This is about as hardcore poverty food as it gets in Italy. I don’t know if anyone ever made this dish over there or not, but I combined two ingredients steeped in la cucina povera: acorn flour and cicerchia beans. I put them together in an agnolotti, which is a little ravioli.
Cicerchia beans, also known as chickling vetch, were a bean the Italians resorted to when other crops failed. Now they are a reminder of their national identity, and are trendy here in the United States. You can buy cicerchia beans online from Scott over at the Sausage Debauchery. In a pinch you can substitute chickpeas, but they will taste different.
Acorn flour is unobtainable unless you make it. Here’s a primer on making acorn flour, but for most people, I’d suggest using whole wheat, farro flour, or chestnut flour — all are “poverty flours” used in Italy.
The result is a magical transformation of truly humble ingredients into high cuisine. Served with a little high-quality butter (you could use olive oil) and a splash of lemon juice for acid, this is a dish you can serve to anyone.
I’d suggest a light red, like a Chianti or domestic Sangiovese, or a Northern Italian white, like a Tocai Friulano. You might also give a Pinot Noir or a dry rose a try with this pasta.
- 1 cup cooked cicerchia beans or chickpeas
- 1/2 cup quality olive oil
- 1 egg
- 1/4 cup lemon juice, plus another 1/4 cup
- 1/4 cup pecorino cheese
- 1 tablespoon dried oregano or savory
- 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
- Salt and black pepper to taste
- 1 recipe, acorn flour pasta, or use whole wheat instead of acorn flour
- 1/2 stick of unsalted butter
- First make the agnolotti filling. Buzz together in a food processor the cicerchia beans or chickpeas, the olive oil, egg, dried oregano or savory, 1/4 cup lemon juice, garlic cloves, a little salt and pepper — and all but about 2 tablespoons of the pecorino cheese. Buzz into a puree. Taste it, and add a little more salt if needed.
- Make the pasta according to these directions. Let it rest for at least an hour, and as long as overnight.
- Roll out the pasta into a thin sheet; I like to go to No. 7 on my Atlas, which is about as thin as I can roll out a rough flour like acorn flour. But you could roll whole wheat flour out a little thinner.
- Put the agnolotti filling into a piping bag, or a sturdy plastic bag. Snip off a corner of the bag so you can pipe out small dots of filling onto the pasta.
- Along the length of the pasta sheet, pipe out dots of filling, each about 1/2 teaspoon, or even less, as agnolotti are supposed to be small.
- Take the edge of the pasta where the filling is and gently fold it over to seal the little pouches. Pinch the dough down in the gaps between the dots of filling to secure the seal.
- Using a knife or better yet, a pasta cutter, cut the whole line of agnolotti free from the rest of the pasta sheet. Move it gently away from the remaining pasta.
- Separate the agnolotti with the cutter or knife, and gently lay them on a cookie sheet dusted with semolina flour or cornmeal. Repeat until you have gone through your filling. The agnolotti can be frozen for a week or two at this point, but they are better eaten fresh.
- Boil them in lots of salty water until they float, about 2-3 minutes.
- Meanwhile, warm the butter in a large pan over medium heat. Let it froth and begin to brown. Watch it so the butter does not burn. Add the remaining 1/4 cup of lemon juice and a pinch of salt and let this heat up. Don’t let it boil.
- When the agnolotti are cooked, swish them around in the butter-lemon juice mixture to coat, and serve at once, sprinkled with the remaining pecorino and some black pepper.