You may have noticed the enduring love affair with Italy that occasionally crops up on this blog. An inescapable, recurring theme – missing Venice! We lived there for a whole year, and I can honestly say that I think how wonderful it would be to move back there, every day.
Sigh. Moving on…
When we were there, we visited lots of Northern Italian cities, and one of my favourites was Ferrara. We wandered its silent streets as snow blanketed our footfalls, in early December (my birthday is the 2nd – it was my present), weaving in and out of the alleys between ancient red brick buildings and ducking under low brick archways. To cap it off, we went to Al Brindisi, ostensibly the oldest Osteria in the world! We tried Ferrarese specialities, including Pasticcio (salata or dolce), which is a raised pie filled with pasta (penne or macaroni), ragu and bechamel, with either a sweet or salted crust (either work nicely). My favourite, though, and the one I repeat now, was our new find – Cappellacci di Zucca.
Cappellacci di Zucca are filled pasta pockets, which look like little ornate bishops’ hats. The filling is a mixture of soft squash, amaretti biscuits, parmesan and nutmeg, and this makes it singularly the most comforting and flavoursome dish to cradle in your lap on a chilly night, with a glass of red wine in one hand and a fork in the other.
If you have a pasta maker, then really this recipe is one of the most simple filled pasta I can think of (I think it’s much quicker to make than ravioli, once you have the knack). So here’s my recipe for cappellacci. I hope it will see you through these final dreary nights into the bright blue light of Spring!
Recipe for Cappellacci di Zucca
Ingredients for Pasta
Simple pasta dough recipe:
tipo 00 flour
(See my pasta post)
Ingredients for filling
1 butternut squash
(to serve: 25g butter, sage leaves)
Preheat your oven to medium/high (c.180c). Prick knife holes into the rind of your squash, perhaps 5 all the way around, and bung it onto your oven shelf (place a baking tray on the shelf beneath to catch any squashy drizzle that fizz out from the knife holes).
When your squash is in, make your pasta. Weigh out your flour onto a clean surface (or a large bowl) into a flour mountain, and burrow a little fist dent into the top. Crack your eggs and separating them (at this point you can decide whether to do regular or enriched pasta dough. Add egg accordingly). Then fold your flour over the dent, and begin working the egg into the flour, until it combines to form a dough. Put in a bowl and cover with clingfilm and refrigerate until needed, but let it rest for at least 30 mins.
Your squash is probably soft by now – if not, simply use the cake/potato technique, and cook until a knife slides in and out of your squash with relative ease. Halve your squash when it is cool enough to handle. Grate your parmesan and nutmeg into a large bowl, and crumble the amaretti biscuits. Scoop the soft, almost pureed squash flesh into this bowl and mix until the ingredients are well combined.
Take out your pasta, and roll it through your machine until it’s at a 6 setting of thickness. Try to keep your rolls very thin, and as long as works for you. On a lightly floured surface, lay out your dough and cut it into squares, so they are as wide as they are long (this is why they needed to be rolled in thin strips! If you didn’t succeed you will have to make your ravioli with rectangles, which will be much less tidy but exactly as tasty as the square variety).
To make cappellacci:
Take your square
Dollop a small teaspoon of mix in the middle of the square, slightly towards one corner
Wet your finger and dampen a thin line all around the edge of your square
Take the opposite corner and fold it over your dollop of filling onto the opposite corner, sticking it down firmly. Smooth the edges together to make a samosa-shaped package, but try to smooth out the air before you seal the pocket.
Now, with the long side of the triangle facing you, take the two nearest corners (along the bottom) and fold them onto each other (there will probably be around a 1cm overlap. Press this firmly so the pasta binds.
Done! Now repeat, until you are out of dough, or mix (hopefully both at a similar time)! If you are left with vast quantities of dough, make it into quick tagliatelle, and if you’re left with squash mix – the world’s your oyster. Personally I’d have it warmed up with a nice salad, possibly with some bacon bits tossed through for saltiness!
In a shallow frying pan, cut a know of butter (25g or so) and begin to heat it. Don’t brown your butter; just bring it to a tempaerature where it becomes liquid, but doesn’t bubble angrily. Toss in some sage leaves (5 or 6 will do), to crisp them. Turn the hear down low and bring 1l or so of water, with a pinch of salt added, to boil in a large, deep pan on the adjacent hob. Simply toss your cappellacci in – they are done when they float to the top, which should only take around a minute.
When they float to the top, fish them out and plop them into your butter pan, turned back up to medium (don’t try to drain them more than a cursory flick – the pasta water they add will make your sauce go a little further, and taste lovely). When you’re ready to serve, fish out the cappellacci onto a dish, making sure to use up the lovely sage butter sauce, and grate a few strokes of parmesan over. So nice!
I didn’t get a chance to capture the cappellacci – I’ll try to remember next time! For now, here are the broadbean and ricotta ravioli I made x
** If you made surplus cappellacci to the meal’s requirements, the pasta freezes very well. My trick is to line your tupperwear with greaseproof paper, and place a layer of this between each layer of pasta to prevent them sticking to each other. Freeze until you need – and the beauty is, if your delicate pasta look a little stuck to the greaseproof, just slide the whole sheet of paper in (i.e. don’t try to remove them) – the paper will float off on contact with the water, leaving you with perfectly formed cappellacci! From frozen, they may take a little longer to come to temp – just make sure they float in your boiling water, and make sure to warm them through in your buttery frying pan for a minute or two longer. **