For the longest time I had a phobia from anything that involves dough (so no bread or any type of baking) but recently I have been getting into pasta making with increasing success. Agnolotti dal plin (agnolotti with a pinch) is the first pasta I learned in a cooking class, and this is the second time I am making it at home (see the first recipe). As most filled pastas, agnolotti are very versatile because you can use almost anything as filling – cheese, ground meat, vegetables, chopped seafood. This particular recipe is a celebration of spring.
serves: 8 difficulty: complex prep time: 2+ hrs
- 2 cups all purpose flour and 1 cup semolina flour OR 3 cups of all purpose flour
- additional ¼ cup semolina flour for dusting
- 4 eggs
- 1 tbs olive oil
- 2 tbs olive oil
- 2 cups of shelled English peas
- 1 shallot
- 1 quart chicken stock (or vegetable stock if you want to keep it vegetarian)
- 2 eggs for “gluing” the agnolotti together.
- 1 bunch of mint
- 1 cup fresh ricotta cheese
- 1/4 to 1/2 preserved lemon or zest and juice of one lemon
- 2 cups shelled English peas
- 1 bunch asparagus
- ½ lbs fresh spinach
- [optional] 1 cup of stock for thinning the sauce
First cook all 4 cups of English peas (to be used for both filling and the sauce). Dice the shallot. Heat 2 tbs of olive oil in a stock pot. Add the shallot and sauté it until translucent. Add all 4 cups of English peas and sauté for 2 min. Add the stock, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, and simmer until the peas are very tender – 20- 25 min. If much of the stock evaporates, add more stock or water to keep the peas submerged in liquid. Once cooked, strain the peas, and reserve the cooking liquid. Divide the peas in two – 2 cups will be used for filling, and 2 cups will be used in the sauce and garnish.
Then make the pasta dough. Mix the two kinds of flour (if you are using two kinds). Pour the flour on a large cutting board or another flat work surface.
Beat 4 eggs, and mix in 1 tbs olive oil and a pinch of salt.
You can mix the dough using a food process or you can do it the old fashioned way: by hand. Here is the laborious but much more fun manual process.
Form a “well” – i.e. a circular hole – in the middle of the heap of flour. Pour the egg mixture in the well. Using a fork, start mixing some flour with the egg mixture while being careful not to breach the walls of the well and let the egg mixture spill.
Keep doing that until the egg mixture in the middle is thick enough so that it won’t “run away” if the walls of the flour well are breached. At this point you can start using a spatula to mix in more of the flour. First reserve about ½ cup flour and set it aside because you never know how much flour exactly your dough will absorb (depends on how large your eggs are, humidity levels etc). Scoop some flour and add it to the egg mixture. Cut the egg mixture with the spatula in order to mix in the dough. Keep doing that until you have mixed in all the flour except for the reserved one. At this point you can use your hands to compress the mixture into a ball of dough. Getting the dough to the right consistency so that it’s not too wet or too dry is a matter of some experience. If the dough is too wet you can always fix it by adding some flour; but if it is too dry – there is no way to introduce more moisture into it so you need to start from scratch.
You can see all of the above demonstrated in the following video.
Once you are done adding the flour to the dough, it should look something like this:
Once you have the right consistency – you need to knead the dough for at least 10 min – but more like 20 min. Kneading allows the proteins in the dough to develop. As you knead, the dough will become smoother. You want it to be silky smooth by the end. You knead by:
- Place the palm of your dominant hand on the dough ball, your weaker hand on top of the dominant hand; use your body weight to press down and forward. That stretches the dough ball into a flatter, elliptical shape
- Then rotate the dough ball 90 degrees (doesn’t matter in which direction).
- Fold the dough in two
You can see the whole process in this video:
One test for doneness of the dough is to poke your finger in it. Once you remove your finger, the indentation in the dough has to spring back, and dough needs to resume its round shape.
Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and let rest for at least an hour at room temperature.
While the dough is resting, you can make the filling. Remove the leaves from half the bunch of mint. Place 2 cups of peas, 2 tbs olive oil and the mint leaves in a blender or food processor, and blend until smooth. If the mixture is too dry, and the blender is not running, add a bit of the reserved cooking liquid. Add the ricotta cheese to the blender, and blend again. The resulting puree needs to be dry enough so that it retains its shape once you spoon some of it over the pasta dough. Take the puree our of the blender. If you have preserved lemons, dice 1/4 to 1/2 preserved lemons. Note that preserved lemons are very salty and as a result the filling does not need any additional salt. If you are using lemon zest + lemon juice, add them to the filling, and season with salt and pepper.
Set up your pasta machine, and divide the pasta dough in 3 equal parts. While you are working with the first part, keep the other 2/3 wrapped in plastic wrap. Take the first third of the dough and roll it out into a pasta sheet. Below is a video of this process.
On my pasta machine I stretch the pasta sheet to the last but one grade of thinness (which is 6). The pasta sheet for filled past will be thinner than for cut pasta.
The resulting pasta sheet should look like this:
Dust the sheet with some semolina flower. Typically both ends of the sheet will not be square, so you cut out the end parts to make them square.
Then cut the sheet into rectangles with width = the width of the sheet = width of the pasta machine and length of 3 inches. Each such rectangle will be big enough for 3 small or 2 big agnolotti.
Beat the two eggs that will be used for “gluing” the agnolotti.
Place a piece of the pasta sheet on a cutting board. You will make 3 agnolotti from each piece. Brush some egg mixture around the 4 edges of the dough, and in the middle such that you form a gird of 3 rectangular cells.
Either using a piping bag, or a spoon, place about 1 tbs of the filling in the middle of each rectangular cell. Fold the dough in two along the long side. Use your finger to seal the long edge of the dough pouch by pressing gently. Then use your finger to seal the edges around the middle piece of the filling. It is important to start from the middle because that allows you to expel the air to both sides. You want to remove any air that is between the dough and filling. Then proceed to seal the edges on both sides.
Then use your pasta rolling cutter to cut off a very narrow strip on the long edge. That’s done a) to seal the edge better and b) for aesthetic purposes.
Then gently lift the long edge of the dough pouch that’s closer to you, and fold the entire pouch away from you into two. With your fingers gently press down on the side of the little pockets that are filled with stuffing (total 4 places). Then cut the 3 agnolotti with a circular pasta cutter. Use a single motion in one direction to cut each piece. At this point you should have 3 agnolotti. Arrange the ready agnolotti on a cookie sheet lined with some parchment, and dusted with semolina flour.
Repeat with the rest of the rectangular dough pieces. Then repeat with the rest of the dough. You should have about 45-50 agnolotti which should serve 8 people as middle course (standard serving size is 6 agnolotti per person).
Next prepare the sauce.
Heat a frying pan, and add the spinach to it. Wilt the spinach without adding anything to it.
Bring a quart of water to a boil in a stock pot. Add the asparagus, and boil it for 2-3 min to soften it. Take if out of the hot water and put in an ice bath to cool and stop the cooking process. Then slice the asparagus tips into two 1/2 inch pieces. You can roughly chop the stems.
Place 1 cup of the cooked peas for the sauce, the wilted spinach, and the roughly chopped asparagus stems in a blender, and blend until they form a smooth puree. Use the reserved liquid from cooking the peas to thin the sauce. You can also use additional stock or water for thinning. Add salt and pepper to taste. Keep the sauce warm or warm it when you cook the agnolotti.
The asparagus tips and 1 cup of the cooked English peas will be used as garnish.
To cook the agnolotti, bring a large pot of water to an aggressive boil. Add 2 tbs salt. Add the agnolotti and cook until they float to the surface – about 3 min.
Place the cooked agnolotti and the warm sauce in a large pot and mix well. Ladle 6-8 agnolotti per plate. Divide the asparagus tips and 1 cup of the cooked English peas between the plates. Garnish with a few mint leaves. Optionally, you can also grate some Parmigiano Reggiano.
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