove from the heat. Meanwhile, simmer the ravioli in plenty of salted boiling water for about 2-3 minutes, before removing them with a slotted spoon.
Serve the ravioli, drizzled with the brown butter, and topped with freshly grated parmesan.
C(h)ook's notes -
- Gather the scraps of the pasta left after removing the ravioli into a ball and re-roll following the instructions above to use with any remaining filling
- After resting the ravioli you may freeze them - still on their baking sheets. Once frozen, pop them into zip-lock bags - they will keep for up to one month. Cook still frozen, as above, adding an extra minute or two to the cooking time.
- If you can find ricotta salata (a hard, salted ricotta), shave that over the finished dish instead of the parmesan
- The pasta should be cooked in water "as salty as the sea"; 10g salt per litre of water as a general rule
- "00" is an Italian flour that has been very finely milled. The wheat has had its bran and germ removed and is "soft" as a result.