Roselline di Pasta alla Romagnola

Pasta Roses with Ham and Fontina

If I Had nine lifetimes in which to explore traditions of Italian cooking, I could use them up and still have dishes left to discover. The pasta “roses” in the recipe below are from my own native Romagna, yet the first time I came across them was only recently, in conversation. Margherita Simili, who has assisted me in Bologna for years, was talking about possible dishes to make for a new pasta shop she had been thinking of opening. She mentioned this and that, all familiar, and then she brought up roselline. “What is roselline?” I asked. “Don’t tell me you’ve never had them,” said Margherita. But I did tell her; not only had I never had them but I had never even heard of them. It turned out that Margherita herself had had them only once, many years earlier, and had retained but a sketchy memory of the dish. After questioning all the old women I could talk to in my home territory, more than a score, I found one who remembered roselline and could tell me how they were made.

One begins as though one were making lasagne, with rectangles of pasta that, at first, are parboiled. The rectangles are layered with sliced ham and cheese, rolled up, placed in a baking dish, and covered with a pink butter and cream sauce. In the baking, each pasta roll spreads open slightly to resemble, poetic license permitting, a rose.

It is a strikingly attractive dish that I have been serving lately when people come to dinner for the first time. To suit my taste, I have lightened the original version, which had called for mortadella in addition to ham. Even so I have problems in America, where I must struggle to get ham sliced as thin as I would like for this dish. Do make the effort required to procure the thinnest possible slices so that you can obtain a finer, less assertive taste of ham.

Read more

Ingredients

  • Pasta dough made with 1 large egg and about ¾ cup flour, as described
  • Salt
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • teaspoon grated nutmeg
  • An oven-to-table baking dish, 16 by 9 inches or its equivalent
  • pounds boiled, unsmoked ham, cut into very thin slices
  • 1 pound fontina, preferably genuine Italian fontina, cut into very thin slices
  • A pastry brush
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano (Parmesan)

Method

  1. Knead the pasta dough and thin it in a pasta machine, as described. Thin it step by step, stopping at the next to last setting on the machine.
  2. Trim the pasta strips into straight-sided rectangles. (The trimmings can be cut into lozenge-shaped maltagliati, described, dried, and saved to use on another occasion in soup.) Cut the rectangles into 10-inch lengths.
  3. Bring a pot of water to a boil, add salt, and, as the water returns to a boil, drop in the pasta strips 2 or 3 at a time. Cook very briefly, for just seconds, retrieve the pasta with a perforated scoop or spatula, plunge it in a bowl of cold water, then rinse each strip under cold running water, wringing it delicately as though it were fine cloth. Gently squeeze as much moisture as possible out of each strip with your hands, then spread it flat to dry on a counter covered with clean cloth towels. Repeat the operation until all the pasta is done.
  4. Put the butter and cream in a Small sauté pan and turn on the heat to medium. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the cream becomes slightly reduced. Add the tomato paste, the nutmeg, and cook while stirring until the tomato paste has completely dissolved and the sauce is not much denser than buttermilk.
  5. Spread just enough of the sauce into the baking dish to coat the bottom with a thin film, reserving the rest for later.
  6. Turn on the oven to 450°.
  7. On each strip of pasta place a single layer of sliced ham without overlapping and trimming the ham to fit where necessary. Cover the ham with a layer of sliced cheese. Roll up the pasta jelly-roll fashion. With a sharp knife slice the rolled-up strip into rings about ¾ to 1 inch wide. On one side of each ring make 4 equidistant cuts, each about ½ inch deep, forming a cross pattern.
  8. Place the rings in the baking dish, the side with the cross cuts facing up. Do not crowd them. Top with the remaining sauce, distributing it with the pastry brush and pressing on the tops of the rings to spread them slightly more open. Sprinkle with the grated Parmesan. Place the dish in the uppermost level of the preheated oven. Bake for about 15 minutes, until a very light crust forms on top. Allow to settle for a few minutes before serving.

Loading
Loading
Loading