Beet ravioli with poppyseed sauce

I began researching this recipe a while ago when I decided to put it into my Regional Italian Food column schedule. I was sort of obsessed with the intense magenta of the beetroot filling and the incredibly simple pairing of butter and poppyseeds as a sauce. I thought, if anything, people would love looking at it but that hopefully the beauty of the dish would be enough to inspire them to try out the recipe too – that’s how I got hooked.

beet ravioli for blog

It’s Venetian name is quite a mouthful. Casunziei all’ampezzana. You’ll be forgiven for just calling them ravioli. Casunziei are typical of the mountainous region of Italy’s north-eastern Dolomites. The half-moon shaped pasta are usually handmade and stuffed with a vegetable filling. Depending on the town, it’s either beetroot, turnips, spinach, wild chives or radicchio, served very simply with butter and a grating of hard cheese.

Making any filled pasta by hand is always a bit of a process – but also always a treat to eat – so these were traditionally reserved for special occasions from Christmas to a birthday to that special Sunday family meal. But the origins of the dish are humble, being that they were made with things usually were grown in the backyard vegetable garden or picked wild straight out the fields – cheap and plentiful seasonal ingredients.

beet ravioli casunziei all'ampezzana

The most well known casunziei are the ones from the Ampezzo Valley – filled with lightly spiced beets in a poppy seed and butter dressing. There’s something quite unique about the sweet flavour and that deep red of the beets used as a filling for these elegant ravioli.

Strangely, the more I looked into this dish, I found that traditional recipes in Italian are purely vegetable fillings – beets, of course, but sometimes a turnip or two or a potato. Meanwhile, recipes of this dish in English always include fresh ricotta. It still baffles me, I can only think that most English speakers don’t speak Italian (so haven’t read the more traditional recipes) and that each of the recipes are perhaps some sort of variation on one of the first widely-available English versions (sources such as Bon Appetit or Martha Stewart magazines).

Or that some confusion came in when ricotta salata was called for (commonly used as the final touch to this dish, ricotta salata is an aged, hard cheese, quite salty as it’s name suggests, that you grate like Parmesan) and English-speakers thought the answer was fresh ricotta inside rather than on top of the ravioli. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s a pretty nice idea to include fresh ricotta with the beetroot filling. I’m positive it’s delicious. But it’s not a traditional ingredient in the slightest. And dare I say it’s nice for a change to have an un-cheesy, un-meaty ravioli dish. Try it, you’ll see.

beet ravioli with poppy seed saucebeet ravioli with poppyseed

Casunziei all’ampezzana
Beet ravioli with poppyseed sauce

About 5 serves

A simple preparation where the quality of the beets is of utmost importance – they are what sing in this dish. Use fresh, firm beets, don’t even attempt to do this with canned, pre-cooked ones. For US measurements, take a look at my recipe on Food52.

  • 400 grams flour
  • pinch of salt
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 700 grams of fresh beetroot (about 3 medium beets)
  • 250 grams of potato (about 2 small potatoes)
  • 2 peeled garlic cloves, whole
  • olive oil
  • pinch of freshly ground nutmeg
  • pinch of ground cloves
  • 180 grams butter
  • 1 tablespoon poppy seeds
  • 80 grams Parmesan cheese or ricotta salata, grated

Make a pasta dough by combining flour with a pinch of salt in a bowl. Make a well in the centre of the flour and crack the eggs into it. Add the olive oil and with a fork, begin to beat the eggs and oil together until creamy, then slowly begin incorporating the flour around it until it begins to get very thick. At this point you may like to start using your hands and work the dough until it is no longer sticky (add flour a bit at a time if you need to) and you have a ball that is smooth, elastic and bounces back if you push a finger into it. Wrap the ball of dough in plastic wrap and let rest at least 30 minutes.

Meanwhile prepare the filling. Clean and quarter the beets (I don’t bother peeling them, except for any hard bits) and place in a saucepan of cold water with the potatoes (clean but whole, skin on) and a pinch of salt. Bring the boil and cook until the vegetables are tender (depending on size, the potatoes may need to be removed a little earlier than the beets). Peel the potatoes while warm and mash until smooth. Puree the beets until smooth.

In a skillet, gently heat 2 tablespoons olive oil and add the whole garlic cloves. Over low-medium heat, add the beets and potatoes and cook about 10 minutes or until some of the water has evaporated from the vegetables and the mixture is thick and begins to bubble. Season with salt, pepper, cloves and nutmeg. Remove the garlic and set aside the mixture to cool completely. This can be done the day before.

Make the ravioli by rolling out half of the dough on a floured surface until it is thin enough to see your hand through the other side. Cut out rounds with a regular drinking glass or cookie cutter (approx 3-4 inches or 8-10cm in diameter) and place heaped teaspoons of filling in the centre of each round. Dip a finger in some cold water and trace the edge of the pasta round. Fold the round in half to create half-moon shapes and seal the edges firmly with your fingers. Set the ravioli aside, uncovered, on a lightly floured surface while you finish the rest.

Keep any pasta dough under a tea towel while you work and continue until all the pasta/filling is used up.

Cook ravioli in gently simmering salted water for a couple of minutes, or until they float. Remove with a slotted spoon and place on warm plates. Serve dribbled with melted butter, a scattering of poppy seeds and Parmesan cheese.

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Comments

17 Responses to “Beet ravioli with poppyseed sauce”
  1. Rosa says:

    So pretty and delicious looking! That filling is so original.

    Cheers,

    Rosa

  2. Louisa says:

    These look so beautiful and remind me of the cjarsons we had in Friuli! Always a pleasure, Emiko, thanks.

  3. Mary Frances says:

    This looks absolutely beautiful, I love the colors! The beets make it look very decadent, but I also love that you stuck with a nice, simple sauce to dress the ravioli in!

    • Emiko says:

      Thank you Mary! I think the sauce – as simple as it is – is really what “makes” this dish, a bit like a lovely piece of jewellery to complement an outfit!

  4. Val says:

    I am loving this series. I also love turnips and am fascinated about their use in Italian cuisine. Can you tell us more? My cursory search turned up a lot of raw food recipes (as in, the turnip IS the ravioli!), but I did find this: http://www.academiabarilla.com/italian-recipes/veneto/turnip-rutabaga-filled-ravioli.aspx. Anything else about this maligned vegetable would be great–thank you!

    • Emiko says:

      Wow good question – I had to turn to a few of my books for this one! I know the tops are used a LOT (cime di rape) in southern Italian cooking, but the actual turnip itself I knew less of and to be honest this ravioli recipe was one of the first times I’ve seen it called for. But my massive Silver Spoon cookbook (originally printed in 1950) has a small chapter on turnips with 5 recipes. The best ones are undoubtedly the “rape farcite” (stuffed turnips), where they are first boiled, the centres scooped out and filled with a mixture of pancetta, sage and chicken, dotted with butter and baked. Or the roast turnips with potatoes – sliced vegetables baked with some stock to help it along and finished with mozzarella and oregano.

  5. Allan Shewchuk says:

    I made these for Christmas one year with spinach ravioli for the whole red-green Yuletide thing. Problem was— turkey to follow and too much food. But, think about it for lunch. Maybe…..

    • Emiko says:

      That’s partly what Christmas is all about isn’t it, too much food?! These do make for a pretty Christmas dish too (lovely idea) and I find are deceptively filling!

  6. I lived in Cortina for several years when I was in boarding school and always loved the contrast between the sweet earthiness of the beets and the saltiness of the cheese the casunzei are served with. Whenever I go back, I make sure to have them at least once… but have never attempted making them yet.
    I recently found out from the friends I usually stay with (who are originally from Cortina) that the traditional cheese to use on them is a smoked ricotta, which I had never had before. It is hard and salty, just like ricotta salata, and often comes in the same shape, but has a much stronger orange hue and a very special smokey flavor. I suggest you try it with your casunzei if you come across it: delicious!

    • Emiko says:

      Yes, in fact, that’s why I think there must have been a misunderstanding of ricotta salata and regular fresh ricotta in English recipes, hence why English versions of this always include fresh ricotta in the filling! But ricotta salata is an entirely different (and as you say, very special) product!

  7. Minik says:

    Hi Emiko, I am making this right now. I have prepared the pasta dough (with a little help from my kitchenaid) and the filling. The filling is so good! I have to stop myself from eating it while it’s cooling ;)
    I have a question about the spices you’ve used. Cloves and nutmeg. They really give that something special to the beet & potato. How did you decide to use those?
    I don’t have a pasta machine so now I am mentally preparing myself for the task at hand; rolling the pasta by hand.

    • Emiko says:

      Sorry about the late reply! How did they turn out? Cloves and nutmegs seem unusual here but they are actually really traditional spices for this dish. They remind me of the strong spices that were popular during the Renaissance and Venice was one of the gateways to the spice trade, so when you think about that, then it’s not so surprising that they ended up in this dish from the Veneto!

  8. Minik says:

    Interesting! They were wonderful, we actually ate them for lunch AND for dinner. I also froze two portions of it for future use. Many thanks.

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