If you asked me ten years ago after feasting at a trattoria in Florence on fiocchetti alle pere con salsa di taleggio e asparagi that one day I would be able to replicate the experience, I would have laughed in your face. Back then the only thing I knew how to make was frozen pizza. But time has a way of changing us, and that trip to Florence changed me too. Here I am ten years later, recreating that meal of a lifetime.
Of all the amazing foods I ate while living in Italy, it was the "bows to the pears with a sauce of taleggio cheese and asparagus" that has lingered the most. (Google translator's words, not mine.) My pasta may not be an exact replica of that dinner, but as I gobbled it down in my own Georgia kitchen, I thought it came pretty darn close.
I often envy the fabulous Instagrams and moleskine notebooks of travelers more thorough than myself. Instead of frame-worthy photographs, I take out-of-focus shots, and instead of pages of romantic journal entries, I might remember to scribble one measly thought down on a hotel room notepad. (And then lose said notepad.) I get bummed out that I am bad about documenting memories. But if there is one thing I never forget about a vacation, it's the food.
I can recount an entire trip by what I ate and where. In Point Reyes, California, I remember the salt, the wind, and the wine as we feasted on briny oysters fresh from the sea. In Austin, I remember the early-morning migas, smoky barbecue, and the beer. I may not have anything to show from these journeys — except for maybe a pound or two — but I will always have the meals etched into my brain.
While others may flip through a photo album or assemble a shadow box to remember their journeys, I eat. If I am ever feeling stir crazy or just a little down, I can step into my kitchen and make a faraway place come to life. Not all of my attempts are successes, but it's the trying that counts.
Luckily, this pear pasta was a grand success. I used my go-to dough recipe to make the "bows" — although they look more like pouches to me — which I stuffed with a cheesy, just barely sweet pear, ricotta, and mascarpone filling. A rich béchamel sauce and a sprinkling of asparagus rounds it all out. It was my trip to Italy on a plate. Until I can make it back again...
12 ounces (about 2 3/4 cups) all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting
2 teaspoons kosher salt
4 large eggs
1 tablespoon olive oil
For the filling:
1 pear, peeled, cored, and cut into a small dice
8 ounces (1 cup) whole milk ricotta, at room temperature
4 ounces (1/2 cup) mascarpone, at room temperature
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Kosher salt and white pepper, to taste
For the sauce:
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 cup heavy cream, at room temperature
1 cup whole or 2% milk, at room temperature
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus additional for grating
Whole nutmeg, for grating
Kosher salt and white pepper, to taste
10-12 asparagus spears, blanched and cut into 3/4-inch pieces
For the pasta, combine the flour and salt in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a blade attachment and pulse a few times to mix. Add the eggs and olive oil through the feeding tube and process until the dough forms a smooth ball and there are no crumbs at the bottom of the bowl, about 1 minute.
Gather the dough into a ball, dusting with flour if it is sticky. Press the ball into a disc and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Allow the dough to rest at room temperature for a minimum of 30 minutes and up to 4 hours. (You can refrigerate the dough overnight and bring to room temperature before using. It will have a funny green tinge to it before you roll it out, but the end results will look perfectly normal.)
Lightly dust a rimmed baking sheet with flour. Roll out the pasta according to your machine's instructions. (Or check out Emma's helpful instructions here.) Whether you are rolling the dough out on a hand-crank machine or with a KitchenAid attachment, try to make each pasta sheet as wide as you can. Place pasta sheets on the baking sheet and dust with additional flour to keep from sticking.
Lightly dust a work surface with flour. Using the largest biscuit round you can find (I used a stainless steel prep bowl measuring 5-inches in diameter), cut out large discs from the dough. Place the cutouts on another lightly-floured rimmed baking sheet or large piece of parchment paper.
To make the filling, combine the pears, ricotta, mascarpone, and Parmesan together in a mixing bowl and season with salt and pepper. Place a heaping teaspoon of filling in the center of a pasta round. Gather all of the sides and gently pull up and together to form a "pouch." Pinch the dough together tightly at the neck and continue with remaining rounds.
To cook the pasta, bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a boil. In a medium skillet or sauté pan, melt the butter over medium-low to medium heat. Add the flour and stir for a minute or so to cook out the raw flour taste. Add the milk and cream, and whisk until thickened, 3 to 5 minutes. Turn heat to low. Stir in Parmesan and season with a pinch of fresh nutmeg, salt, and pepper.
Add pasta to the boiling water and cook for 2 minutes. Use a spider or slotted spoon to transfer the pouches to a wire cooling rack set over paper towels to drain for a minute or so. At this point, you can either gently toss the cooked pouches and asparagus directly in the sauce, or individually plate the pouches and asparagus followed by a drizzle of sauce. Garnish with additional grated Parmesan.
For a quicker version of this recipe, you can substitute wonton wrappers and make these ravioli-style.