Mr Olive and I go out on a date every couple of weeks and our favourite type of date consists of heading into Tel Aviv to eat at one of the city’s amazing restaurants. Sitting and chatting in a cool venue over a selection of delicious and surprising dishes and a yummy cocktail is basically our idea of the best quality time ever. Mr Olive’s mother often rolls her eyes at us: “There are so many things you could do on a date!” she says. “Go and see a film or a concert for a change!” She has a point but, in the end, as a couple with young kids and real face-to-face time at a premium, we’d much rather be interacting with each other than looking at something else or staring at a screen (we do quite enough screen-staring as it is!).
A month ago we went for dinner at one of our favourite restaurants: Dalida, in south Tel Aviv. Named after the Egyptian-Italian singer popular throughout the 60s and 70s, the restaurant describes itself as a European khmara, where ‘khmara’ is the Arabic word for a drinking den – a cave of pleasure where people gather late into the night to eat, get drunk and talk nonsense. While a little scuzzy, the khmara is also joyful and fun. It’s a distinctly Levantine concept. A Middle Eastern stereotype. Presumably, the ‘European’ part of Dalida’s claim alludes both to the food and to the atmosphere of urbanity and self-awareness that lies alongside that down-to-earth khmara vibe. In practice, Dalida is not a dive, but a cozy bar-restaurant, very hip and vintagey, which serves an exciting fusion of European and Middle-Eastern cuisines.
One of the dishes we ate was described on the menu thus: ‘Tortellini. Inside: Ricotta, chard, cranberries, pistachios. Outside: Fresh shiitaki, scorched cherry tomatoes, sage-lemongrass butter, vegetables, parmesan.’ Um, what? Cranberries and pistachios stuffed inside tortellini? Shiitaki with parmesan? Sage-lemongrass butter? Oh. My. God.
The dish was one of the most moreishly umami concoctions I have eaten in a long time. That hint of sweet and salty crunch inside the pasta, mixed with the powerful (and weirdly complimentary) flavours of shiitaki and parmesan. And the tomato juices mingling with the fragrant notes of lemongrass and sage. It was so good. It was so good that I had to recreate it. Even if that meant dusting off the unopened box in which my pasta machine had been sitting for the last four years. That good.
So I made tortellini from scratch for the first time in my life (that time back when I was in my 20s and didn’t have a pasta machine so I used a rolling pin and each tortellini emerged resembling a baseball mitt? We don’t mention that time). And it was soooo worth it. I may have stuck my face into the bowl and licked it clean at the end. Ok, I definitely did.
If you are experienced at making fresh pasta, this will be easy peasy for you. I am not so I can’t deny that it took me a while. However, the only actual challenging part was getting the hang of the pasta machine so, if you’re also a newbie pasta maker (or even if you just haven’t done it in a while) I highly recommend that you check out our previous post, How to Use a Pasta Machine: 10 Top Tips. I learned a lot while using my machine for the first time and next time it will be much quicker and easier! And I think the next time is going to be very soon…
Chard, Pistachio and Cranberry Tortellini with Shiitake and Lemongrass-Sage Butter
MAKES APPROX 36 TORTELLINI / SERVES 4
PREPARATION AND COOKING (INCLUDING DOUGH RESTING TIME): APPROX 2 HOURS
Inspired by the Tortellini served at Dalida Bar-Restaurant, Tel Aviv.
Pasta dough recipe based on the one in Jamie Oliver’s The Naked Chef. I used a food processor to make the dough, but you could also use a stand mixer, or do it by hand in a big bowl.
250g / 2 cups strong pasta flour (Tipo ’00’)
2-3 large free-range eggs
1/2 tsp turmeric
Lots of semolina flour for dusting
100g / 3.5 oz swiss chard, roughly chopped
100g / 3.5 oz roasted, salted pistachios, shelled
50g / 1.75 oz dried cranberries
200g / 7 oz ricotta
3 tbsp lemon juice
Salt and pepper to taste
20g / 0.75 oz dried shiitake mushrooms
Cooking oil spray (I used a coconut oil based one)
400g / 14 oz cherry tomatoes
50g / 1.75 oz unsalted butter
White part of a stalk of fresh lemongrass (usually the bottom third)
20 sage leaves
Juice of half a lemon
Salt and pepper to taste
25g / 0.9 oz grated parmesan
- First make the pasta dough. Put all the dough ingredients, except the semolina flour, in the food processor and turn it on. At first, as the dough starts to come together, it will look similar to breadcrumbs, which will then start to stick together to form a larger ball of dough. When this happens, take it out of the processor and see how it feels. Remember that eggs can differ in size and different flours can have different absorbencies, so squeeze and knead the dough a little bit and, if it feels too wet and gloopy, return it to the processor with some more flour. If it feels too dry and not stretchy enough, return it to the processor and add another egg. The final consistency should be smooth, silky and elastic, similar to bread dough.
- When you’re happy with the texture of the dough, remove it from the processor (it should leave the bowl clean) and knead it for 2-5 minutes until it’s soft and stretchy. I usually put on some music and knead for about the length of an average pop song. This time my musical accompaniment was this 😉 Wrap the dough in plastic and put in the fridge to rest for 1 hour.
- While the dough is resting, clean the bowl of your food processor and put the shiitake mushrooms to soak in a mug of lukewarm water.
- Make the tortellini filling. Put the chard, pistachios and cranberries in the food processor and pulse until roughly chopped and combined.
- Add the ricotta, lemon juice and some salt and pepper and whiz until the mixture is a similar colour and texture to guacamole. Taste to check seasoning and add more salt and pepper if needed.
- Heat a large frying pan over a high heat and spray with cooking oil. When the pan is very hot add the cherry tomatoes and leave them to sear for 5 minutes, shaking the pan occasionally to make sure they don’t stick. After 5 minutes they should have some brown sear marks on them. Remove them from the pan and set aside.
- Sit down, have a cuppa and, if you haven’t already, read this post: How to Use a Pasta Machine: 10 Top Tips. Clamp your pasta machine to your work surface.
- When the dough has rested for an hour, take it out of the fridge and divide it into 2 balls. Re-wrap one ball in plastic while you work with the other one.
- Dust your work surface with semolina flour and then flatten the ball of dough with your hand. Run it through the pasta machine on the lowest (widest) setting until it becomes a thick sheet. Dust both sides generously with semolina flour.
- Fold the two short ends of the pasta sheet into the middle and run through the rollers at the thickest setting 2 or 3 more times, folding the ends into the middle each time – this creates a more rectangular sheet of pasta which is also the full width of your pasta machine. Dust with flour each time!
- Continue, running the dough through each of the width settings until the pasta sheet is 1-1.5mm thick. On my machine (the Marcato Atlas 150) this was setting 6.
- Repeat the process for the 2nd ball of dough.
- Making sure your work surface is well-dusted with flour, cut your pasta sheets into 8 x 8 cm (3 x 3 inch) squares.
- Taking one square at a time, place a teaspoon of tortellini filling in the centre of each square. With a clean pastry brush and some water, brush evenly around the edges of the square. Make sure you use enough water so the tortellini will stick together properly.
- Fold the pasta square over the filling diagonally (see pic above) and press the edges together firmly. To get rid of any trapped air you can hold the triangle in the palm of your hand and squeeze it gently. Fold in the two flaps and press them together to join. You’ve just made tortellini! Repeat for all the remaining pasta.
- Cook the tortellini for 3-4 minutes in boiling, well-salted water, then drain. While it’s cooking, drain the mushrooms and finely chop. Save a few sage leaves for a garnish, and finely chop the rest, along with the lemongrass.
- Using the same large frying pan you used for the tomatoes, melt the butter on a low heat, then add the mushrooms, lemongrass, sage, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Fry for a couple of minutes.
- Add the drained tortellini to the pan and toss gently. Add the seared cherry tomatoes and squash them slightly with the back of a spoon so that some of the juice runs out to mingle with the butter.
- Sprinkle over the grated parmesan, toss again and check seasoning. Garnish with the reserved sage leaves and serve with extra parmesan. Lick the bowl clean with abandon. 🙂