This article originally appeared in the June/July 2019 issue of Dream of Italy.
Once upon a time, a Chinese-Canadian girl met a tall, dark, and handsome Italian boy at a bar in a classic meet-cute worthy of a 90s sitcom. Fast-forward thousands of airplane miles, bottles of wine, minutes on Skype and that girl now calls Bergamo her adopted home. That girl is me.
The first trip I ever made to Italy was to Bergamo, where I met and stayed with my then-boyfriend’s parents without speaking a word of Italian. Naturally they didn’t speak English and so we communicated through the next best thing: food.
To welcome me to Italy and into their home, my father-in-law made the classic pasta dish of Bergamo: Casoncelli alla Bergamasca, a stuffed pasta shaped like a candy and served with a wonderfully calorific sage, bacon, and butter sauce and to this day, to me it tastes like love on a plate.
It’s the perfect dish for the northerly city of Bergamo, which used to have quite cold winters and is rather infamous in Italy for being home to some of the hardest workers. The people from Bergamo, known as Bergamaschi, are renowned bricklayers and this pasta dish would be served as a hearty and much-needed meal after a long workday, or in my case, to welcome a future daughter-in-law.
My father-in-law’s recipe is one that was passed down through his mother. When things started to get more serious and it was looking like I would amount to more than a study abroad fling, the recipe was passed down to me as well.
I remember as if it were yesterday, the four of us – my husband, my in-laws, and I – braving the snow in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada when they had come to visit one Christmas in order to search high and low around the city to procure the correct ingredients.
We were standing in a tiny kitchen as my father-in-law patiently explained the process to me and I wrote everything down frantically on a scrap piece of paper. My recipe was a hybrid of Italian and English, with quick sketches of what the pasta shape should look like in the margins. That first batch we made together would last us that entire winter, the casoncelli that we froze brought back memories of Bergamo for my homesick husband while they had me dreaming of a future life in Italy.
When we finally decided to take a chance and move from Canada to Italy, that scrap of paper with this recipe came with us across the Atlantic and was eventually transcribed into my official ricettiera (recipe book). Like so many Italian recipes, it is one that takes a lifetime to perfect yet every time we sit down to eat them, they remind me of how far we’ve come in so many more ways than one. – Jasmine Mah
Recipes: Casoncelli alla Bergamasca
Ingredients for the fresh pasta
8 cups of flour
5 full “uova” d’acqua (what this means is that you take one of the cracked eggs and fill it with water and add that amount to the dough, repeat this five times if you use 5 eggs)
1 tbsp of olive oil
pinch of salt
Ingredients for the filling
1 lb mortadella, grated
¼ cup of mix of Parmigiano Reggiano and Pecorino
¼ cup grated old bread
Beef broth, QB (you can use broth cubes to make it or follow a recipe to make a beef broth from scratch)
QB : quanto basta, often seen in Italian recipes to mean you “add as much as necessary”, this is the part that requires experience and the only way you learn quanto basta is by trial and error!
1. Mix all of the ingredients for the pasta using your hands until it becomes a smooth dough. Gather into a ball and cover with a cloth.
2. Mix all filling ingredients together by hand. Add broth until it starts to stick together. Add pepper and nutmeg. You should be able to make little balls and have the filling keep the form.
3. Pass a piece of pasta through a pasta machine (KitchenAid or manual) at the lowest setting (should be number 1) until smooth (fold in half and always pass through with open sides first). Pass through setting 5 once. Use a glass to stamp out circles.
4. Roll a tiny ball of filling and put it in the middle of each circle. Fold the circle in half, sealing edges well (you may need to brush a bit of broth on the edges to do so). Fold in half again and press your index finger on the filling which will make an indentation and give you the “candy” shape. Add pasta to boiling, salted water and when they float to the top they are ready.
Butter Sage Sauce
Parmigiano Reggiano, freshly grated
1. Cut cubes of pancetta, as much as you like and fry with butter. Again, there are no quantities here because it really depends on how much “sauce” you like and how much pasta you are making.
2. Add a few leaves of sage and cook everything together on low heat until the sage and the pancetta are both near-crispy.
3. When the pasta is ready, add to the pan with the butter sauce, mix, and serve with freshly-grated Parmigiano Reggiano.