I wanted to share a recipe I made for a dinner party last night. This recipe comes from Marcella Hazan's "Marcella's Italian Kitchen." Essentially they are pasta "roses" (rolled lasagne noodles) and inside the rolled up noodles is fontina cheese and ham. There is alight cream sauce with tomato paste mixed in. I served these pasta roses as part of a multi course Italian meal. Our guests absolutely loved the roses and it makes for an impressive presentation in addition to tasting really good. (The paraphrased recipe is below for those of you who want to try it.)
We started with crostini spread with a mixture of creamy gorgonzola cheese, chopped pine nuts, butter and parsley, with some whole pine nuts folded in. I baked these at 400 until the bread was crispy and the cheese mixture bubbly. The second course was a seafood salad (calamari, shrimp and mussels) tossed with watermelon radishes and parsley in a dressing with lemon juice, olive oil a smashed garlic clove (which I removed before serving)and a pinch of red chile flakes and served over butter lettuce leaves. The next course was the pasta roses and some asparagus. We live in SF so are getting lovely asparagus in our farmer's market already, so I just blanched the asparagus, then softened some shallots in butter in a saute pan, added fresh orange juice and reduced it and poured it over the asparagus and grated some orange zest over the top. Dessert was chocolate espresso with homemade raspberry sauce.
Here is the recipe for the pasta roses:
Roselline di Pasta alla Romagnola (Pasta Roses with Ham and Fontina)Serves 6
about 1 pound fresh pasta sheets, cut about 4" wide and 10" long
4 T unsalted butter
1 cup heavy cream
1 T tomato paste
1/8 tsp grated nutmeg
1 1/2 lbs boiled, unsmoked ham, sliced very thin* (see note below about ham)
1 pound fontina, shredded ** (see note below about fontina)
about 3 T grated parmigiano-reggiano
Cook the pasta strips 2 or 3 at a time in boiling salted water for a few seconds, then remove from the water with a spider and shock in ice water. Rinse each pasta strip well in cold water and rub together to remove as much starch as possibleas Marcella says, "as if you are doing a fine laundry." Lay the strips out on the counter on a towel and repeat with the remaining strips.
Preheat the oven to 450. Put butter and cream in a small saucepan and heat to medium and reduce the cream a bit, about 5 minutes. Add the tomato paste and the nutmeg and whisk lightly to dissolve the tomato paste, continuing to cook to thicken the sauce to about buttermilk consistency, about another 5 minutes. Spread a thin layer of the sauce into the bottom of a 9x13 pan.
On each pasta strip, place a single layer of sliced ham and then cover with a layer of cheese. My ham slices were exactly 4" wide so no trimming was necessary, but the ham should fit the slice without overlapping it on the sides. Roll up the pasta like a jelly roll and place seam-side down on the towel while you do the other rolls. After you have done all the rolls, cut them in half so they are about 2" thick. Then with a paring knife on one side of each ring, make an "X" about 1/2" deep. This will help the roses "bloom." (Mine didn't bloom as much as I wanted, but they still looked very pretty.)
Put the roses in the baking dish with the cross cuts face up and distribute the remaining sauce over them with a pastry brush. Press down a bit on the roses to help them open slightly. Sprinkle with the parmigiano-reggiano and bake for about 15 minutes, until a light crust forms on top. Let them sit for about 5 minutes before serving. (Everything but the baking can be done in advance, just make sure that if you make it ahead and refrigerate it that it's at room temperature before you put it in the oven.)
* The hamI used an Italian boiled unsmoked ham from my neighborhood Italian deli. The quality of the ham is important in this dish so use something really good.
** The fontinaI used imported fontina from my neighborhood Italian deli. The recipe called for it to be thinly sliced, but fontina, even when frozen for a bit, is tough to thinly slice and I think shredding it on the grater with the big holes would work just fine.