For years now my younger brother has been toiling in the kitchen preparing fresh pasta dishes for his family and friends. I have always admired, from afar, his tenacity and devotion at taking time out of his busy life to create such culinary masterpieces. It was only the other day when he had us over for supper and prepared the most exquisite homemade pasta starter that I thought, ‘well if he can do it, so can I’, a case of healthy sibling competition.
I have heard countless times that making your own pasta is really tricky and I guess it was this trickiness that put me off. However, with this renewed enthusiasm and positive thinking, I was ready and up for the challenge. As asparagus are in season right now I wanted to combine a dish that would incorporate them as well. So I decided upon an asparagus, ricotta and fresh mint filling. As for the pasta, I wanted a shape that I could manage respectably, being a novice pasta maker. I decided upon tortellini – they are the ones that look like a half moon that is then folded in on themselves. Sturdy and robust, I felt that they would be more resilient than say, ravioli.
Taking the challenge seriously I splurged on a Imperia pasta maker – this is going to be a long term project of mine….watch this space. Even the guy in the shop warned me that it is quite difficult. Unalarmed I bounded home with my new purchase eager to prove people wrong.
Well I can honestly say that having completed the whole process from start to consumption, making pasta is not as difficult as I expected. I don’t mean to sound smug, far from it, but really a part of me is wondering if it is not a given rule that having made pasta you have to then spread the word that it is really really complex to make, so that those who don’t make it think you are a culinary genius. The reality is that those pasta makers are in fact chuckling to themselves that everyone is so gullible to believe them.
Making the pasta was really good fun and very satisfying. I found that the more little tortellini’s I put together the better I got. I was worried about retaining air within the tortellini parcels as well as securing the sides sufficiently, which would then mean they would burst when placed in boiling water. Miraculously not one opened or split when they were cooking.
I put it down to beginners luck!
Even once I had cooked the little darlings I was not convinced they would taste any good, but to my relieved astonishment they tasted darn good. I felt like doing cartwheels, a moonwalk, punching the air, but I refrained as I had my cousin over with her new beau and thought that it may be a little inappropriate on a first meeting.
So here’s how I did it.
Serves 4 /5 ( we had it as a starter – does that mean we are greedy?)
500g/20 oz strong pasta floor
5 large fresh eggs
1. Place the floor and eggs in a food process and mix until it begins to bind – this will only take a minute or so, then work it with your hands for a few minutes so that it has all come together. Then break the dough into four evenly sized balls and wrap in cling film and place in the fridge for an hour or so. If you want to do the above by hand apparently it is advised to create a well in the floor and then place the eggs in the middle and then work the floor into the eggs with a fork until a dough begins to form. Then work it with your hands for a few minutes and follow the same steps above re cling film and fridge.
2. After an hour in the fridge bring out only one ball at a time. If you don’t have a pasta maker you need to roll the dough until it is about 2mm thick. I think this is totally possible but would require a fair amount of upper body strength as the dough is stiffer than normal pastry dough. If you have a pasta maker, then you need to role the dough slightly then place through the widest setting on your pasta maker. Fold it through on this setting about three times, each time folding the two ends in on themselves so that they begin to fill out the width of the pasta maker. Then once you have managed this, feed the pasta through all the settings down to 2mm. If you go any thinner it will break and be too thin.
Without panicking you….don’t take too long doing this as the pasta begins to dry out when it is exposed to the air and makes it harder to work with.
3. Lay the stretched pasta on a clean surface and using a mug cut circles using a knife. Place the filling (see recipe below) in the middle. No more than a small teaspoon – be careful not to over fill. Dip a pastry brush in water to slightly moisten the edges – only the top half edges. Then fold over the pasta so that it looks like a semi circle/half moon, making sure that there is no trapped air. Squeeze the edges together. A bit of the mixture may escape here, but do not worry, just keep it as clean and neat as possible and really press down the edges firmly. Then bring and stick, with a little water, both corners together , creating the tortellini look (see top photo) using your fore finger and thumb. Then place on a plate and cover with cling film. Once you have filled up a whole plate, put back in the fridge until you are ready to cook the tortellini.
4. Work through the pasta balls in turn. You will be able to make between 30-40 tortellini, depending on the size of the circles you use.
5. Place in a pan of boiling salted water for three minutes. The tortellini will rise to the top of the water when they are cooked. Drain them and place the asparagus tops and a little heated butter over the top. In addition you could add grated parmesan and torn fresh mint leaves.
Asparagus, Ricotta and Fresh Mint filling
A couple of bunches of fresh asparagus
300g/12oz ricotta cheese
2 garlic cloves
handful of fresh mint leaves
100g/4oz parmesan cheese
salt and ground black pepper
1. After washing trim about 3 inches off the asparagus stalks and place to one side. These will be used to sprinkle over the tortellini when
2. Cut the very ends of the stalks or any really hard bits away and then slice (as you would a cucumber) the asparagus thinly.
3. Finely slice the garlic and place in a pan with the cut asparagus and half the butter. Saute gently until the asparagus is really soft. Leave to cool.
4. Put the ricotta in a mixing bowl and add half the fresh mint, chopped finely, the grated parmesan and the cooled asparagus mixture. Fold together and add a little salt and ground black pepper to taste. Put in the fridge until you need the mixture for the tortellini parcels.
5. Just before you put the tortellini in a pan of boiling water, place the saved asparagus stalks in the remaining butter and gentle saute. If necessary add a little more butter.
6. Once you have drained the cooked tortellini place the buttered asparagus stalks over the top and if you like you can add the remaining chopped mint and some sprinkling of parmesan.
I think you will be really impressed by the results. Oh and if your wondering…..I still give my brother the utmost respect for inspiring me to begin with. His cooking rocks !
This recipe was inspired by a similar one in Jamie Oliver’s – The Naked Chef.
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