Cappelletti alla crema di ricotta e cipolle rosse di Tropea
Here’s a short and sweet post for a pasta recipe that’s simple and quick to cook. This is as good-looking a bowl of pasta as you’re likely to put together in half an hour. With its ‘little hats’ of pasta (cappelletti ) licked with pearl white ricotta, speckled with fresh thyme, and jewelled with delicate Amethyst onions – it’s a minimalist marvel of a meal. And that’s just its aesthetic qualities. It’s also conveniently simple to prepare and made from only a handful of inexpensive store cupboard ingredients. But, best of all, it is unquestionably and unfailingly delicious, without taking 10 weeks to prepare.
Ricotta is the hero again here. It’s a bit ridiculous just how many of my recipes include fresh ricotta as the key ingredient, or at least sneaked in there somewhere. I just can’t help myself. But if you’re not so well acquainted, then ricotta is a mild but altogether magnificent soft Italian cheese. It’s heated twice during the cooking process – hence ‘ricotta’ literally means ‘twice-cooked’. Incredibly versatile as a cooking ingredient, ricotta’s soft and light texture provides a perfect platform for all sorts of flavours to perform to their best, and particularly I find, when partnered with pasta. However, the ephemeral brightness of fresh ricotta can also be downright delicious when eaten on its own with only a hunk of bread and honey. I have been known to spend the night mindlessly eating a ‘family’ tub of ricotta alone in front of a film. That’s me, living the dream.
Before you begin: If you can, It’s worth trying to find the famous ‘red onions of Tropea’ (cipolle di Tropea or Tropea onions). These famously sweet flavoured onions grown in Calabria are named after its rather charming beach town of Tropea. Across Calabria these delightful onions are very well employed. They’re cooked in sauces; eaten raw in salads; grilled or roasted; transformed into jam, and even used to flavour ice cream! They certainly give this recipe an extra-something but if they elude you then any sort of red onion will do the trick.
‘Little hats’ with ricotta cream and red onions of Tropea
Serves 2 as a main course
- 200g dried cappelletti pasta (I used Garofalo) or other short pasta like farfalle or conchiglie
- 2 medium red onions (ideally the Tropea variety)
- extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 teaspoon brown sugar
- 200g good fresh ricotta cheese
- freshly grated nutmeg, a pinch
- 1 ½ tablespoons finely-chopped fresh thyme
- half crumbled dried peperoncino or pinch dried chilli flakes
- juice of half fresh lemon
- 3 tablespoons freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, and more to finish
- salt and freshly ground black pepper
Peel and chop your onions into roughly 3mm slices. Heat a large sauté pan over a medium heat. Pour in 2 tablespoons of extra-virgin oil and add the sliced onion.
Season with salt and cook the onions over a medium-low heat for about 7 minutes until well-softened. Sprinkle over the sugar and add a spoonful of the hot pasta cooking water into the pan. Mix well, continue to cook over a low heat, stirring often, until the onions have collapsed and reduced. Turn off the heat.
Bring a large saucepan full of heavily-salted water to the boil and, into the vigorously boiling water, tip in the pasta and cook until al dente.
Dollop the ricotta into a large mixing bowl. Add 2 tablespoons of pasta cooking water and whisk with a fork to loosen up into a white cream. Grate over a little nutmeg and add the finely chopped thyme leaves, and crumble in the dried peperoncino or chilli flakes. Add a good squeeze of fresh lemon juice. Mix in these ingredients and then whisk in the grated Parmigiano-Reggiano. Season with a small pinch of salt and a few twists of fresh black pepper. Now place the mixing-bowl gently over the cooking pasta and stir so that the steam heats the sauce through, but take care that the pasta water doesn’t boil-over.
When the pasta is cooked al dente, drain it and tip straight into the bowl with the whisked ricotta. Drop in ¾ the onions and mix together, but keep some aside for adorning the pasta at the end. Serve out the hot pasta, garnished with the remaining onions, a little squeeze of lemon juice and a final flurry of Parmigiano-reggiano. Buon appetito! 🙂