Italian cuisine: Casoncelli
- WTI Magazine #134 Dec 17, 2020
Casoncelli, also known as casonsei in the local dialect, is a typical first course of Lombardy, in particular in the cities of Bergamo and Brescia. Casoncelli is a kind of stuffed fresh pasta, shaped like a wrapped candy. The filling varies depending on where you are: in Brescia, it’s traditionally made of leftover beef and fresh salami (pasta di salame), breadcrumbs and grated Parmesan cheese, while in Bergamo it’s enriched with sweet ingredients such as amaretti cookies and raisins – this is the version I make.
This dish reminds of my childhood when I made them with my grandmother, during the Christmas holidays. It was always a lot of fun; the parts I liked the most were making the filling and folding the shapes. Casoncelli are a hearty dish, often seasoned with butter, sage and crispy bacon. Although this traditional sauce is absolutely delicious, to limit the fat and calories I prefer serve them without bacon.
Total preparation time: 1 ½ hours Cooking time: 10 minutes Servings: 8-10
125 g (4.5 oz) bread crumbs
1 large egg
85 g (3 oz) Parmesan cheese, grated
200 g (7 oz) pasta di salame (fresh Italian sausage), finely chopped
155 g (5.5 oz) beef, minced
4-6 amaretti cookies, finely crushed
14 g (½ oz) raisins, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 tablespoon parsley, finely chopped
1 splash dry white wine
½ tablespoon butter
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
5 medium eggs
500 g (18 oz) Italian grade 00 flour or all-purpose flour
7-8 tablespoons butter
6-7 Fresh sage leaves
7-8 tablespoons Parmesan cheese, grated
1. Prepare the filling. In a nonstick pan melt ½ tablespoon butter, add the salame and meat. Cook on medium-high heat for a few minutes until cooked. Add a splash of wine and let evaporate. Add the garlic and parsley. Mix well and turn off the heat and set aside until cold. In a bowl combine bread crumbs, Parmesan, amaretti and raisins.
Add the meat, egg, a pinch of salt and pepper. Mix well. The dough should be pretty moist. Place in a glass container with a lid and let it rest in the fridge
2. Prepare the pasta dough. Place the flour in a volcano-shaped pile on a work surface (wood is the traditional material) making sure that the crater provides a large enough well in the center to hold the eggs. Wash the eggs under running water, pat dry and crack into the well. Beat the eggs well with a fork, then gradually blend the flour into the eggs, starting from the inner wall of the well and continuing until all the flour and the eggs are completely combined. You may have to add additional flour until the dough is no longer sticky (the amount will depend on the absorption characteristics of the flour and on the temperature of the room). Knead the dough for about 15 minutes to form a smooth and elastic ball. This procedure helps develop the gluten in the flour, so your pasta will be springy and al dente when it is cooked. Place the dough in a clean cotton dish towel or plastic wrap to rest for about 20 minutes at room temperature. Divide your pasta into 4 equal parts and roll out one part at a time (keeping the rest in the dish towel until ready to work)
- ROLLING OUT BY HAND. To roll out your pasta you need a wooden pin, or mattarello. Dust each piece lightly with flour and roll out to the desired thickness. Work quickly because the pasta dries much quicker than you might think. Cut the pasta into rectangular sheets. It will be easier to make the circles
- ROLLING OUT BY MACHINE. A hand-cranked pasta machine is the best to use. Kids especially love this part. Start out using the widest setting. Run the pasta through 6-7 times, until the dough is smooth. If the sheet tears dust it with flour. Continue to run each sheet through the machine, reducing the thickness a notch at a time, until you reach the desired thickness, about notch 6 out of 10. At this point run for 2-3 times. Then, follow the same procedure as for rolling out by hand
3. Make the casoncelli. Place the pasta sheets on a wooden surface lightly dusted with flour. Using a round 7–8 cm (about 3 inch) ravioli cutter, cut out as many circles of pasta as you can get from each piece.
Place a ½ teaspoon of the filling at the center of each circle, then gently fold it over to form a half moon. Press the edges tightly to seal completely and, holding in the center, turn over so the curved edge is facing down. Press down lightly against the worktop to form a squarish “candy” with two “wings”, ensuring that there is no trapped air. Pinch the tips again if necessary to close completely. Place on cotton towel lightly dusted with flour
4. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil
5. Meanwhile, in a large pan over a medium-low heat, melt the butter for the sauce. Add the sage and saute for a few minutes. Be careful not to burn the butter
6. Cook the casoncelli in the boiling water for about 10 minutes. Drain with a slotted spoon and transfer to the pan with the butter and sage sauce. Toss gently for a few seconds, until evenly dressed. Serve immediately with a dusting of grated Parmesan cheese.
Note: when you make casoncelli you have to work fast, because the pasta dough dries quickly. It is fun to work in a team, where everyone has a different task. The results will be better and it is much less tiring!