Stuffed pasta means celebrations, when all the family gather around the table to celebrate something special: a birthday, Christmas, Easter, well it is always time for a diner party! Yet, stuffed pasta is allowed only once a week, if you want to keep healthy and fit.
I’ll drive you through Italy to find out everything about stuffed pasta. It is a kind of art, a magic, but differently from other dishes, it is within everyone’s means. A lot of practice and a good coordination of hands and fingers is needed.
Stuffed pasta used to be hand made by mums and grannies; to be honest they still make it nowadays. Some granddaughters have been so lucky to learn this culinary art, others have found shops which sell magnificent fresh pasta.
I come from Ferrara, and the grandparents I lived with the most time, had very deeply-rooted habits: they honored their precious routine everyday: a healthy and quiet lifestyle. Making pasta was part of all this.
Pasta sheets were rolled out almost every morning with fresh eggs from my grandad’s small henhouse (I remember I used to have my own hen, Lucrezia…well when she got too old, she made some delicious broth..). We had pasta for lunch, and the small pasta trimmings from cutting the sheets were perfect to make some good broth at dinnertime.
It was seasoned with a light sauce, butter and sage for lunch, and some hen or vegetable broth for dinner. Everything was super easy, I will never be able to forget about that simple comforting way of living.
Only on Sundays, the sauce was richer: often it was a full of aroma ragù which had been simmered for hours and hours- the best dish to share with the loved ones and celebrate the day off.
So, stuffed pasta is not something you can eat every day, it is only for special days. It takes long time to make, it is rich in calories and it should be a main course, but it is often paired with plenty of other toothsome food.
What can you “stuff” stuffed pasta with?
With a lot of scrumptious ingredients which may be roughly divided as follows:
- Meat stuffing: leftovers of roast, or boil meat from broth, for instance. Either one type of meat (e.g.pork) or a mix of them. Sometimes it can be enriched with offals, or mixed with sausages or ham and vegetables for a more delicate and softer texture;
- Vegetable stuffing: artichokes, asparagus, mushrooms, beet tops, spinach, chard, endive, pumpkin, potatoes are usually combined with some fresh cheese, or ricotta;
- Stuffing with fish and beet tops and/or cheese.
Moreover, a few ingredients are essential ingredients of any fillings: eggs bind the mixture, breadcrumbs make it more compact, grated Parmigiano or any ripe cheese gives a stronger taste, spices and aromatic herbs a more intese flavor.
These recipes have never changed for ages and ages, and they will probably never do; actually the constant innovation which has been fostered in the most exclusive restaurants, has just slightly renewed the traditional recipes from the old grannies’ cookery books.
How can you make stuffed pasta?
Only high quality soft wheat flour paired with fresh eggs makes pasta sheets which may be properly stuffed. Do you know why? Because the dough can be rolled out in thin the pasta sheets, which enhance the stuffing. Of course, also semolina may be used, as they do in Sardinia, the result is delicious, but completely different because stuffed pasta looks like big filled gnocchi.
Here the fun starts: how do you close and seal stuffed pasta?
First, place a dollop of stuffing in the middle of a piece of pasta sheet, and fold it over. For instance, a rectangle turns into kind of square or a triangle, a circle into a crescent shape. Do you want round ravioli: prepare circles of pasta sheets then place some filling on one of them and lay a second on top.
It is easy, isn’t it? But the huge, sometimes devilish imagination of Italian great-grandmothers and grannies has made this more complicated- plenty of decorations and shapes have enriched stuffed pasta: ruffled sides, double twist candy shapes, ribbon decorations and so on…pure genius!
Well, actually there are three ways of sealing stuffed pasta: the agnolini sealing, the Emilian tortellini and cappelletti or cappellacci one.
Then the outstanding plin agnolotti from Piedmont (where I live now): place evenly spaced teaspoons of filling along the lower half of a pasta sheet, fold the sheet over to cover the filling, trim away any excess pasta, pinch them lightly to give the classic “pinched shape” and finally cut out the pasta into small rectangles with a pasta wheel. Anolini from Piacenza, or stuffed squares are closed as follows: place evenly spaced teaspoons of filling on one pasta sheets, then cover with another one, press the edges to prevent the filling from leaking out and cut with a pasta wheel or a stamp maker cutter. In the past, it used to be a glass.
I know, the shapes are different but the taste is the same:yet, you will fall in love with even the tiniest piece of pasta. It is pure emotion, it is a trip down the memory lane, or just a wonderful experience when you eat stuffed pasta for the first time.
Well write down the shopping list…yes…you, who are reading this from your cosy kitchen
Every kitchen in every house all around the world may become a good fresh pasta laboratory. No special magic is needed, just some strong will to try over and over again, because, at the beginning pasta may turn out right, other times everything goes wrong and you have to throw away the result of all your effort. Don’t lose your drive, at the end you will succeed in making very scrumptious stuffed pasta for you and your family. Here in Italy it is an act of love.
What do you need to make pasta from the scratch?
- A table (I think you have it), round, rectangular, or squared, it doesn’t matter;
- A bowl to beat the eggs and a fork;
- Flour (read in link)
- A pasta board or a marble table;
- A tablecloth to make pasta rough, so the sauce will cling to it more evenly;
- A 40cm rolling pin; if you are very keen on traditions, you should have a 110 cm long rolling pin to make the pasta sheets as thin as possible;
- A knife to cut pasta sheets with.
If you get into the matter, you may also buy the past machine, which helps you with rolling even pasta sheets. If you have a KitchenAid, you can provide it with an electric attachment which rolls pasta dough.
In my opinion, you should try to make pasta with your own hands: touch it to understand its texture, modify it according to our own taste.
Yes, because as I explained here (link) there is not only one way to make pasta; moreover it texture depends on the weather, the the rate of humidity, the kind of flour, the quantity and the type of water, the eggs and they dimensions. You can’t rely only on quantities and grams to make perfect pasta (in this case you would be very lucky). You have to touch pasta, and add the flour when it is needed.
Knead, stretch, turn, roll pasta. Cuddle and look after it as if it were a living beings, actually it is!
Finally it is time to roll, stuff and shape pasta dough. But before that, I would like to tell you something about the right stuffings and how to fill pasta in this article (link). Now, let’s get started because we are going to set off on our mouthwatering journey through the stuffed pasta of Italian regions.
Here is a challenge: I will make and take photos of all the products. Then I will describe how you can prepare them yourself!
What is Italian stuffed pasta called? What are the different types of stuffed pasta?
A few answers to satisfy your curiosity. Get ready, the list is very very long! Italian stuffed pasta tradition and imagination is unlimited; this is a complete summary!
- Agnolotti from Piedmont: small tender 2-3cm square pockets with ruffles sides; they may be stuffed with a mix of several kinds of meat, eggs, and vegetables. The dough is made of little water, flour, salt, eggs, it is left to stand and then rolled into 1m long and 8-10cm wide sheets. Teaspoons of filling are evenly placed on the lower half of a pasta sheet which is then folded over to cover the filling, and finally cut out into small rectangles with a pasta wheel.
- Agnolotti del plin (pinched agnolotti): tiny Piedmontese agnolotti, made of an almost see -through pasta, are usually filled with meat stuffing. The two sheets of pasta are pinched to shape each agnolotto, hence their name.
- Agnoli and agnolini are very similar to cappelletti. The see -through pasta sheet is made of wheat flout type 0, eggs (5 every 1000g of flour), and salt. The stuffing wants boiled capon meat, eggs, cheese, cinnamon, clove. They are usuali paired with both.
- Casonsei: It is the most typical egg pasta in Lombardy. It is usually stuffed with cured meat, salami, bread, eggs, cheese, sometimes potatoes, spinach or beet tops, amaretti cookies and raisins. Crescent shaped with ruffles side, they are sealed with the tines of a fork.
- Marubini: are the typical ravioli in the area of Cremona, Norther Italy. The dough made of soft wheat flour, is rolled into very thin sheets, and cut into circles of 4cm diameter with a cutter stamp. In the middle of one circle, a dollop of stuffing made of a mix of meat, eggs, breadcrumbs, Grana Padano cheese, and nutmeg is placed; then it is covered with another circle and sealed by hands.
- Tortelli cremaschi: they are made of flour vigorously kneaded with little water and few eggs, then rolled in very thin pasta sheets. Pasta sheets are then cut into squares, stuffed and closed in a triangle, or more rarely into a double twist candy shape. The stuffing makes the difference due to its bitter-sweet taste as it is composed of amaretti cookies, raisins, candied cedro, mint, nutmeg, crumbled cookies, made of flour and sugar, water and spices.
- Schlutzer: are typical crescent shaped ravioli from Tirol in Trentino Alto Adige. Rye flour combined with little wheat flour, very few eggs, extra virgin olive oil, and water make the dough. Pasta sheets are not very thin and they are cut into circles, which are filled and the folded over. The stuffing usually wants ricotta cheese, spinach, onion, nutmeg, dandelion and spontaneous mountain greens. They must be seasoned with great organic fresh butter, definitely.
- Pansotti: “pot bellied” according to their traditional shape, belong to the culinary tradition of Liguria. Crescent shaped, triangular rectangular or squared, they are stuffed with ricotta cheese, wild herbs, borage Parmigiano cheese and very little garlic. They are deliciously seasoned with silky walnut and pine-nut sauce.
- Anolini from Piacenza: fresh-egg round pasta whose stuffing wants beef stew, cheese and breadcrumbs. The dough is made of soft wheat flour and eggs; it is rolled into thin pasta sheets which are cut into 2cm diameter circle. They are served with boiling broth.
- Cappellacci: it is egg pasta shaped as a big triangular tortello whose end points are brought together to form a pointy hat. They are traditionally filled with violina squash, Parmigiano Reggiano, nutmeg, and, to taste, amaretti cookies and mostarda (as in Ferrara). They are seasoned with pork meat ragù, or simple melted butter.
- Cappelletti: the most famous stuffed pasta in Italy and all around the world. They may have either a vegetable stuffing (di magro) with Parmigiano Reggiano, ricotta cheese, greens or lean meat mix enriched with Parma Ham, breadcrumbs, and Parmigiano cheese. In Ferrara (so, in my grandparents’ home) mortadella (or spicy sausage) must be added to give an even more unforgettable taste.
- Tortelli or ravioli: squared or, rarely, rectangular are sulle stuffed with greens and cheese.
- Tortellini: this stuffed pasta is a delicacy from Bologna. They are small shells of see-through egg pasta sheets which enshrine a really delicious stuffing. The thinner pasta sheet is, the smaller tortellino is, the more skilled a “sfoglina” is: sfoglina is the woman who prepares pasta sheets which must be rolled only by hands with a rolling pin. The 1mm thick pasta sheets is cut into small 2cm squares and filled with a little stuffing made of pork sirloin, Parmigiano Reggiano, mortadella, ham and nutmeg. This small ring-shaped pasta is perfectly paired with a rich meat broth, or some cream sauce. A true delicacy!
Well, “warm up” your fingers, start to knead and shaper your own stuffed pasta!