This is the last post for this year, written during those days in a bubble I love so much, those days when Christmas has already passed, when you still have the taste of icing sugar and panforte spices on your lips. If you turn around, Christmas is already hidden, wrapped in a foggy curtain. The celebrations of New Year’s Eve are yet to come: you hear noise from far away, like from behind a closed door, the cheerful toasts and the popping corks of sparkling wine, you imagine sequins and lentils, but you still can not grasp it.
These are suspended days, and for this reason they are the most creative.
These days are made for big decisions, bravery and laziness. I mercifully postpone the evaluation of what I’ve achieved to the fist days of January.
In these days I respectfully leaf through my new agenda and I jot down the first deadlines with my best calligraphy. I write down also those resolutions born while looking at the lights of the Christmas tree dancing in the dark. I still write on the old agenda, though, with love and care, to keep track of what has gone.
I’m saying it goodbye, as if it were an adventure companion who is about to retire: in those pages I planned projects that we managed to complete with a good dose of courage and stubbornness, projects that we reluctantly postponed to the new year, projects that we filed with nostalgia, a DIY wedding and a honeymoon on the roads of Scotland and Ireland.
In these days I nibble on too much Christmas cake and munch on bitter raw artichokes in a pinzimonio, simply dipping them in good extra virgin olive oil and salt. I simmer pots of chicken broth and cannellini beans, but I also cook fast fried eggs. I devote hours to bake a fragrant wholewheat bread loaf for breakfast, but I also make quick salads with crunchy radicchio, a can of tuna and what is left of a jar of giardiniera.
These days are meant to suspend the judgment, especially on ourselves and to read P.D. James and get lost in her misty English countryside, to walk out for a morning stroll into an equally fascinating and muddy Tuscan countryside. These are days to have breakfast all together, meeting in my parents’ kitchen in my pyjamas for a slice of brioche bread or panettone, a cappuccino artfully poured by my dad, and a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice.
Every moment is good to drink a hot winter tea while watching a movie on the sofa, to play a board game nibbling on chocolate and nuts, or to make fresh pasta from scratch.
Cocoa cappellacci with butternut squash and walnuts for New Year’s Eve
Recipe developed for Arborea
Fresh pasta has the taste of holidays: lasagne for Christmas, tagliatelle with wild boar sauce for the Christmas Eve’s dinner, as many pici as a whole wooden board can hold for a summer birthday party in the garden.
For New Year’s Eve, though, I craved for a different kind of fresh pasta, something that would help me to greet properly this 2018 so full of events and memories, a year that I will hold in my heart for a lifetime.
I started with the stuffing: a butternut squash roasted in the oven until it becomes so soft that you can scoop out the thick and tasty pulp with a spoon. Walnuts gently toasted in the pan to enhance their nutty flavour, as nuts immediately remind me of parties and celebrations, endless evenings playing with bingo and board games and chats that taste like memories. To bring everything together, a few tablespoons of grated Gran Campidano di Arborea, which makes the filling tastier, giving it a savoury kick.
The fresh pasta is made with the addition of unsweetened cocoa powder, so simple to prepare yet so unusual: it has only a vague hint of cocoa, do not expect a chocolate fresh pasta, but it marries beautifully the sweet butternut squash filling, balancing it. The shape I chose is that of cappellacci, a stuffed pasta which resembles old- fashioned hats.
These cappellacci can be easily prepared in advance: you can make them in the morning if you want to serve them for dinner, for example, leaving them in a tray sprinkled with semolina flour in a cool room. You can even make them a few days in advance: in this case, just freeze them on a tray sprinkled with semolina flour, and, once frozen, collect them in a bag suitable for the freezer.
When it comes the time to cook them, throw them frozen directly into the pot, and consider just a couple more minutes to cook them.
The cappellacci are a stuffed fresh pasta which resembles old- fashioned hats. The fresh pasta is made with the addition of unsweetened cocoa powder, so simple to prepare yet so unusual: it has only a vague hint of cocoa, do not expect a chocolate fresh pasta, but it marries beautifully the sweet butternut squash filling.
- ½ butternut squash about 1 pound
- 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
- 60 g (2 oz - 2/3 cup) of grated Gran Campidano di Arborea*
- 60 g (2 oz – 2/3 cup) of shelled walnuts
- ¼ teaspoon of grated nutmeg
- Ground black pepper
- 100 g (3 ½ oz - 3/4 cup) of 00 flour
- 100 g (3 ½ oz – 2/3 cup) of semolina flour
- 15 g (½ oz – 2 tablespoons) of unsweetened cocoa powder
- 2 eggs
- ½ teaspoon of salt
- 1 teaspoon of extra virgin olive oil
- 60 g (2 oz – ½ stick) of Arborea butter
- A dozen sage leaves
- Gran Campidano di Arborea grated
Start by roasting the butternut squash, so heat the oven to 200°C (390°F).
Remove the seeds from the butternut squash and place it cut side up on a baking tray lined with parchment paper. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil, then season with salt and ground black pepper.
Roast the squash for about 35 minutes, until it well cooked: it will be golden on the surface, slightly caramelized on the edges and so soft that you’ll esily scoop the pulp out with a spoon.
Remove the butternut squash from the oven and let it cool down.
Meanwhile, prepare the fresh pasta. Mix the semolina flour, the 00 flour and the unsweetened cocoa powder on a wooden board and make a well in the middle.
Break in the eggs and add a pinch of salt and a teaspoon of extra virgin olive oil. Mix the flour and the eggs with a fork until crumbly, then knead the dough by hands.
Keep on kneading, to develop the gluten which will give strength to the sheets of pasta. Hold the dough with one hand while you roll it from you with the other, with the heel of the palm. After a while the dough should have the right consistency: smooth, and no longer sticky.
Wrap it in plastic film and let it stand for 30 minutes at room temperature.
While the pasta is resting, prepare the stuffing of the cappellacci.
Scoop the butternut squash pulp out with a spoon and collect it in a bowl. You can discard the skin, though I like to eat it as it is, or save it up for later, as a crisp side dish.
Toast the walnuts in a pan over medium heat for about 5 minutes, then finely chop them. Add the chopped walnuts, the grated Gran Campidano cheese and the nutmeg to the butternut squash pulp. Mash all the ingredients with a fork until you get a thick and homogeneous filling. Taste and add more salt and pepper if needed.
After 30 minutes of rest, roll out the fresh pasta dough. The most important thing, whether you’re using a classic long rolling pin or a pasta machine, is to roll it and stretch it as much as you can. Make a paper thin wide sheet of pasta.
Cut the pasta sheet it into 5 cm (2 inches) large squares.
With a teaspoon or with a pastry bag place the filling in the centre of each square of fresh pasta. Fold each square in half to form a triangle and seal the edges by pressing them with your fingers. Bring the outer corners at the bottom together, overlapping the ends and pressing them together.
It is best to proceed with a little dough at a time, so that it does not dry out in the meantime. As the cappellacci are ready, move them onto a tray sprinkled with semolina flour.
Cook the cappellacci in plenty of boiling salted water and toss with the butter that you have melted in a pan with sage, until you ger crisp leaves.
Spinkle with grated cheese and serve.
*Gran Campidano is a hard aged cow cheese similar to Parmigiano Reggiano or Grana Padano. You can subsititue it with one of these two cheeses.
Serve these cocoa cappellacci with…
In my family we do not have rituals, typical menus or traditions that need to be respected when it comes to celebrating New Year’s Eve. We often cook a large pot of lentils, sometimes cotechino and zampone. Much depends, though, on where we are and with whom we are celebrating. If I could decide this year menu just by picking old recipes from the blog, I would choose the artichoke and green olive tapenade as an appetiser, along with a cheese platter with home made oat cakes, these cappellacci as first course and an orange and pancetta guinea fowl as main course, perhaps served with lentils and creamy mashed potatoes. To close the dinner party, I would combine white wine, vinsanto and dried fruit to recreate a century-old dessert from Siena, perfectly suited to celebrate the arrival of the new year.
- Artichoke and green olive tapenade. I surrendered to a seasonal ingredient, artichokes, I added a few handfuls of green olives and turned them into a tapenade which tickles the appetite thanks to the briny capers. An excellent extra virgin olive oil and the juice of half a lemon balance the creaminess and acidity of the tapenade, making it suitable both for smearing on toasted bread and as a dip for a raw seasonal vegetable pinzimonio.
- Cheese platter with home made extra virgin olive oil oat cakes. When I visited Scotland a few years ago, I was offered oat cakes with cheese and from then on this is my choice every time I have friends over for dinner and a cheese board to be enjoyed. Those oatmeal crackers are usually made with butter or lard, while I opt for a more Italian version, made with a good extra virgin olive oil.
- Orange and pancetta guinea-fowl. The guinea-fowl in itself is much more flavorful then a chicken, has a slightly darker meat and a cativating game hint. And look at the colours, warm orange: it tells a story of family celebrations and cozy kitchens pervaded by the reassuring smell of long cooking.
- Spiced dried fruit compote. Always remember to keep in the pantry some nuts and dried fruit – such as prunes, apricots, apples and figs – for the emergencies. If it is not your habit, I strongly recommend you to stock up your pantry because you can whip up a memorable dessert within minutes: a handful of nuts, a pinch of spice, some leftover white wine and a tablespoon sugar is all you need. It is easy as that! Serve it with a mascarpone cream and a slightly toasted slice of panettone.
It is time to say goodbye to 2018. We’ll be back here again during the first day of January with new posts, recipes, stories, cooking classes and with new occasions to meet and gather, on line and off line.
Have a sparkling new year!
Giulia & Tommaso