I have lived in the Tuscan Maremma now for more than five years and I'm ashamed to say I don't know how to make what most would regard as their national dish - tortelli maremmani.
To tourists this gorgeous pasta dish is made up of fluffy pillows of egg pasta stuffed with an aromatic blend of nutmeg, spinach and ricotta and topped off with a generous helping of ragù sauce. Sounds pretty delicious right?
Well in my eyes, tortelli maremmani are torturous bundles of pain, disappointment and failure. Nightmares of shriveled up pasta that leaks its filling into the boiling water and mutinous grumbles that nonna's ragù sauce doesn't have burnt bits of meat in it or oversized, raw carrots.
But this year, I have resolved to learn how make proper tortelli maremmani once and for all. After all, the world's going to end, so I might as well spend my time doing something useful and delicious.
To learn how make this Maremman classic, I bit the bullet and begrudgingly turned to my mother-in-law for guidance.
I love my mother-in-law, but I just couldn't bear the thought of her telling all of Manciano that I was inflicting some sort of cruel and unusual punishment on my family by forcing them to eat substandard pasta. Especially when the recipe is so facile
(easy) for her!
There are three parts to the perfect tortelli maremmani. The first is the pasta. You can cheat and buy ready made pasta, if you're lucky enough to have it in your supermarket, but I'll include the recipe here anyway. The second is the spiced filling. And the last is the sauce. Again, you can cheat and buy a really good quality ragù sauce here and no one will know the difference!
Get all the parts right and your partner, family or friends will be fawning over you like all those lucky people who get to eat at Nigella's house whenever she's filming a series.
So let's start with the pasta. NB: My sudden expertise is not a ruse. I have spent the last week slaving away in the kitchen with my beloved mother-in-law trying to perfect this recipe. Suffice to say I may need counselling at some future date.
For the pasta you'll need:
- 350g flour
- 3 eggs
- olive oil
Mix the flour and the eggs in a bowl. Add a pitch of salt and a drizzle of oil and mix to combine. Then add enough water to bring together the mix into a homogeneous ball. Cover with a tea towel and leave to rest for 30 mins.
In the meantime, make your tortelli filling, for which you'll need
- 450g chard or silverbeet
- 450g spinach
- 350 fresh ricotta
- fresh marjoram
- salt and pepper
Parboil your spinach and chard in separate pots of boiling salted water for six minutes. Drain them, squeeze out any excess water and chop finely.
Place the ricotta in a bowl. Add the chopped spinach and chard, a pinch of nutmeg and marjoram and salt and pepper to taste. Mix well and set aside.
Back to the pasta:
Lightly flour a clean surface. Roll out your pasta dough until it's 2-3 millimetres thick and cut into 5-6 centimetre squares. They don't have to be perfect. Aim for 12 even squares and you don't even have to measure them out.
With a teaspoon, place a small dollop of filling on the left hand side of the pasta square and fold the other side over to cover. Press down to seal the sides with your thumb and then use a fork to press all the way around the edges. Continue with the rest of the filling.
Once you're done, place a big pot of salted water on to boil. Add the tortelli to the water, making sure they don't stick together. When the tortelli float to the top, they're cooked!
For the sauce:
I love my tortelli maremmani liberally doused in melted butter and sage, but the traditionalist that is my mother-in-law insisted a proper ragù was the only way to honour all our hard work. So you'll need:
- 2 garlic cloves
- bay leaf
- 1 carrot
- 500g minced beef
- glass of red wine
- 350g can of chopped tomatoes
- 1tbsp tomato paste
- salt and pepper
- olive oil
- Parmesan to serve
Chopped the garlic and a handful of parsley and fry in a hot saucepan with a drizzle of oil. Add the bay leaf, finely chopped carrots and minced meat and cook until the meat is browned. Pour in the red wine and cook until reduced.
Lower the heat, add the canned tomatoes, a cup of water and the tomato paste and simmer for 40-45 minutes or until lovely and thick. Season with salt and pepper. If you thick the sauce is a little tart, add a teaspoon of sugar.
Serve with the tortelli and a good shaving of Parmesan cheese