Have you heard of the Pasta Grannies? My friend Vicky Bennison travels all over Italy filming mainly older ladies (“grannies”) making pasta, usually a type that is typical of their region or town. The Pasta Grannies Youtube channel is a wealth of information and has lovely clips of the sweetest ladies making pasta.
I first heard about culurgiones via Pasta Grannies and fell in love with the delicate folding on the top of what is essentially a raviolo, or a parcel of pasta with a filling. Culuriones are from the island of Sardinia off the western coast of the Italian peninsula; an island I have long-yearned to visit for its food since seeing it through the eyes of Yotam Ottolenghi in his Mediterranean cooking TV series. Sardinians are very long-lived, with many reaching their 90s and even 100s. Although genetics play a role, diet, exercise and socialisation are also important. I read that living off the land (you eat what you grow) in isolated towns like Seulo and Esterlizi, half a glass of red wine a day (sounds good to me!) and maintaining close relationships/socialisation influences their extraordinary longevity. And maybe (hopefully) a small part of this has to do with making culurgiones.
This is the only pasta that I have made that uses water and olive oil as the liquid ingredients. It is a surprisingly supple dough that is able to be rolled very thinly and then folded and pinched into the very pretty culurgiones. A walnut-shaped ball of filling made with potato mash, grated pecorino cheese, fresh mint leaves and lemon zest (the latter is my addition, they usually have garlic added) is placed in the centre of the circle of pasta and then carefully folded and pinched to make the parcel. It is a little bit fiddly but rewarding when you get it right; the pasta grannies video will help you work out how to get the shape right.
To make the culurgiones, I rolled out all the pasta, cut the circles with a cookie cutter and then stacked them one on top of each other, dusting lightly with superfine semolina so they would not stick to each other. I covered the pile of dough circles with a clean cloth napkin while I made individual parcels. It is important that you do not let the circles dry out as you will not be able to pinch the dough together to form a seal around the filling as you do not use water/egg to hold the pasta together (as you do with ravioli).
Though I admit that I still need a lot of practice to make the folds in mine look like an ear of wheat, I was still happy with my first attempt. Maybe you know of a Sardinian nonna who can give me some tips?!
culurgiones with broccolini and anchovies
60g semola rimacinata (superfine semolina)
65g 00 soft wheat flour
scarse 1/4 tsp extra virgin olive oil
Extra superfine semolina for dusting
25g Pecorino Sardo, grated
15ml extra virgin olive oil
1/2 lemon, zest only
1 tsp fresh mint leaves, finely chopped
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
8 anchovy fillets
8 stalks broccolini
Pecorino Sardo, grated, and cracked black pepper to serve
Start by making the filling: place the potatoes in a saucepan of cold water. Bring to the boil and cook about 30 minutes until fork-tender. Allow to cool slightly then peel and mash or rice them (like you would for gnocchi). You will need 260g of cooked potato. Allow to cool completely and then add the grated pecorino, lemon zest, mint leaves, olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. Form a ball with the mixture, cover, and place in the fridge for a few hours (you could even make this the day before).
To make the pasta, whisk the two flours then tip onto your work surface. Make a well in the centre then pour in most of the water and the oil. Work the water into the flour using the tines of a fork, then use your hands, adding a bit more water if needed to bring it together into a ball of dough. Knead for a few minutes, then wrap in cling film and allow to rest for at least 30 minutes.
Roll out using your pasta machine until the second or third last setting. I have a Marcato Atlas machine and I took mine to size 7. Make circles of pasta using a 9cm cookie cutter. Make sure you keep the pasta you are not using covered with a clean cloth napkin to prevent it from drying out.
Place a walnut sized amount of filling (mine was 15g) onto the centre of each circle and fold and pinch to make the culurgiones shape. The Pasta Grannies video will help you do this. Cover the prepared culurgiones with a clean tea towel to prevent them from drying out.
To make the sauce, trim the tip of the broccolini stems and cut into pieces about the same length as the culurgiones. Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil and drop in the stems. Allow them to cook for a few minutes before adding the top of the broccolini. Cook for a few more minutes until cooked through but still firm. As soon as you have removed the broccolini from the water bring back to the boil and drop in the culurgiones. These will take about 4-5 minutes to cook so while they are cooking, make the sauce. Do not overcrowd the pan with the pasta; use two pans or cook in batches if needed.
Place the garlic, finely chopped anchovies and olive oil in a large frypan on medium heat and cook until fragrant. Drop in the previously cooked broccoli and toss through. Add a bit of pasta cooking water and simmer on low heat until the pasta is ready. After 4-5 minutes carefully remove the pasta from the water with a slotted spoon and place in the pan with the sauce. Toss through and serve, scattering extra cracked brown pepper and pecorino cheese