Julia's Pillowy Ricotta Tortelli With Butter And Asparagus

Julia Busuttil Nishimura
Julia Busuttil Nishimura
7th of October 2021

Although I grew up eating ricotta-filled pasta (Maltese ravjul), the first time I ate it in Italy I was absolutely floored. I can still remember it. The pasta was so silky and fine and filled with house made ricotta and foraged borage. It was at an agriturismo in southern Tuscany in a small town called Magliano. Now, whenever I make ricotta tortelli, I try to emulate that one from many years ago. (An almost impossible feat, but something to aspire to.)

I like to use some whole eggs and some egg yolks here as it results in a silkier dough, which is ideal for filled pasta. If you want to simply use three whole eggs and 300g of flour instead though, it will still be lovely.

I make sure I find the best ricotta I can, use the freshest herbs (here, oregano) and make the pasta lovingly, rolling it out thinly with care. Once you get into a nice flow, it is rather effortless to make. There is no need to get them absolutely perfect or even – handmade pasta should feel homemade. Just be sure to let the dough rest and dust the filled tortelli with plenty of semolina flour to avoid them sticking to each other.

I’m serving them with a very simple butter and asparagus sauce. If you wanted, you could swap the asparagus for some sage instead, which is a lovely and very common accompaniment.

Though Julia’s look pretty even, there’s no need to make the tortelli perfectly identical. It’s nice when pasta is handmade and rustic! Photo – Eve Wilson.

Finish the tortelli with butter, parmesan and in-season asparagus – so yum! Photo – Eve Wilson.

Gorgeous Julia with a plate of tortelli! Photo – Eve Wilson.


(Serves 4)

Pasta dough:
300g tipo 00 flour, plus extra for dusting
Pinch of sea salt
2 eggs
3 egg yolks
Semolina flour, for dusting

Ricotta filling:
350g fresh full fat ricotta
50g parmigiano reggiano, grated, plus extra to serve
¼ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1 tbsp fresh oregano leaves, finely chopped
Salt and pepper

Butter sauce:
1tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 bunch asparagus, cut into 4cm lengths
100g lightly salted butter


To make the pasta dough, tip the flour and salt onto a clean work surface and combine. Create a well in the centre and crack in the eggs and yolks. Gently whisk the eggs using a fork, then slowly bring in the flour and mix to incorporate. When the dough becomes stiff, use your hands to mix until the dough is soft and malleable.

Knead for about 10 minutes until the dough is smooth and elastic. Flatten into a disc, cover with an upturned bowl or plastic wrap and allow to rest at room temperature for at least 30 minutes.

To make the filling, mix all of the ingredients together until smooth. Season with salt and pepper and set aside in the fridge until ready to use.

On a lightly floured work surface, roll out ¼ the dough using a rolling pin into a rough disc shape around 3 mm thick. Roll the dough through a pasta machine set to the widest setting, then roll again through the narrower settings, dusting with a little flour between each roll if needed, until the pasta sheet is about 30 cm long. Fold the dough back in on itself so it’s a bit narrower than the width of the machine and use a rolling pin to flatten slightly. Set the machine back to the widest setting and roll back through the first settings again, folding and flattening the pasta dough before each roll. Repeat this process two more times, so you’ve rolled the dough through the widest settings, folding between each roll, three times in total. This makes the pasta nice and strong, and you can now roll the dough through the settings until the pasta is around 1mm thick.

Place heaped tablespoons of the filling 3 cm apart along the long side of the pasta sheet, around 2cm from the edge. Fold the pasta sheet over from the longest side further from you so both longest sides now meet. Use your hands to press around the filling, ensuring you push out excess air. If the pasta sheets aren’t sticking easily, you can brush with some egg white, or even a little water to help seal. Use a knife or pastry cutter to cut along the now sealed long side of the sheet then cut in between each mound to give you the individual parcels.

Set aside on a tea towel dusted with semolina flour and repeat with the remaining dough and filling, re-rolling any scraps of pasta.

Warm the olive oil in a large pan over a high heat and add the asparagus and a pinch of salt. Cook the asparagus for 2-3 minutes or until just tender. Add the butter and let it melt. I like the butter just melted, but if you want it more nut-brown, simply cook it to your liking.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta in plenty of salted boiling water until al dente, around 3-4 minutes.

Add a splash of the cooking water to the pan with the butter to thin it out, ever so slightly, then arrange the pasta on a serving plate and pour over the butter sauce with the asparagus. Season with some more salt and pepper and serve immediately with grated parmesan.

What else I’m cooking with:

I’ve been making the most of the abundance of strawberries right now, turning them into jams, tarts and roasting them with rhubarb.

What else I’m eating:

If you don’t want to make your own fresh pasta, I’ve been loving Bar Romantica’s fresh pasta offerings! Last week I tried their Sorpresine with pesto rosso. Delicious!

a brand new YouTube channel, Cooking with Julia Busuttil Nishimura, shot by Julia’s great friend (and ours!) Matthew Harding.

Recipe video by Matthew Harding, created for Julia’s amazing new YouTube channel, Cooking with Julia Busuttil Nishimura. Tune in every Thursday and make sure to like and subscribe here!

Click here to download recipe printout!

Click here to download recipe printout.

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