A Journey through the Culinary World of Stuffed Pasta

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Stuffed pasta means celebrations where the whole family gathers around the table to celebrate something special: a birthday, Christmas, Easter, or a special dinner party. Stuffed pasta is allowed only once a week if you want to keep healthy and fit.

I’ll take you throughout Italy to find out everything you need to know about stuffed pasta. It is a kind of art, a type of magic. Although different from other dishes, it is still within everyone’s means. All you need is practice and coordination with hands and fingers. It’s fun to do; try it. 

Stuffed pasta used to be handmade by moms and grandmas. You can still find some making it nowadays. Some granddaughters have been very lucky to learn this culinary art; others have found shops which sell wonderful fresh pasta. 

I come from Ferrara, where I mostly lived most with my grandparents, who had very deeply-rooted habits: they honored their precious daily routines that supported a healthy and quiet lifestyle. Making pasta was a good part of it all.

Pasta sheets were rolled out almost every morning with fresh eggs from my grandpa’s small henhouse. (I used to have my own hen, Lucrezia who, when she got too old, was made into some delicious broth.) We always had pasta for lunch, so the small pasta trimmings—from hand cutting the sheets of pasta—were perfect for some delicious broth at dinner time. This pasta was seasoned with a light sauce, butter, and sage for lunch, and then added to some chicken or vegetable broth for dinner. I will never forget how simple yet comforting that way of living was. Only on Sundays was the sauce richer; it was often a ragù, a tomato-based sauce which had been simmering for hours and hours. It was the best dish to share with loved ones to celebrate the day off.

So, stuffed pasta is not something you can eat every day; it is only for special days. It takes a long time to make, is rich in calories, and should be paired with other healthy food. 

What can you stuff pasta with?  

With a lot of scrumptious ingredients, which may be divided up as follows: 

  • Meat stuffing: leftovers from a roast or boiled meat from broth. We use either one type of meat (e.g. pork) or a mix of them together. Sometimes it can be enriched with offal (organ meats), or mixed with sausage, 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 for fillings: eggs bind the mixture; breadcrumbs make it more compact; grated Parmigiano or any ripe cheese, which gives it a stronger taste; spices and herbs, which add a more intense flavor. 

These recipes have never changed; nor will they ever. However, due to constant innovation fostered in the most exclusive restaurants, there has been a renewed interest in the traditional recipes from our ancestors’ old cookbooks. 

How can you make stuffed pasta?

Only top-quality, soft wheat flour paired with fresh eggs make pasta sheets, which can then be properly stuffed. Do you know why? This is because the dough must be rolled out into thin pasta sheets, which enhance the stuffing. Of course, semolina may also be used as they do in Sardinia. The results are delicious but are completely different because their stuffed pasta looks like huge filled gnocchi.  

How do you close and seal the stuffed pasta? 

First, place a tablespoon of desired stuffing in the middle of a pasta sheet and fold it over. For instance, a square turns into a triangle, while a circle, into a crescent shape. If you want round ravioli: cut circles out of pasta sheets, place some filling on one of them and lay a second circle on top. 

In Italy, there are three ways of sealing stuffed pasta: the agnolini sealing, the Emilian tortellini, and the cappelletti or cappellacci one. 

The outstanding plin agnolotti, from Piedmont where I live now, gets its names from “pinched,” what you do to seal each agnolotto, pasta shape, after the sheet is folded over. First place evenly spaced teaspoons of filling along the lower half of a pasta sheet. Then fold the sheet over to cover the filling, trim away any excess pasta, pinch the folded sheet lightly together along its edge to give the classic “pinched” shape. 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 sheet; then cover it with another one; press the edges to prevent the filling from leaking out; and cut them with a pasta wheel or a round cutter. In the past, people used a drinking glass for its round shape. 

agnolotti

Seems easy? It is, but the huge, sometimes devilish imaginations of Italian great-grandmothers and grandmothers have made this more complicated. Plenty of decorations and shapes have enriched stuffed pasta: ruffled sides, double-twisted candy shapes, ribbon decorations, and so on…pure genius! 

The shapes are different but the taste is the same. It’s guaranteed that you will fall in love with even the tiniest piece of pasta. It is pure emotion, a trip down memory lane, or just a wonderful experience when you eat stuffed pasta for the first time. 

Make a shopping list 

Every kitchen in every house all around the world can become a good fresh pasta laboratory. No special magic is needed—just some strong willpower to try over and over again. In the beginning, your pasta may turn out all right; other times something might go wrong and you have to do it over again. Just don’t give up. In 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: round, rectangular, or squared, it doesn’t matter;
  • A pasta board or a granite tabletop; 
  • A bowl to beat the eggs and a fork; 
  • Flour (read in link)
  • A tablecloth to make the pasta dough so that the sauce will cling to it more evenly; 
  • A 15-inch (40cm) rolling pin. If you are very keen to follow Italian tradition, you should have a 43-inch (110 cm) rolling pin to make the pasta sheets as thin as possible; 
  • A knife or pasta cutter to cut pasta sheets with. 

If you really get involved in the process, you may also buy a pasta machine, which helps with rolling out even pasta sheets. If you have a KitchenAid, you can also buy an electric attachment, which also rolls out the pasta dough. 

In my opinion, you should try to make pasta with your own hands; touch it to understand its texture and modify it according to your own taste. 

As I explained here there is not only one way to make pasta; moreover, its texture depends on the weather, the degree of humidity, the kind of flour, the quantity and the type of water, and the size of eggs. 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, and roll out the pasta. 

Finally, it is time to roll out, stuff, and shape the pasta dough. But before that, I would like to discuss 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 mouth-watering journey through the world of stuffed pasta from different Italian regions. 

Here is my challenge: I will make and take photos of all the products. Then I will describe to you 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. Italian stuffed pasta traditions and imaginations are unlimited. Here is a good summary:

  • Agnolotti from Piedmont: small tender ¾ inch-1 inch (2-3cm) square pockets with ruffled sides, which are stuffed with a mix of several kinds of meat, eggs, and vegetables. The dough is made with a little water, flour, salt, eggs; it is left to stand and then rolled into 3-foot-long (1m) and 4 inch-wide (8-10cm) sheets. A tablespoon of filling is evenly placed on the lower half of a pasta sheet, which is then folded over to cover the filling and finally cut into small rectangles with a pasta wheel.

agnolotti

  • Agnolotti del Plin (Pinched Agnolotti): Piedmontese Agnolotti, which are made of an almost transparent pasta and are usually filled with meat stuffing. The two sheets of pasta are pinched so as to shape each agnolotto, hence their name. 

plin

  • Agnoli and Agnolini are very similar to Cappelletti. The see-through pasta sheet is made of wheat flour (type 0), eggs (5 for every 5 2/3 cup or 1000g of flour), and salt. The stuffing is made of boiled chicken meat, eggs, cheese, cinnamon, and cloves.  
  • Casonsei is the most typical egg pasta in Lombardy. It is usually stuffed with cured meat, salami, bread, eggs, cheese, and sometimes potatoes, spinach or beet tops, amaretti cookies and raisins. Crescent shaped with ruffled sides, they are sealed with the tines of a fork. 
  • Marubini are the typical ravioli in the area of Cremona in northern Italy. The dough is made of soft wheat flour, rolled into very thin sheets, and cut into circles of 1½ inch (4 cm) diameter with a cutter wheel. In the middle of one circle, place a tablespoon of stuffing made of a mix of meat, eggs, breadcrumbs, Grana Padano cheese, and nutmeg. Then cover it with another circle and seal them with your fingers. 
  • Tortelli Cremaschi are made of flour, vigorously kneaded with a little water and a few eggs, and then rolled into very thin pasta sheets. The pasta sheets are then cut into squares, stuffed, and closed into a triangle, or possibly a double-twisted candy shape. The stuffing makes the difference due to its bittersweet taste composed of amaretti cookies, raisins, crumbled sugar cookies, water, and spices like nutmeg and mint. 
  • Schlutzer are typical crescent-shaped ravioli from Tirol in Trentino Alto Adige. Rye flour is combined with a little wheat flour, a few eggs, extra virgin olive oil, and water to make the dough. Medium-thick pasta sheets are cut into circles, filled, and then folded over. The stuffing is made of ricotta cheese, spinach, onion, nutmeg, dandelion, and fresh mountain greens. They must be seasoned with organic fresh butter. 
  • Pansotti are described as “pot-bellied” according to their traditional shape. They belong to the culinary tradition of Liguria. Crescent-shaped, triangular, rectangular, or squared, they are stuffed with ricotta cheese, wild herbs, spinach, Parmigiano, and a little garlic. They are deliciously seasoned with silky walnut and pine nut sauce. 
  • Anolini from Piacenza are fresh round egg pasta stuffed with beef stew, cheese and breadcrumbs. The dough is made of wheat flour and eggs rolled into thin pasta sheets, and cut into ¾ inch (2cm) circles. They are served in the hot broth. 
  • Cappellacci is egg pasta shaped into big triangular pasta parcels whose endpoints are brought together to form a pointy hat. They are traditionally filled with butternut squash, Parmigiano, nutmeg, amaretti cookies, and mustard. They are seasoned with pork ragù or a simple melted butter sauce. 

cappellacci

  • Cappelletti is the most famous stuffed pasta in Italy and around the world. They may have either a vegetable stuffing with Parmigiano, ricotta cheese, and greens, or a lean-meat mixture enriched with Parma ham, breadcrumbs, and Parmigiano. In Ferrara (my grandparents’ home) mortadella, or spicy sausage, are added to give an even more unforgettable taste. 
  • Tortelli or Ravioli are square or rectangular and stuffed with greens and cheese. 
  • Tortellini is a stuffed pasta delicacy from Bologna. They are small shells of transparent egg pasta sheets, which enshrine a really delicious stuffing. The thinner the pasta sheet the smaller the tortellini. The best are those made by a sfoglina, or woman who prepares pasta sheets rolled only by hand or with a rolling pin. The 1-millimeter pasta sheet is cut into 1-inch (2cm) squares and filled with stuffing made of pork loin, Parmigiano, mortadella, ham, and nutmeg. This small ring-shaped pasta is perfectly paired with a rich meat broth or some cream sauce. A true delicacy! 

tortelli

Well, “warm-up” your fingers, start to knead, and shape your own stuffed pasta, and fill it with something delicious. I can’t wait to hear from you.

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