Autumn weekends filled with pottering and the seasonal abundance are my favourite. Last weekend we filled our bags at the farmers market (see it in my latest vlog) and lingered in the park.
A long time favourite of mine is Watercress Soup. It’s filled with flavour and light enough not to leave you drowsy all afternoon. In Hampshire we are blessed with watercress merely hours from the beds and I take full advantage.
The first time I went to Italy I didn’t eat pasta. In fact, I didn’t eat pasta until I was nearly twenty. When you’re allergic to tomatoes and exposed to little genuine Italian food it’s understandable if not a terrible waste.
I soon made up for lost time and exploring the rich culture of pasta has captivated me ever since. Last week I had the opportunity to slip away from daily life for a couple of days and visit Bologna.
I will be sharing a couple of posts about our trip. I’m excited to show you some of the photos I took of people in Bologna – I would recommend a trip for the street photography alone. But I couldn’t wait to share with you the cookery class I took and a recipe for ricotta and parmesan tortellini.
On Friday morning we headed out to the Culinary Institute of Bologna (CIBO) to learn how to make fresh stuffed pasta.
Chef Stefano welcomed us to the school situated in Caffe del Rosso on Via Augusto Righi. The culinary school kitchen is in the back of the restaurant and we got to grips with dough and fillings before the lunchtime customers filled the tables.
We were taught by Lucia who passed on the traditional tips which Italians would learn as children. You may have made pasta following a recipe in the past as have I but if you’re not in the perfect conditions your dough could be too dry or too wet.
Lucia taught us instead to start with a little flour well, two eggs and add flour as needed while mixing. This allows you to adjust for the atmosphere in your kitchen and create a dough for the kind of pasta you want to make (moist for stuffed pastas). In stead of taking our dough to the fridge to rest we let it sit on the board in clingfilm while we made our fillings.
Once our pasta dough was ready we learned how to hand roll to a consistent thickness in one large sheet. No roller machines in sight – this was rolled with a pin as Nonna would. Having made my fair share of pasta with a machine I can tell you that the rolling pin was easier.
The big revelation for me was how to seal tortellini. The moisture in the dough plays and important role in allowing you to seal it with your finger tips. To ensure the tortellini don’t burst, begin pressing the edges together at one corner forcing out any air bubbles.
Once sealed, fold the edges into the bulge of filling and bring the two corners around your finger to press them together.
This is the method I have been missing on so many lack-lustre attempts at tortellini. Check out my video below to see it in action.
Once our tortellini, ravioli and tagliatelle were finished they were whisked off to the kitchen to be cooked for our lunch. There is nothing more satisfying than eating your very own creations in a bustling restaurant in Italy.
Ricotta and Parmesan Tortellini in Sage Butter
200g (ish) type 00 flour
An equal volume of freshly grated parmesan to the ricotta
To make the pasta dough:
Create a pile of flour on your board using about half of your flour, make a well in the centre.
Crack your eggs into the flour well and using a fork begin to beat them incorporating the flour without braking the well.
As your dough comes together add more flour until you have a slightly sticky dough.
Work the dough on your board using the heel of your hand to push it away from you and your fingers to fold it over (see video above).
Once you are happy with it, wrap it in clingfilm and set it to one side to rest. MAke the filling at this point. Keep an eye on it until it is rested and ready to roll.
Roll the flour on your board applying pressure evenly to the middle of the pin, turning the dough 45 degrees between rolls to ensure it is rolled to an even thickness.
As it gets bigger roll it onto your pin to turn the pasta sheet.
You are looking for a sheet which is slightly translucent for tortellini.
To make the filling:
Make this while the pasta is resting – you don’t want to let your rolled pasta dry later on in the process.
In a large bowl grate an equal volume of parmesan to your ricotta.
Using the back of a wooden spoon, press the parmesan into the ricotta.
Grate in some nutmeg, mix and taste. At this point you want the salt of the parmesan to come through. Add parmesan and nutmeg as required.
Once you’re happy with the flavours spoon the mixture into a piping bag.
Finishing your pasta:
Cut your pasta sheet into even squares using a knife.
Pipe a blob of filling into the centre of each square.
Taker your pasta, fold it gently into a triangle and then seal starting at one corner and working your way across making sure you don’t have any trapped air.
Fold the edges in and bring the two sides around your finger to press the tortellini into a navel.
Cook in boiling water until the pasta rises to the top.
Drain reserving half a cup of the cooking liquid.
Sizzle a big knob of butter in a flat pan, throw in some sage leaves an add the pasta.
Toss the pasta in the butter adding the cooking liquor to loosen it up.
Serve with lashings of freshly grated parmesan and a big smile!
What you need to know:
We were guests of Hotel Touring, situated in a quiet side street it is the perfect base for exploring the city. Quote NKinBologna for a 15% discount.
Our cookery class was courtesy of The Culinary Institute of Bologna. You can take a range of classes at CIBO including the introduction to fresh pasta we experienced.
Flight time to Bologna is around 2 hours from the South East of England. I booked flights with Ryan Air from Stanstead and returned to Heathrow with British Airways. My advice is to look at the full costs of flying from Stanstead. For me, the additional travel and hotel the night before more than wiped out the savings of the cheap flight.
I tried to break up with bread and for the most part we’re fine apart but there are one or two dishes I just can’t get over. This mushrooms on toast recipe is the perfect lazy brunch or light lunch when you want to feel indulged and cared for without putting in a tonne of work.
The citrus lifts the flavours while the cream adds a layer of luxury that, frankly, you deserve.
I like to use a mix of mushroom types but this works just fine with any kind. Something I find fascinating is that, left out in the sun, mushrooms will absorb Vitamin D. Worth considering if your levels are depleted after the cold and dark Winter.
I have specified truffle salt below which lends its delicious perfume to mushrooms so happily. You don’t need to go far to find it online or I picked some up in Marks & Spencer’s food hall.
Using griddled bread dipped in olive oil is infinitely better than toast. Please try it at least once. Such a simple twist which serves to elevate this dish further.
Treat yo’self to some nice bread, sourdough if you can get / make it and I promise you will enjoy the difference.
Creamy Mushrooms on Griddled Sourdough
Half a punnet of mixed wild / exotic mushrooms
Half a punnet of chestnut mushrooms
Four slices of sourdough bread
A little Extra Virgin Olive Oil
A knob of butter
Truffle salt (or sea salt)
1 clove of garlic
Half a lemon
A dash (1 Tbsp-ish) of double cream
Slice the mushrooms.
Drizzle the olive oil over a plate and place the bread onto it, lightly coating both sides.
Heat the griddle pan and a large frying pan.
Place the bread into the griddle pan and turn the heat down to a medium flame. Turn the bread once lines begin to form and keep your eye on it as you cook the mushrooms. You want it to be crispy but just shy of burning.
Put the butter into the frying pan and, once it is sizzling, tumble in the mushrooms.
Stir the mushrooms to coat them in the butter.
Once they start to soften and glisten sprinkle in a pinch of salt.
At this point you have a choice with the garlic – you can squeeze it into the mushrooms or rub it over your crisply toasted sourdough – both are amazing.
As the mushrooms finish, turn off the heat, squeeze in the lemon and pour in the cream.
Stir through and serve immediately on the waiting toast.