Spinach and Ricotta Pasta Rolls

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Although they are scrumptious, hamantashen aren’t the only thing to enjoy for the holiday of Purim, beginning sundown on March 4. After all, you need a little something to counterbalance all that sugar, right?

According to culinary historian Gil Marks, one traditional Jewish-Italian dish for the holiday is the Venetian Spinach Pasta Roll. This is a sheet of thin pasta dough filled with cooked, chopped spinach, then rolled into a log, wrapped snugly in cloth or plastic, and poached. After that, you can slice it into 1-inch rounds and bake.

This dish resembles many other traditional Purim foods in that it features a filling (think hamantashen, kreplach, buricche, meat turnovers—all Purim delicacies from around the world). Those slightly hidden fillings might represent the secrets and surprises in the Purim story, in which Esther foils a plot by the King’s adviser to kill all the Jews in ancient Persia.

The spinach rolled inside pasta intrigued me, but I wanted to see whether I could make a good rendition faster and with fewer steps. That way, it wouldn’t just be a recipe for a special occasion.

I opted for the variation with spinach, ricotta, and Parmesan filling (rotoli di pasta con spinaci e formaggi). Then I borrowed some ideas and techniques from another classic Jewish-Italian recipe for pasta rolls that resemble cannelloni, in which small sheets of pasta spread with cheese are rolled up jellyroll style and baked with butter. To simplify matters, for the pasta, I used lasagna noodles, and for the filling, frozen spinach and one container of good-quality ricotta.

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The flavor of the dish rounds out with garlic and some freshly grated nutmeg. Now you might be wondering about a sauce. These don’t get smothered in a heavy tomato sauce—and for good reason. Without an overwhelming blanket of acidity and tartness, the spinach, garlic, cheese, and butter get a chance to work their charms. And that they do. I love this recipe and I find these rolls irresistible hot out of the oven—a light robe of butter and cheese gives way to chewy pasta, which then reveals the luscious spinach filling.

Besides being so pleasurable to eat, the dish is pretty and festive for a holiday, but easy enough to do anytime. If you have leftovers, the little rolls become quite firm in the fridge and can be a great grab and go lunch the next day. And hot or cold, they make a consistently fabulous pre-hamantashen course.



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