Agnolotti pasta with potato, Parmigiano Reggiano and Fragno black truffle

Agnolotti pasta with potato, Parmigiano Reggiano and Fragno black truffle


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One of the most remarkable, most memorable meals I had during my time in northern Italy was agnolotti, stuffed pasta parcels typical in the Piedmont region, an area to the west of where I was staying in Calestano, in Emilia-Romagna. Pasta stuffed with potato – double carbohydrate heaven – was a popular choice in the locality, sometimes simply seasoned with plenty of Parmigiano Reggiano, sometimes with added truffle-y excitement as well. And so it was to become a popular choice with me as well. Handmade pasta, truffle and cheese infused stuffing, a breathtakingly rich cream sauce with lashings of added butter and fresh, local black truffle. Complete and utter bliss . . . Adriana, a native of the area with many decades of culinary experience, taught me what she knew about these little parcels of joy.

The first step in executing this wonderful dish is making your preparato – an essential ingredient in the local cuisine. Made with varying proportions of finely grated Parmigiano Reggiano and black truffle, this mixture is stored in the freezer, extending the truffle season right through the year. Truffle is a notoriously difficult ingredient to store, its distinctive aroma lost as soon as any processing is applied to it. But the fats in Parmigiano Reggiano cling to the truffle's volatile aroma compounds, helping capture that ephemeral, highly prized flavour. This mixture perfumes the potato filling and the luscious cream sauce, as well as being liberally sprinkled on top, bringing the flavour of last year's truffles to my grateful lips.

Preparato - photo by Nancy Harbord
 Preparato for the pasta filling
Preparato for the pasta filling

The pasta should be made with particular eggs – with the deepest yellow yolks you can find. Italians like their fresh pasta to look richly yellow, and for this the yolks are key. Kneading the dough is also important – Adriana told me 'your hips should move from side to side as you press down with one hand, then the other, otherwise you're 'not doing the right dance!'

For me, making a dish such as handmade pasta truly represents what I love about cooking. You can buy a packet of processed tortellini for less than a pound, but the calm, rhythmic, sociable labour of making agnolotti with loved ones, for loved ones, trades that convenience for craft, well-being and strong social bonds – a worthy exchange.

Adriana kneading the pasta dough
Adriana kneading the pasta dough
Adriana and Mina making agnolotti
Adriana and Mina making agnolotti

All images courtesy of John Holdship unless otherwise credited

  • Fresh pasta

  • 650g of strong white bread flour
  • 350g of fine semolina
  • 8 eggs
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • water
  • 1 pinch of salt
  • Preparato

  • 100g of black truffle, (preferably Frango truffle), grated
  • 100g of Parmesan, finely grated
  • Pasta filling

  • 1kg floury potatoes
  • 200g of Parmesan, finely grated
  • 2 eggs
  • 20g of butter
  • 1 pinch of fine sea salt
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • Cream and truffle sauce

  • 150g of butter
  • 500ml of single cream
  • 1 tbsp of cream cheese, heaped
  • 1/2 tsp potato starch
  • 100ml of whole milk
  • 50g of Parmesan
  • fine sea salt
To begin make the preparato. Finely grate the Parmigiano Reggiano and add to a small bowl. Grate the black truffle into the cheese and stir to combine. Transfer to an airtight jar and store in the freezer until needed
Clean the potatoes and add to a medium saucepan. Cover them with water (no need for salt), bring to the boil and cook until tender
When cool enough to handle, peel the potatoes and press through a potato ricer into a large bowl
When cool, add the Parmigiano Reggiano, eggs, butter and 60g of the preparato and mix well.
Adjust the seasoning with fine sea salt or more Parmigiano Reggiano. Leave to rest, preferably overnight, to allow the flavours of the truffle and cheese to permeate the other ingredients
Tip the flour onto the board or work surface and sprinkle over the semolina. It's best to use a large, wide wooden board for making fresh pasta, but if you don't have this use a large work surface instead
Make a well in the flour, add a little drizzle of olive oil and crack in the eggs. Add a big pinch of salt. Starting from the middle, use your hand to blend the eggs with the flour, pulling in a little flour at a time as you mix
When all the eggs are incorporated into the flour, start kneading by hand
When ready, the dough should be quite stiff and should spring back when pressed. It should be moist, but not sticky – this will take at least 10 minutes of hand-kneading. Press the dough into a smooth, round ball and massage a little olive oil into the surface to stop it drying out as you work
Set up your pasta machine. Slice a piece of pasta from the ball (like you are cutting bread) and run through the pasta machine, pulling the sheet gently as it goes through the machine. Start with the highest thickness, gradually working your way to a thinner setting. The final number will depend on your pasta machine, but the pasta should be about 1mm thick
Work one sheet at a time, to prevent the dough drying out. Lay the pasta sheet on a clean work surface, dusted with semolina. Using a crimped pasta cutter, cut the sheet into squares
Add small blobs of filling to the centre of each square. Fold one corner over to meet the other (making a rough triangle), pressing around the filling with your fingers to make sure no air is trapped
Using the pasta cutter, trim the cut edges of each triangle to neaten. Hold one triangle with the middle point facing down. Use your two middle fingers to hold the filling, while your thumbs and forefingers gently stretch the other two points of the triangle round to meet each other
Fold each stretched corner over the other and seal together. You may want to get a friend to help!
Lay the finished shapes on a surface that has been lightly dusted with semolina. Cover to keep from drying out. The best surface to store fresh pasta shapes such as this is wood. Although it still needs to be dusted with semolina, it typically has the best temperature and it sticks less than other surfaces
For the cream and truffle sauce, melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the cream and a pinch of salt, stirring to combine. Add the cream cheese and the vegetable stock granules, stirring again
In a small bowl, dissolve the potato starch in the milk. When the sauce has come to a boil, add the starchy milk, stir through and turn off the heat. Mix in 140g of the preparato and Parmigiano Reggiano cheese and seasoning to taste, adjusting as necessary
To cook the pasta, bring a large pan of salted water or stock to the boil. Add the pasta shapes and cook for around 5-6 minutes, until the pasta is cooked but still retains some bite – the length of time will depend on the thickness of your pasta
To serve, scoop the pasta shapes out of the water with a slotted spoon or small strainer (so some of the starchy water still clings to the pasta) and add to a serving dish. Dress with the cream sauce and sprinkle over plenty of Parmigiano Reggiano and shavings of fresh Fragno black truffle
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