In 2010, I had the opportunity to travel (and cook!) in Italy. My (now) ex-husband and I spent a week staying with friends in the tiny Ligurian mountain towns of Santa Maria and Borseda, just kilometers from the Mediterranean, and another several days traipsing through Tuscany. While in Tuscany, our ceramicist friends Donna Polseno and Richard Hensley led us to La Meridiana International School of Ceramics, where I was invited to prepare lunch with resident chef Lucia Zucconi.
What an experience!
Slow Food Movement-trained Lucia cooked and baked using her intuition. She measured things like baking powder not with measuring spoons but by feel. Specifically, she determined the correct measurements based on how the amounts felt in the palm of her hand. Say what?!
I learned so much from Lucia and am grateful to have spent those few hours cooking with her. Her kitchen was sparsely outfitted – a simplicity I was drawn to immensely – and it overlooked a gorgeous Tuscan landscape. We picked herbs from the garden right outside the (open) kitchen door, made fresh pasta for the rotolo (you can see a picture of Lucia with a finished rotolo here), and baked tarts. When lunch was served, it was served family style, along with some great Italian wines.
While I don’t have the exact recipe (there wasn’t one), the following is my recollection aided by a similar ravioli recipe found in her cookbook. [Unfortunately, Lucia’s Recipes from Tuscany is not readily available through any publisher, but if you are lucky, you might be able to snag a copy through La Meridiana’s website.]
In Italy, the primo (course) is often a pasta course, which follows an antipasti course. Following primo are other courses. Since we tend to not eat in courses in the States, I would suggest pairing this rotolo with a hearty bean or sausage-based soup and a lighter to medium-bodied wine (red or white), to create a simple but WOWZERS! kind of a meal.
Just a suggestion – please thoroughly review the recipe and the pictures that follow prior to beginning if you haven’t worked with fresh pasta before. Seriously, doing so will save you many a headache! Also, be sure to download my free guide to making fresh pasta.
Here’s the recipe.
Lucia's Tuscan RotoloPrint Recipe
- 1 Master Pasta Dough Recipe
- 1 lb baby spinach
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- a large handful of fresh oregano leaves
- 2 glugs olive oil
- 10 oz fresh ricotta
- 2 oz freshly grated Parmesan
- Freshly grated nutmeg
- Sea salt
- Freshly cracked pepper
- a small handful of fresh herbs such as sage
- freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, to serve
Fill your stock pot with water, stopping about four inches from the top. Salt it very heavily. Set the pot over a high flame and let it come to a boil. This will take forever, FYI. If it boils before you have finished prepping the rotolo, Just turn down the heat.
Make the filling:
In a large skillet, heat the oil over a medium-high flame. Add the garlic and oregano and stir. Thirty seconds later, add the spinach. You probably won't be able to fit it all in at once, so just keep adding handfuls of it as the spinach in the pan begins to cook down. Stir frequently, and add the nutmeg, salt, and pepper.
Once the spinach has cooked down a bit (note that it should retain some brightness), turn off the heat and spoon the spinach into a colander set over a bowl.
Roll out the pasta:
You can either use a pasta machine or a rolling pin and some elbow grease. If you go the pasta machine route, you'll be cranking out four to five sheets of pasta (I'd suggest taking it to the 8th setting, or the second thinnest), overlapping them by an inch, and sealing the overlaps with water. For detailed instructions on how to use a pasta machine, go to the RESOURCE LIBRARY LINK. If you are rolling your pasta out by hand, which is what I did in these pictures, you will need to get it exceptionally thin. Doing so is hard work but so worth it! It will be easier work if you have a longer pin that is easy to use (my favorite pin is similar to this one, but made out of stainless steel).
Flour a large work surface - preferably a kitchen table (your countertop is too high if you are rolling out the dough by hand, as your forearms are going to give out before it gets thin enough). Break off a chunk of dough that's roughly 2/3 of the total*, and flatten it into a round disc. Roll out with a rolling pin, adding flour as needed, until it's super thin and slightly transparent. Test for thinness by picking up part of it with your hand - if there is some transparency (e.g. you can see the slightest bit of skin tone) it's perfect.
Lay out a thin, clean kitchen towel on the counter or workspace. Transfer the dough to this towel by draping it over your rolling pin (just as you would if you were transferring a pie crust to a pie plate). Trim the edges* so that it loosely resembles a square or rectangle - roughly 12"w x 12"h or 15"h, making sure that (A) you have a minimum towel perimeter of 3" at the sides and bottom, and 6" at the top; (B) the length of your pasta will fit in your fish kettle without requiring more than a C-shape curve (in other words, you don't want it to be so long that it will double-back on itself).
Assemble the rotolo:
Spread the spinach mixture evenly on top of the lower 2/3 or 3/4 of the dough, leaving a 1 1/2" - 2" pasta perimeter at the right and left sides. Crumble the ricotta over the spinach, and distribute the Parmesan over that.
Now, using your towel to aide you, roll up the bottom of the rotolo until the pasta edge is nearly touching the filling. Make sure that everything looks good, and continue to roll up the rotolo - not the towel - until you reach the end of the filling. Dab some water over the exposed 1/4 to 1/3 of pasta, and roll up completely, ensuring the rotolo is sealed along the long edge (it's like rolling up a sushi roll). Now, bring the pasta to the bottom edge of the towel and roll neither tightly nor loosely up. Using your fingers, find that spot at each end of the roll where the filling ends, and tie the dough and towel at these locations tightly with kitchen twine.
Cook the rotolo:
Make sure your water has reached a rolling boil, and carefully place the rotolo in the pot. You may have to weight it down with a large plate if it refuses to submerge and you don't feel like poking it down every two seconds. Set the timer for 25 minutes - 30 if your pasta is a bit on the thicker side - and use the time to clean up your mess and make your sauce.
Serve the rotolo:
If you have a favorite sauce, by all means use it! Honestly, by the time I get to this point, I just want something simple and quick. So, I'll melt some butter - maybe I'll clarify it, but often I don't bother - and I'll toss in a chiffonade of fresh sage leaves if I'm really feeling fancy.
When your timer dings, carefully remove the rotolo using tongs, and place it on a carving board. Cut the twine and remove the towel. Slice off the pasta ends and discard. Slice the rotolo into 1 or 1 1/2" slices, position two or three on individual plates, and top with sauce or melted butter. Top with freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and serve.
1. Keep in mind that the pasta dough will add on about 40 minutes of (mostly inactive) prep time, which is not accounted for in the times listed above. 2. You will need a massive stock pot for this recipe. If you don't have one and don't want to buy one (I think I got mine for about $15 at a discount store), you could make this recipe work by using a regular stockpot and reducing the width of your pasta sheets by half (and making two shorter rotolos instead). 3. If you have a favorite ravioli or other pasta filling, feel free to use it instead of the spinach-ricotta version listed above. The technique doesn't change, after all! *Don't toss the pasta dough scraps! Roll them out thinly, and then cut them into strips, shapes, or whatever you want. Dry them on a towel, clean broomstick set across two chairs, pasta rack, etc. Just don't let fresh pieces touch until they are bone dry. Once perfectly dry, they will keep in a ziplock bag in your pantry indefinitely. Boiling times are dependent on thickness and shape, and I usually start taste-testing after about three minutes. Salut!
I’d love to hear from you – have you ever made a rotolo? Do you have any tips for making fresh pasta? Also, if you have any constructive feedback regarding how I write my recipes, I’d love to hear it either below or through this comment form. Feel free to include pictures! As always, thanks for sharing!