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.
© 1986 Marcella Hazan estate. All rights reserved.