Ugly but good: Brutti ma buoni.
Ugly but good: Brutti ma buoni. Photo: Emiko Davies

Emiko Davies

Ever find yourself looking for a recipe to use up leftover egg whites or yolks? This recipe for making your own ravioli with chestnut flour uses some extra yolks because the egg whites tend to expand during cooking, making the pasta thicker. Filled pasta like ravioli should be as thin as you can get it (that double layer along the edges can get stodgy or undercooked if it's too thick), keeping the texture light and silky. The yolks also lend strength to the pasta, which is just what you need when rolling it so thin you can see your hand through the other side and filling. 

Egg whites tend to build up in my fridge because of all the pasta making. Rather than the usual meringue or pavlovas, these brutti ma buoni biscuits, typical of Piedmonte in Italy's north, can be whipped up in no time and go down a treat with coffee or tea. Crisp and crunchy exterior, with an ever-so-soft-and-chewy interior, think of these biscuits as Italian macaroons. With the charming name of brutti ma buoni, "ugly but good", these rustic looking biscotti made with hazelnuts and meringue really do live up to their name. 

Chestnut ravioli

Delicate but tasty: Chestnut ravioli.
Delicate but tasty: Chestnut ravioli. Photo: Emiko Davies

A typical ingredient of northern Tuscany, chestnut flour is used in a variety of ways from baking to crepes to a polenta-like dish. Here it adds an interesting and naturally sweet flavour to these delicate but tasty ravioli. Look for it in health food stores or selected delis.

Chestnuts can be purchased fresh or tinned (already cooked and peeled). If you are using fresh, whole chestnuts, cut a cross on their base and place them in boiling water for ten minutes. Drain, and while still warm, remove their shells. Simmer the peeled chestnuts for about 30 minutes or until soft before using.

For 4 people

A taste of Tuscany: Chestnut ravioli.
A taste of Tuscany: Chestnut ravioli. Photo: Emiko Davies

For the filling:

320g of ricotta
120g of boiled, peeled chestnuts, chopped finely
80g of Parmesan or aged pecorino cheese, grated
pinch of salt

For the pasta:

200g of chestnut flour
200g of plain flour
2 whole eggs
4 egg yolks

To serve:

12 leaves of fresh sage
80g of good quality butter
40g of Parmesan or aged pecorino cheese, grated
A handful of extra boiled, peeled chestnuts, crumbled.

To prepare the filling, combine all the filling ingredients together in a bowl and set aside. For the pasta, sift the flours together into a large bowl or clean surface. With your hand, make a "well" in the centre of the flour.

Place the eggs and yolks into the well and with a fork, begin first by beating the eggs until creamy, then slowly incorporate the flour, little by little, until the mixture thickens and then use hands to bring the dough together, incorporating the rest of the flour or as much as you need until the dough is no longer sticky.

Knead dough for a few minutes or until elastic (poke it, it should bounce back), then wrap it in plastic wrap and let rest for 30 minutes.

Dust a clean, flat surface with flour. Divide the dough into a few pieces and, keeping the unused pieces wrapped in plastic wrap, roll out one piece of dough until it is thin enough to put it through a pasta machine. Roll through the pasta machine and repeat until you can see your fingers through the dough when you hold it up to the light (No. 7 on most pasta machines).

If you are rolling by hand, which is more difficult due to the elasticity, roll from the centre out, until the pasta is about 1mm thickness or thin enough to see your fingers through the other side. It will be easier to work in several batches. As the dough can dry out quickly, work one batch at a time, keeping the rest covered. 

Make ravioli by cutting long sheets about 10cm wide. On one side of the pasta sheet (1cm from the edge), place teaspoon-sized dollops of the filling about 3cm apart.

Brush some water along the edges of the pasta, then fold the pasta lengthways and seal first on one edge, then, cupping your hand around the filling, seal the rest of the edges – be aware of any air that could get trapped inside and try to push this out.

With a sharp knife or a crimped pastry cutter, trim the open edge and cut between the fillings to make ravioli about 5cm square (one side will remain the 'folded' side, if you prefer all sides to have that crimped edge you can trim this too). 

Cook ravioli in a large pot of plenty of simmering, salted water for about 2 minutes or until they float.

Meanwhile, prepare the sauce by melting the butter gently in a skillet together with the sage. Be careful not to burn the sage as it will become bitter. 

Remove the pasta from the water with a slotted spoon (as opposed to draining it, as a little more water clinging to the pasta will benefit the taste and texture) and place in the skillet with the melted butter and sage, then toss and serve immediately with a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese and the extra chestnuts.

Brutti ma buoni

Try these "ugly but good" biscuits with a mixture of hazelnuts and blanched almonds, rather than all hazelnuts and depending on your preference, a portion of the nuts can be ground finely or some even left whole. I like a version somewhere in the middle with the nuts roughly chopped. You can also use already toasted and peeled hazelnuts and skip the first step.

Makes about 20

200g raw whole hazelnuts
2 egg whites
140g of sugar
juice of 1⁄2 lemon

Toast the hazelnuts in oven at 180C for 10-15 minutes. Remove from the oven and when cool enough to handle, rub the hazelnuts in a tea towel to remove the skins. Roughly chop the skinned hazelnuts. 

Whip the egg whites to soft peaks with the lemon juice. Add the sugar, a bit at a time, while beating, until peaks are stiff and glossy. Fold through the chopped hazelnuts.

Using two teaspoons, spoon small amounts of the mixture (about the size of a walnut) onto a baking sheet lined with baking paper. Bake at 160C for 15-20 minutes or until they are very pale beige/brown and dry to the touch. Let cool in the oven with the door ajar. Store in an airtight container.