Second only, perhaps, to Argentina’s passion for red meat, pasta easily makes the grade as one of the nation’s favorite foods. Whether long strands of tallerines or delicate stuffed agnolotti, menus all over the country feature a variety of pasta dishes imported from Italy. However, Argentines claim that there’s nothing in Italia quite like sorrentinos, making them a wholly Argentine invention. A restaurateur and Italian native living in Mar del Plata supposedly cooked up the idea for the outsized ravioli, calling them sorrentinos in honor of his birthplace, Sorrento, Italy. Other sources attribute the birthplace of sorrentinos to a pasta house in Buenos Aires known as Sorrento. Unlike ravioli, which strive for more of a balance between dough and filling, sorrentinos are unabashedly plump and overstuffed. And in contrast to their square brethren, sorrentinos come large and round. Regardless of their origin, the undisputed fact is that sorrentinos are delicious.
As with other stuffed pastas, both the sorrentino dough and the filling can be imaginatively flavored to create an endless number of options. For example, last year I sampled a plate of sorrentinos in the San Telmo neighborhood of Buenos Aires that featured pumpkin-flavored dough and a filling of walnuts, green onions and mozzarella. Your choice of sauce also adds another dimension to the dish. Oftentimes, Argentine restaurants offer a selection of pastas and then a separate list of sauces to choose from, allowing patrons to mix and match. The recipe I’m presenting below, ham and cheese-stuffed sorrentinos, pairs well with a simple tomato sauce or a luscious cream sauce.
Making pasta from scratch is time-consuming, but there’s nothing quite like the silky mouth feel of fresh pasta combined with the rich flavors of homemade filling. Uncooked sorrentinos freeze beautifully, so prepare a large batch and save some in the freezer for a lazy day when you don’t feel like doing much more than boiling water.
Sorrentinos de Jamón y Queso (Round Ravioli Stuffed with Ham and Cheese)
Yields approx. 45 sorrentinos
Adapted from a recipe by La Cocina de Myri
For the dough:
4 cups all-purpose flour
1 egg yolk
2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 tsp. salt
1 cup warm water
For the filling:
16 oz. ricotta cheese
7 oz. (roughly 1½ cups) finely chopped boiled ham
4 oz. (roughly 1 cup) shredded mozzarella cheese
2 Tbsp. grated Parmesan cheese
½ tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
pinch of freshly ground black pepper
Homemade tomato sauce or another sauce of your choosing
Special equipment: pasta machine [optional], sorrentino mold [use ravioli mold as substitute], and rolling pin
To prepare the dough: In a large bowl (or directly on a clean work surface), mound the flour and make a well in the center. Add the egg yolk, olive oil and salt to the well, and with a fork, break the yolk and lightly whisk together the egg and oil. Gradually draw the flour into the center of the well and incorporate it using the fork while slowly adding the water. Continue until the liquid is absorbed and the dough comes together in a ragged ball. Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured work surface, and knead the dough until smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. Cover the dough with a clean, lint-free dishtowel, and leave it to rest for about 30 minutes.
To prepare the filling: In a medium bowl, combine all the ingredients (ricotta through black pepper) and refrigerate until you’re ready to fill the pasta.
To roll out the dough: A pasta machine will make the task of rolling out the dough considerably easier, but it is possible to use a rolling pin for this step. Cut the ball of dough in half, and cover and set aside the piece you’re not using to keep it from drying out. Divide the first half of dough into six pieces. Dust the dough with a little flour. Flatten the dough into a rectangle with the heel of your hand, and feed it 2 or 3 times through a pasta machine set at the widest setting. Sprinkle extra flour on the sheets as needed. Adjust the machine to a narrower setting, and send the dough through again twice. Continue reducing the setting and rolling until the machine is at its narrowest or second-narrowest setting. The dough should be very thin, about 1/16-inch thick (roughly the thickness of a dime). If you’re not very quick and it’s going to take a while to make the rest of the sheets, cover them with a towel so they don’t dry out. Roll out the other half of dough after you’ve filled the first few batches of sorrentinos.
To fill the sorrentinos: Generously flour the sorrentino mold, and gently place a sheet of pasta over top (it should overhang slightly by a half-inch or so). Lightly press the pasta down into the mold with your fingers. Fill each indentation with the ricotta mixture, and drape a second sheet of dough over the mold. Run a rolling pin over the mold to seal and cut the sorrentinos. Turn the mold over and release the sorrentinos onto a large floured cloth or dishtowels.
To cook the sorrentinos: Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil and add the sorrentinos. Gently boil until the sorrentinos float, about 3 minutes. Once they rise to the surface, the filling and pasta are cooked through. Remove to a platter or individual plates using a slotted spoon or skimmer. Serve immediately with your choice of sauce.