Rotolo di pasta ripieno may be one of Italy's less obvious pasta dishes, but it can be a real show-stopper. Hailing from the region of Emilia-Romagna, at the top of the Italian boot, the dish consists of a sheet of pasta covered with filling, rolled up to form a roulade, then poached and served in slices. It's custom for the pasta to be filled with ricotta and spinach (or silverbeet) and served with a ragù or Bolognese sauce. Here, we've added a bit of chicory to the mix for some bitterness and served it with a brown butter infused with robust herbs.
To the uninitiated, the rotolo may seem tricky, but it's really quite simple if you have a little time to prepare. To begin with, the pasta needs to be strong; opt for a whole-egg pasta, as the protein in the egg will help bind it during cooking. The type of flour you use is also important. Tipo "00" or double-zero flour is very fine, and its higher gluten content creates a strong structure that is less likely to break down during cooking. Kneading also increases the strength of the pasta. Rest the dough after kneading to relax it - this prevents shrinkage during rolling and cooking. Once your dough is smooth and rested, feed and roll it a few times through a pasta machine - this is called laminating and helps give the pasta a lovely silken texture. Don't roll out your sheets quite as thin as other pastas because it needs to hold its shape.
Once you've rolled out your pasta sheets, lay them flat on a work surface. It's a good idea to lightly flour the surface first to make sure the pasta doesn't stick. Overlap the sheets slightly to create one large sheet to work with, then scatter over your filling.
While we've opted for a classic chicory, spinach and ricotta filling, you can add anything you like. Pumpkin and ricotta is a nice variation, or you could try potato and salami, or even mushroom, pancetta and parmesan - the choices are endless. Just make sure the mixture isn't too wet or the pasta will become soggy. After the filling is added, roll it all up to form a log. Wrap it firmly in a tea towel and tie it at intervals with string to keep the pasta in shape. Use a fine-weave tea towel that won't leave fibres on your pasta.
The cooking is the simplest part. A fish kettle works best, as it will allow the pasta to retain its shape while cooking. The next best option is a very wide pan, although you might need to bend the rotolo slightly to fit it in. Otherwise, simply cut your rotolo in half and make two smaller pieces to fit into the biggest pan you have. Keep the water simmering, but not boiling, during cooking. Once the rotolo is cooked, remove it from the water and carefully unwrap it straight onto a board, ready for slicing. If you're entertaining, cook the rotolo the day before, then cool, slice it into portions and refrigerate overnight. To reheat, place the slices onto a plate lined with baking paper and steam them in a steamer over simmering water. Top with a deliciously nutty herb butter and you'll have a dish that your guests will definitely be rolling up for.