These Herby Pillows of Cheese Are Like Self Care for Your Taste Buds

May  2, 2018

As spring spills into summer, people in Parma, Italy welcome the new season with—what else—a luscious plate of pasta. Tortelli d'erbetta: pouches plump with ricotta and herbs. Specific to the region, they’re butter-bound and sprinkled with Parmigiano-Reggiano. They collapse on the tongue. They beckon the summer solstice. And as the people of Parma eat them, the sun sits a little longer in the sky than it will all year.

Our test kitchen chef, Josh, speaks fondly of his time in Italy’s Northern region where he learned how to cook. These tortelli are a secret he transported back with him.

Everyone claims theirs are better—they’ll sub in a different herb, fiddle with the proportions of stuffing. Among the towns surrounding Parma, each offers a slightly altered interpretation.

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“All versions will have a ricotta filling, and then some combination of cooked greens and fresh herbs," he says. "My version of this recipe includes chard, fresh marjoram, finely grated Parmigiano cheese, and fresh lemon juice. The ricotta is creamy, the lemon is bright and acidic, the marjoram is sharply herbal, and the Parmigiano gives everything a savory depth."

A simple feast to celebrate the solstice. Photo by Rocky Luten

Josh stresses the beauty and importance of making one’s own pasta dough. I watch as he threads a sheet of it through a machine, and then again, then another time. The dough, colored like a pale egg yolk, emerges thinner and smoother, with softer edges. When he’s ready, he squeezes out puffs of moussey, green flecked ricotta from a pastry bag. They form a horizontal line, like small organized bushels, across the freshly rolled pasta. With a careful hand he folds the dough in half, coaxes out any air pockets, and cuts the pasta into individual pillows. Now, they resemble ravioli.

In a move comparable only to origami, he folds each ravioli into a "U" shape and clinches both ends together. They look like small, sculptural flowers. Then Josh drops them into gently boiling water before laying them to rest in a butter and pasta water emulsion and plating them with heaps of finely grated cheese and a dusting of bright and flowery black pepper.

People in Parma may wait until the solstice to enjoy a plate of these, but that doesn't mean you have to. Grab your favorite spring herb, your preferred leafy green, and get folding.

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Valerio is a freelance food writer, editor, researcher and cook. He grew up in his parent's Italian restaurants covered in pizza flour and drinking a Shirley Temple a day. Since, he's worked as a cheesemonger in New York City and a paella instructor in Barcelona. He now lives in Berlin, Germany where he's most likely to be found eating shawarma.