Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Caramelle With Ricotta, Fresh Herbs and Black Olives

We southern Canadians are walking a tightrope of magic.

Winter is a memory, summer isn't quite here yet - we are in the suspended animation of spring. Blooms and buds and shoots and leaves and... the mosquitoes haven't quite woken up yet.

It is deck season, meaning we can lounge in the gloriousness of the season without being pestered by the buggies determined to drive us back into the house. We relish every moment, because we know it won't be long now. They're coming. 

The other magical part of spring and early summer is that the herbs look so darned good. Fresh and verdant, not like the leggy, rangy, moth-eaten things at the end of the season. When humidity stuns us into a stupor and we can only look helplessly at the garden before finding the nearest fan to lie in front of.

So this is the time to really take advantage of those herbs. In this pasta, I have stuffed the caramelle with fresh oregano, thyme, and chives - straight from the garden. They are rolled up like candies for a fun, casual version of a ravioli or tortellini. I enjoyed this shaping, but I have to say I found the edges a bit thick for my taste. I might make pillows or ravioli next time. But the flavours are amazing. So bright and green and perfect for deck dining. The sauce is pretty easy, but the pasta takes time. You can prepare the pasta ahead of time and then make the dish later on. This gives you more time for quiet contemplation of the garden. And wine.

Caramelle With Ricotta, Fresh Herbs and Black Olives
adapted from Jamie Oliver, Cook with Jamie
for IHCC Mad about Herbs

Caramella means “sweetie” in Italian, and this lovely sweetie-shaped pasta is really simple to make. The combination of the ingredients is one of classic friends: cheese, tomatoes, olives and herbs. It is a great pasta to make for summertime eating. And if you can get a hold of some great tomatoes and fresh herbs, this dish is absolutely amazing.

Caramelle are great to serve at a dinner party because you can make them in advance and leave them on a generously floured pan in the fridge. You can also have the sauce made up in advance so it’s just a case of cooking the caramelle and reheating the sauce. Simple!

1 pasta dough recipe (see Jamie’s Basic Recipe For Fresh Egg Pasta Dough, below)
A large bunch of fresh oregano, leaves picked, divided into two halves (one for filling, one for sauce - plus some extra for garnishing at the end)
2 Tbsp fresh thyme leaves
1 Tbsp chopped chives
9 oz buffalo ricotta cheese
A handful of good-quality kalamata olives, pitted and chopped
2 cups of grated parmesan cheese
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Extra virgin olive oil
2 knobs of butter
Olive oil
6 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely sliced
3 large (1½ lbs) of the ripest tomatoes, halved and roughly chopped
Splash red wine
Balsamic vinegar

The first thing you need to do is make the dough and let it rest, covered with plastic, while you make the filling.

Put half of the oregano leaves into a bowl with the ricotta, thyme leaves, chives, olives and half the parmesan. Season with salt and pepper and add a splash of extra virgin olive oil if needed. Put to one side until you are ready to fill the caramelle.

Roll Out Pasta and Fill Caramelle

    Cut the pasta into 4 x 2 1/2-inch rectangles.
    Place a teaspoon of filling in the middle and brush lightly with water.
    Roll up and pinch hard to secure at each end.
    Keep on a flour-dusted tray in the fridge until you need them, and try to cook them as fresh as possible.


Gently heat a knob of butter with a splash of olive oil in a saucepan. When the butter starts to foam, add the sliced garlic and rest of the oregano. A minute later add your tomatoes. Allow them to almost come to a boil, then simmer for up to 5 minutes until they have softened. You will be left with a lovely, fresh, rustic sauce. Season with salt and pepper, a splash of red wine, and a tiny swig of balsamic vinegar.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and add the caramelle. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes, until they begin to float, then carefully remove them to a colander using a spider or slotted spoon and reserve some of the cooking water if needed. Add the caramelle to the simmering tomato sauce and gently toss around. Let cook in the sauce until the texture you like.
Sprinkle in a handful of parmesan, then gently shake around and place a lid on the pan for 30 seconds while you get the plates out. Divide the caramelle between the plates, sprinkle with some extra oregano leaves and eat immediately.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Wine Suggestion
Italian White, Pino Grigio
(I actually served our house red - Cab Shiraz Merlot)

Jamie's Basic Recipe for Fresh Pasta


• 600g/1lb 6oz Tipo ‘00’ flour (or all-purpose)
• 6 large free-range or organic eggs or 12 yolks
(And I add a good pinch of salt - plus, I find that egg size varies - you might need more if yours are smaller)


Try to get hold of Tipo ‘00’ flour – this is a very finely sieved flour, which is normally used for making egg pasta or cakes. In Italy it’s called farina di grano tenero, which means ‘tender’ or ‘soft’ flour.

Place the flour on a board or in a bowl. Make a well in the centre and crack the eggs into it. Beat the eggs with a fork until smooth. Using the tips of your fingers, mix the eggs with the flour, incorporating a little at a time, until everything is combined. Knead the pieces of dough together – with a bit of work and some love and attention they’ll all bind together to give you one big, smooth lump of dough!

You can also make your dough in a food processor if you’ve got one. Just bung everything in, whiz until the flour looks like breadcrumbs, then tip the mixture on to your work surface and bring the dough together into one lump, using your hands.

Once you’ve made your dough you need to knead and work it with your hands to develop the gluten in the flour, otherwise your pasta will be flabby and soft when you cook it, instead of springy and al dente.

There’s no secret to kneading. You just have to bash the dough about a bit with your hands, squashing it into the table, reshaping it, pulling it, stretching it, squashing it again. It’s quite hard work, and after a few minutes it’s easy to see why the average Italian grandmother has arms like Frank Bruno! You’ll know when to stop – it’s when your pasta starts to feel smooth and silky instead of rough and floury. Then all you need to do is wrap it in cling film and put it in the fridge to rest for at least half an hour before you use it. Make sure the cling film covers it well or it will dry out and go crusty round the edges (this will give you crusty lumps through your pasta when you roll it out, and nobody likes crusty lumps!).

How to roll your pasta

First of all, if you haven't got a pasta machine it's not the end of the world! All the mammas I met while travelling round Italy rolled pasta with their trusty rolling pins and they wouldn't even consider having a pasta machine in the house! When it comes to rolling, the main problem you'll have is getting the pasta thin enough to work with. It's quite difficult to get a big lump of dough rolled out in one piece, and you need a very long rolling pin to do the job properly. The way around this is to roll lots of small pieces of pasta rather than a few big ones. You'll be rolling your pasta into a more circular shape than the long rectangular shapes you'll get from a machine, but use your head and you'll be all right!

If using a machine to roll your pasta, make sure it's clamped firmly to a clean work surface before you start (use the longest available work surface you have). If your surface is cluttered with bits of paper, the kettle, the bread bin, the kids' homework and stuff like that, shift all this out of the way for the time being. It won't take a minute, and starting with a clear space to work in will make things much easier, I promise.

Dust your work surface with some Tipo ‘00’ flour, take a lump of pasta dough the size of a large orange and press it out flat with your fingertips. Set the pasta machine at its widest setting - and roll the lump of pasta dough through it. Lightly dust the pasta with flour if it sticks at all. Click the machine down a setting and roll the pasta dough through again. Fold the pasta in half, click the pasta machine back up to the widest setting and roll the dough through again. Repeat this process five or six times. It might seem like you're getting nowhere, but in fact you're working the dough, and once you've folded it and fed it through the rollers a few times, you'll feel the difference. It'll be smooth as silk and this means you're making wicked pasta!

Now it's time to roll the dough out properly, working it through all the settings on the machine, from the widest down to around the narrowest. Lightly dust both sides of the pasta with a little flour every time you run it through. When you've got down to the narrowest setting, to give yourself a tidy sheet of pasta, fold the pasta in half lengthways, then in half again, then in half again once more until you've got a square-ish piece of dough. Turn it 90 degrees and feed it through the machine at the widest setting. As you roll it down through the settings for the last time, you should end up with a lovely rectangular silky sheet of dough with straight sides - just like a real pro! If your dough is a little cracked at the edges, fold it in half just once, click the machine back two settings and feed it through again. That should sort things out. Whether you're rolling by hand or by machine you'll need to know when to stop. If you're making pasta like tagliatelle, lasagne or stracchi you'll need to roll the pasta down to between the thickness of a beer mat and a playing card; if you're making a stuffed pasta like ravioli or tortellini, you'll need to roll it down slightly thinner or to the point where you can clearly see your hand or lines of newsprint through it.

Once you've rolled your pasta the way you want it, you need to shape or cut it straight away. Pasta dries much quicker than you think, so whatever recipe you're doing, don't leave it more than a minute or two before cutting or shaping it. You can lay over a damp clean tea towel which will stop it from drying.