Looking back on my life in the kitchen I am forced to admit that of all the adventurous cuisines that I have elected to emulate, many have not been entirely successful or granted the unalloyed praise I quietly desired. Come to think of it, some of the run-of-the-mill dishes haven’t quite hit the mark either. But for reasons even I fail to understand, I have continued my chosen task in the kitchen with an enthusiasm that remains undiminished. I still try and replicate any inventive culinary style that pops its head above the parapet. Recently and without breaking step, I drifted into a brief and rewarding affair with Georgian cuisine (I adore their wines you see, and one thing, naturally, led to another).

Indigenous Chinese cuisine had me foxed for a long time, still only half resolved if I am honest, whilst the deeper mysteries of Indian regional cooking have been slowly mastered. The frustrations of bread baking I have mentioned elsewhere. Meringues can still be touch-and-go on occasion, whereas a soft-boiled egg is mere bagatelle these days and a soufflé now submits to my gaze. I learnt that you have to be certifiably insane to think you can steal a lead on Sushi, yet the fragrant delights of Thai cuisine have fallen into place without undo anxiety. Mediterranean fish cooking is still a work in progress.

Amongst the agonies and ecstasies of kitchen conventions, I once laboured under the belief that Italian cuisine accomplished itself, and that low-skilled cooking followed by undemanding assembly sealed the deal. Until I was reminded otherwise that is. Her name was Rosina and she was the mother of a close friend, Francesco with whom she lived in Emilia-Romagna. Long since departed to cook with the angels she so resolutely believed in, Rosina still haunts my kitchen whenever I casually offer to knock up a pasta dish. Although she appeared as the traditionally faltering Nonna from Central Casting – obligatory black polka-dot dress, hair grips that could open Chubb locks and gnarled hands that would have made a strangler weep – she was an imperious and skillful cook in her own kitchen.

Rosina didn’t do amiable advice – she asserted. By the same token she did not undertake question and answer sessions concerning her cooking – there were only answers, and they were inevitably hers. But over the course of a few days of our holiday, whilst dropping by her kitchen prior to suppertime and the obligatory Aperol with Francesco, I learnt lots, even if it came in a begrudging Italian accent. You see men were not welcome in Rosina’s kitchen.

Amongst many translated gems, her dictum of Three O’s for pasta dishes remains almost a weekly chant. Don’t Over cook, don’t Over drain and don’t Over sauce. Never found that one in a cookbook, but it has lodged firmly in the neural network.

But her deft production of Ravioli left me slack jawed.

With little equipment apart from a metre square pine board, a small diameter rolling pin, the substantial length of which would embarrass a dictator’s security force on a baton charge, and a small cutter wheel with which to perforate the parcels like swollen postage stamps, there was not much else in the way of kitchen paraphernalia. After the construction of a scale model of an extinct conical volcano made entirely of Durum 00 flour on the pine board and with the addition of six fresh eggs cracked into its white crater, there followed some many minutes of determined kneading. The result was a ball of glistening silky dough. The only apparent post-war technology in her arsenal then made its stately appearance, the hand-cranked, Marcato Atlas 150 Pasta Machine, which was soon spewing out sheets of vellum thin pasta.

With Francesco’s help and a beckoning department store in nearby Bologna, I soon became the proud owner of this iconic emblem of Garibaldi’s unified Italy.

Pasta dough needs care and patience, rolling it ever thinner is childishly rewarding. It makes you very happy when you get it right, and even happier when you eat it. Strange though, I still find I need half a day and a running start to prepare this for supper, Rosina could make it in less than an hour, almost nightly, and without flinching.

Ravioli with Spinach and Ricotta [schlutzkrapfen o ravioli della puateria] from The Food of Italy (2014) Claudia Roden

For the filling

700g fresh spinach leaves

½ onion chopped

15g unsalted butter

2 tbsp Parmesan


½ tsp freshly grated nutmeg

300g Ricotta

For the dough

2 eggs

500g Italian 00 flour

Pinch of salt

150 ml whole milk, warmed

1 egg yolk mixed with 1 tsp water


75g unsalted butter


Wash the spinach and remove any hard stems

Put the spinach with only the water that clings to them in a large pan with the lid on over high heat for 2-3 minutes until they wilt into a soft mass

Drain, press out all the water and finely chop

Fry the onion in butter until soft

Add the spinach and stir well

Add the Parmesan, salt and nutmeg

Take off the heat and mix with the Ricotta in a bowl

To make the dough, mix eggs into the flour and salt, add the milk gradually, just enough for a firm dough and knead well for about 10 minutes

Leave it for 15 minutes in cling film

Roll it out as thin as you can (easy with the Marcato)

Roll out 2 thin sheets of dough

Dot one with evenly spaced mounds of filling

Brush the spaces in between with egg yolk/water mixture and cover with the second sheet

Press with your fingers around the mounds of filling to stick the dough together and cut the pasta into squares with a pastry wheel, if you want them round use a biscuit cutter

Drop into plenty of boiling salted water and cook for 3-4 minutes, until tender

Drain well and serve with butter and cheese

Wine thoughts

Given this is a dish that reputedly began its life in the Northeast of Italy, the Trentino-Alto Adige, I thought one of the local whites would more than suffice. Pinot Blanco is more fulsome than its close cousin; Pinot Grigio, and apart from contributing a sappy, fresh fruit charm to the dish, many good Pinot Blancs can add a distinctly creamy texture along with nutty, almond flavours. It certainly has the weight to take on rich, meat-free pasta dishes. All of which promise to set up a rather jazzy umami-harmony with the earthiness of our spinach.