A typical recipe for ricotta-filled pasta will specify, perhaps, a tablespoon or two of finely chopped parsley per batch. I suppose it adds color and a bit of flavor (as distinct from ricotta-spinach fillings, which can be very spinachy). As it happens, though, Jackie and I are fond of the taste of parsley – even as the sole leaf in a little salad (as at the London restaurant St. John, where a parsley and shallot salad was, is and ever shall be served with roasted marrow bones)
So I’ve recently been turning an otherwise typical ricotta filling into something quite different by using a seemingly unlikely quantity of parsley, which turns it a jolly green in color and gives it a profound herbal flavor that has met with wide approval among our dinner guests.
So far, I’ve used this in two ways: to fill pasta parcels such as ravioli, agnolotti and so forth; and in remarkably elegant, light lasagne. Both of those dishes were devised to let the parsley filling dominate: other ingredients are kept minimal. The filling would also make delicious cannelloni (but make them skinny).
Here is some ravioli and lasagne guidance.
Ravioli. Keep them small: one bite apiece. Nine or ten of these tossed with butter and a small quantity of simple tomato sauce and butter make a stellar first course. No grated parmesan needed, though there’s no need to withhold it if someone demands it.
Lasagne. For this quantity of filling, use a small baking pan (around 6 x 8 inches). Have ready a cup of simple tomato sauce (you may not use it all, but you’ll need some for serving) and around 4 oz mozzarella sliced very thin. Spread a couple of tablespoons of sauce in the buttered or olive-oiled pan. Place a sheet of blanched egg pasta onto your work surface, and use an offset cake-decorating spatula or a butter knife to spread ricotta-parsley mixture in a fine, even layer – as though you were filling a seven-layer cake. Lay it into the pan, splash a tiny bit of sauce over the mixture – think Jackson Pollack – and add five or six postage-stamp-size leaves of mozzarella. Repeat until the pan is full or you’ve run out of filling. Last time I did this, I managed eight layers. Bake at 350º F, covered, for about 30 minutes, then uncovered for another 10 minutes. As with any lasagne, let it cool for a few minutes before serving with extra tomato sauce.
You need to use very well drained ricotta; it should not seem wet when you poke it with a finger. Most farmers’ market ricotta meets this criterion; Italian-American-style supermarket ricotta must be drained in a strainer, lightly weighted, for a good 18 to 24 hours in the fridge. If you are in Europe, you should have no trouble finding nice dry ricotta.
- 1-1/2 cups (10 or 11 oz.) well drained ricotta, preferably unsalted
- 1 or 2 tablespoons heavy cream (if needed)
- 1 egg yolk
- 1 medium-large bunch parsley, rinsed and dried, thickest stems removed (3-1/2 to 4 oz. net, though precise quantity is not that important)
- 1/2 Cup finely grated parmesan, loosely packed
- 1 Teaspoon Diamond Crystal kosher salt or 1/2 tsp fine salt (less if your ricotta is salted)
- Black pepper in moderation
- Grated zest of 1/2 lemon
Place the ricotta in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal chopping blade. Pulse a few times, then run the machine until the ricotta starts to grow smooth, scraping down the bowl as needed. If it needs a little more liquid to become smooth, add the cream one tablespoon at a time.
Incorporate the egg yolk.
Add the parsley to the food processor – it will probably fill the work bowl. Pulse and scrape until the parsley breaks down enough to combine with the ricotta; run the machine until the mixture is an even green puree with tiny flecks of parsley. Incorporate the remaining ingredients and taste for seasoning.
Chill and use to fill ravioli, lasagne or cannelloni.