Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Wild garlic tortelloni with asparagus

The season for wild garlic is now upon us but do not delay because it is all too short. Finely chopped and combined with ricotta and parmesan, it makes a gorgeous filling for tortelloni but its pungency needs to be offset by spinach.

You can often find it by roadsides and alongside streams in the country. Drive with the windows down so that you can sniff it out. Last Sunday I found young wild garlic growing in clumps under the trees just down the lane from where I live. In another week or two, the white flowers begin to appear that signal late middle age and then decline, so do not delay in your search.

Makes enough for 4.

80g Ricotta

40g Parmesan finely grated

80g Wild garlic finely chopped

80g Spinach

Salt and pepper

Nutmeg to grate

8 spears Asparagus

60g Butter

300g Egg pasta ready made

1. Blanch the spinach for 1 minute in plenty of boiling water. Strain, drain thoroughly and chop finely. Place on a kitchen towel to absorb any remaining moisture.

2. Combine in a bowl the wild garlic, spinach, ricotta and parmesan, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Finally grate in half a teaspoon of nutmeg.

3. Take the ready made egg pasta and roll out into sheets about 8cms wide and 30cms long.

4. Use a 6cm pastry cutter to make 48 discs.

5. Place a teaspoon of filling on 24 of the discs and cover each one with another disc. Pinch the two discs firmly together. Don’t delay in doing this or you might find that the pasta has become too dry to fix together.

6. Put on a large pan of water to boil. When it boils turn down the heat to a brisk simmer and cook the tortelloni in four batches, draining each one thoroughly.

7. Now melt 40g of butter in a wide frying pan and slip in the tortelloni, sautéing them in the butter for a minute. If necessary, if the pan won’t hold the pasta in a single layer, do this in two batches.

8. Cut the asparagus into 3cm lengths, discarding the woody stems of the asparagus spears. Melt the remaining butter and fry the asparagus gently until it is cooked al dente.

9. Serve 5-6 tortelloni onto each plate and add the asparagus on top.

Aubergine and prosciutto tartlets

These easily made tartlets could be the centrepiece of a light summer lunch with a tossed green salad with herbs. Makes 6.

For the Pastry

250g Plain flour

1 Medium egg, beaten

160g Chilled butter

Salt -a pinch

1 Egg yolk, beaten

For the Filling

1 Medium sized aubergine

2 tbl Olive oil

80g Prosciutto

4 Spring onions, finely chopped

150g Single cream

1 Medium egg

40g Parmesan, finely grated

Salt and pepper

You will need six tartlet cases, preferably with removable bases. Or if you only have four you will need to repeat the process of making the tartlet shells.

1. Sift the flour into a bowl with a pinch of salt. Rub in all but 10g of the butter cut into pieces the size of a finger nail. Add half the beaten whole egg. Amalgamate to form a dough. If it is too dry add the remaining whole egg. Turn out onto a floured surface and knead lightly into a ball. Wrap in cling film and chill.

2. Cut the aubergine into 2cms cubes. Combine with the olive oil and roast in an oven at 180 degrees for 25 minutes, making sure that it doesn’t burn.

3. Cut the prosciutto into slivers and, once it has cooled, combine with the aubergine, the cream, the egg, the parmesan and the spring onions, adding salt and pepper to taste.

4. Roll out the pastry. Form it into six tartlet cases, greased with the remainder of the butter, with the pastry hanging over the sides. Line the cases with silver foil into which you tip some baking beans. Blind bake on a baking tray for 10-15 minutes in a moderate (150 degrees C.) oven.

5. Leave to cook, and then remove the beans and the foil. Trim any excess pastry from around the top of the pastry cases. Paint the interiors with the beaten egg yolk to seal any cracks. Spoon in the filling, being careful not to let it run over the top of the pastry cases. Put the baking tray back in the oven for another 10-12 minutes or until the filling is just set. Leave to cool, then push up the base to remove the tartlets, take away the base, perhaps using a palette knife, and place each tartlet on a plate alongside the salad if that is how you decide to serve it.

Sunday, 11 April 2010

New Recipes, New Features

Every week from now onwards you will be able to download a new Bolognese recipe - broadly reflecting the seasons. This week we begin with our version of a delicious recipe for Jerusalem Artichokes based on a dish we ate at agriturismo Quercia last year. If you ever wondered what the point of these knobbly tubers was, this is a revelation. Very simple and totally Bolognese.

Every week or so you can also expect a feature about the food scene in Italy's eating capital. This week, it's about the fast growing empire started by Marcello Dall'Aglio and his partners in Sasso Marconi. You may have seen Marcello in action with Gary Rhodes presenting the best of Emilia Romagna in the tv series Rhodes Across Italy.

A restaurant chain with passion

    Marcello Dall'Aglio with son Alan at Osteria Colle Ameno

‘Passion’ was the word Ornella Visentini, the sfoglina at Osteria dell Orsa in Bologna used to describe her attitude to making pasta. That probably typifies the approach of the thousands of artisan food producers that still dominate the Italian High Street. Bologna is largely free of the global food chains we take for granted such as Subway or Tesco. Restaurant chains are also almost unknown – apart from two branches of MacDonalds - most restauranteurs, even the most celebrated, rarely run more than one establishment.

Marcello Dall’Aglio and his partners are something of an exception. Together they run four restaurants and a hotel plus a take-away deli in a busy suburban shopping centre. But his passion for fresh, local, seasonal and artisanal food is undimished as you can discover for yourself at the Locanda del Castello, in the medieval Palazzo Rossi just outside Sasso Marconi.

So how did this come about? An opportunity that was too good to miss is how it began. The proprietor of one of the best regarded local vineyards, Tenuta Bonzara, decided to restore the long abandoned Trattoria San Chierlo next to his cantina where the wine is made. He turned to Marcello Dall’Aglio to take on the job of overseeing the refurbishment and opening it. A similar opportunity presented itself in Borgonuovo, mid-way between Bologna and Sasso Marconi, when a take away and kitchen, Torte e Tortelli, became vacant.

Then came the Hotel Castello, which has twelve beautifully restored rooms above the Locanda del Castello. Not far away, son Alan and his girlfriend have taken over another orphan eatery, l'Osteria Colle Ameno. More recently, Marcello has taken over the management of another restaurant in a local trade union conference centre.

‘Why not’, says Marcello. ‘It gives me something to do and I can offer employment to young people who badly need opportunities these days in Italy.’

Take away display at Torte e Tortelli, Borgo Nuovo

Pancakes stuffed with jerusalem artichokes - Crespelle ai topinambour

When Jerusalem artichokes arrived in Italy from the New World, they were thought to resemble sunflowers – they are members of the same family - so they were called girasole which the Anglo-Saxons corrupted to Jerusalem. Artichoke refers to their similarity in flavour to the globe artichoke. Just to confuse things, these days in Italy they are called topinambour, the French name for the plant which is derived by an obscure route from the name of a Brazilian tribe who arrived on a visit to Paris about the same time as the vegetable. Anyway, this prolific tuber makes a terrific basis for a filling for pasta or, in this case, pancakes. We got the idea from Quercia, an agriturismo near Bologna, where they use them to make a kind of lasagne but they do equally well in pancakes.


1 Red pepper large

2 Red onions

4 Garlic cloves

250g Tomatoes

2tbl Red wine vinegar

7 tbl Olive oil

To taste Salt and pepper

70g Plain flour

200ml Milk

2 Eggs medium

1 Spanish onion

350g Jerusalem artichokes

50g Parsley flat leafed

160g Ricotta

60g Parmesan grated

¼ teaspoon Nutmeg grated


Here’s what you do.

Begin by putting the tomatoes, 3 cloves of garlic, the red onions and the red pepper into a hot oven to roast.

Make the pancake batter by processing or mixing the flour, milk, eggs and seasoning it to taste.

Peel and slice the Jerusalem artichokes into chunks. Slice the onion thinly and chop up a clove of garlic. Fry them gently in 3 tablespoons of olive oil until they are soft and begin to colour. Add the ricotta, finely chopped parsley, nutmeg and half the grated parmesan and combine well.

Take the vegetables out when the skins begin to blacken, after about 30-40 minutes. Slip the onions out of their skin and with a knife peel away most of the skin of the tomatoes and the pepper, making sure that you catch the juices of all the vegetables. Squeeze the garlic out of its skin. Food process the roasted vegetables adding salt, pepper, 2 tablespoons of olive oil and the red wine vinegar. Add water if necessary to make a pourable sauce, the consistency of double cream.

Make 9 pancakes (an extra one in case of accidents). Heat a frying pan with a teaspoon of olive oil and when it is hot but not smoking add a ladle full of batter and swirl it around to cover the base of the pan. Leave it until it begins to separate from the sides of the pan and flip it over. Do the same with the remaining seven, keeping them warm between two plates. Use more olive oil if the pancakes begin to stick. Reduce the heat if they start to burn or become rigid.

Place an eighth of the filling in a line down the centre of each pancake, roll them up and place them in a row join side down in a well oiled lasagne dish. Pour over the sauce so that it evenly covers the pancakes, then sprinkle with the remaining grated parmesan.

Place the dish in a medium oven and bake until the sauce begins to bubble and the cheese begins to brown, about 35-40 minutes. Remove, and serve two pancakes per plate.