Lemon & ricotta tortellini with avocado, basil & olive oil ‘pesto’

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It feels like a long time since I last cooked. It’s all go around here and will be for a few weeks still… Work is very busy and often surprises me with late nights, moving deadlines and last minute changes. Meaning I’ve been eating at my desk a lot. Or, if I do get out earlier than expected I’ve been wanting to go and celebrate both the freedom and the lovely London sunshine we’ve been experiencing with a glass of wine and friends at the pub. So it’s not all bad but life is busy. And cooking stuff has not really been happening.

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Which brings me to tonight’s dinner. I arrived back in London this afternoon after a speedy visit to my family in Brighton, and craved being in the kitchen. Now you might be aware that making pasta from scratch is one of my favourite things to do if time is on my side. (Especially stuffed pasta which really does take a while). I have always made pasta using the exact same recipe – 100g 00 pasta flour to one egg per person, an easy to remember and easy to multiply recipe. This recipe has always yielded brilliant results. But I’d been reading up on different special pasta recipes and was curious. Recipes vary regionally all across Italy, with some using a blend of semolina flour and 00 flour, some using water instead of egg, some adding egg yolks instead of whole eggs. It seems that one size doesn’t fit all and I thought it only fair to trial a few other recipes.

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I ran a quick google search this morning and found an old Felicity Cloake (Guardian newspaper columnist) article on making the perfect pasta. Like me, she’d previously just used eggs and flour. But her ‘perfect’ version achieved after much experimentation calls for the following ratios: 1/3 semolina flour to 2/3 00 flour, and equal quantities of egg to egg yolk. The semolina flour is supposed to give extra bite that helps sauce stick to the pasta. The egg yolks add richness. I also found in Jamie Oliver’s The Naked Chef a recipe for ‘special pasta’ that’s similar.

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I decided to alter my standard pasta recipe to investigate. Instead of 200g of tip 00 pasta flour, I used 150g plus 50g plain flour (semolina flour wasn’t available and Jamie advised plain in that case) and instead of 2 hens eggs I used 1 duck egg and 3 duck egg yolks.

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The dough was so difficult to knead. Incredibly stiff. It took nearly twenty minutes and my hands were in so much agony! When it came to rolling it out, the pasta was so stiff it almost broke the machine. I persevered, trying to roll it out for about half an hour before giving up and angrily throwing the lot in the bin. I hate waste and I was upset that my peaceful evening of cooking was turning into a stressful nightmare!

After a whingey moan from me and a few calming words from Scott, I quickly bashed up my regular pasta recipe – which as per usual, behaved itself and produced great results. Moral of the story – if it ain’t broke don’t fix it!

For the filling I decided on a simple but decadent and zesty blend of ricotta, Parmesan and lemon zest. The ‘pesto’ sauce is more of a dressing type sauce, made by whizzing up an avocado with lemon juice, olive oil and basil. It needs to be made at the last minute before serving as it will naturally want to separate – it’s okay if it does. It’s just the different fats behaving in their own ways!

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You will need:

For the pasta:

200g tip 00 pasta grade flour
2 medium eggs
Pinch of salt

For the pasta filling:

250g ricotta cheese
80g Parmesan
Zest of 1 lemon
Pinch of grated nutmeg

For the avocado ‘pesto’

1 small very ripe avocado (or 1/2 a large one)
Small handful of basil leaves
5-7 tbspns best quality olive oil
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1-2 tbspns hot reserved pasta water

To serve:

A few torn basil leaves
A little best quality extra virgin olive oil
A little Parmesan

Method:

1 – Start by making the pasta: tip the flour into a big bowl and create a well in the centre. Crack your eggs into the well, and add the salt to the eggs before breaking the eggs up with a fork and gradually whisking them into the flour
2 – Ditch the fork and get your hands into the bowl, mixing together the eggs and flour until well combined (they’ll be very sticky at first but don’t worry, it’ll come together!)
3 – Knead the dough over a floured surface for around 10 minutes (time yourself), until the dough changes texture from dry and floury to completely smooth and elastic
4 – Wrap the dough with cling film and pop in the fridge for 30 mins until you’re ready to roll it out
5 – While the pasta chills, make the filling by mixing and combining the ingredients listed with a fork: taste to make sure you like the balance of flavours!
6 – When the pasta is chilled et up your pasta machine and put it on the widest setting; start by rolling the dough through this setting
7 – Roll the dough through the roller’s second widest setting, then back through the rollers on the widest setting; repeat 5 times
8 – Now the dough should be rolled out nicely and silky; roll it through each roller setting once, working down to the very narrowest setting
9 – The pasta will be long and thin at this point; take it and fold it in half, then in half again (and maybe again) until you have a square of dough
10 – Turn the dough round 90 degrees and run it back through the thickest setting, then the second thinnest, and so on until you pass it through the narrowest setting
11 – So now you have a big long strip of lovely thin pasta; cut it into two equal pieces
12 – Grab a knife and cut the pasta sheets in half so that you have four long strips. Beaten the edges with the knife and then cut squares that are about 5cm wide out of your dough strips; discard any leftover offcuts
12 – Take your first dough square and spoon a small amount of the filling (somewhere between 1/2 – 1 tspn) just to one side of the centre; use a pastry brush to dab water around two adjacent sides of the pasta square
13 – Use your fingers to gently fold the square in half, sealing the filling neatly and firmly, removing the air bubbles as you do. You’ll end up with a triangle shape- take the two edge points and firmly press these together, leaving the top point as it is
14 – Set aside onto a lightly dusted tray and repeat until all your pasta is filled
15 – Get a large saucepan of salted water on to boil while
16 – Just before you cook the pasta, whizz together the ingredients (except the pasta water which you haven’t made yet!) for the avocado sauce using a blender. Set aside while you cook the pasta
17 – Add the pasta carefully to the boiling water and cook for 1-2 minutes until the tortellini float and are cooked al dente. Drain, with a bowl places underneath your sieve to catch the pasta cooking water
18 – Blend the avocado sauce again with the reserved cooking water while you toss the tortellini in 1 tbspn or so of pasta water too. Dish up the pasta and spoon over the sauce, then scatter with a little olive oil, a few basil leaves and a little Parmesan

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15 thoughts on “Lemon & ricotta tortellini with avocado, basil & olive oil ‘pesto’

  1. Hey, sometimes you gotta try another method just to confirm that your original way is the best. Without trying, you’d never know and would always be left wondering. Now you can be smug in your knowledge that your pasta recipe is king :)

  2. There you go again, your pasta always looks ‘to do for’ and really inspiring me to start making my own! I will have to show this to my boyfriend – ridiculously delicious!

  3. This is a fantastic post Bec, so thoroughly written. I’ve often wondered about semolina flour, I’ve never bothered with it and it’s interesting to read about your results when attempting the ‘substitute’ of normal plain flour. I think you saved me a bit of pain (haha… I have had a cooking flake-out like that a few times too, I think Aaron finds it quite amusing). The end result after two batches looks amazing. So beautifully delicate and tender. I’ve never made an avocadoey pesto but it looks gorgeous atop those pale, plump ricotta tortellini (I’m glad that your peaceful evening eventually yielded satisfying results, albeit after a little hurdle!). Glad that the craziness is slowing down a bit now. I have FOUR DAYS of work left before we set off on this little sojourn to the northern hemisphere! Cannot wait. Will email you re possible catch up if that’s ok? We’ll be around for a while so should be able to work around your commitments x

    1. Haha yep this was a bit of a nightmare! But all good in the end :-)
      Wow lucky you that’s not long at all! I hope we get to read and see all about your travels, lucky you! Yes please do email when you’re here! Good to hear you’re around for a little while. Safe and happy travels xx

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