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A recipe a method or just an idea?

"the possibilities are endless." Gourmet Traveller

Last night we had friends to dinner, some of whom were vegetarian, so vegetarian was the starting - and mostly end-point - in the recipe choosing stakes. The main dish was this beautiful pasta from Ixta Belfrage's wonderful book Mezcla, and it's called simply Chard rotolo. Alas the recipe is not online as yet, various people have tried and raved but not posted the recipe, and neither has Ixta herself. It looks classy and it does involve a number of steps, but it's not difficult. Fundamentally you blanch some silver beet leaves, lay them together to make a rectangle, lay some soaked fresh lasagne sheets on top, top with a rocket pesto and roll up before baking in the oven. Slice it when done, and lay it in a very simple sauce made from bottled tomato pasta, butter, garlic and herbs. Done. Buy the book if you haven't already because it is full of delectable things.

I also made a non-vegetarian version, because David seemed disappointed that the meal contained no meat, by placing some slices of ham on top of the pesto. But really I don't think it needed it. And everyone was delighted. I don't think they were being polite. And they seemed to assume that it was all down to me. Which is absolute rubbish. I can read. I read the recipe and did as I was told. Well actually I didn't quite because I didn't soak my fresh (home-made) lasagne in boiling water for a bit, and as a result the pasta component was a bit chewy. Well there is no sauce to soften it when it is cooking. My point is that really anyone can produce something as impressive as this if they just have the right books and the right recipes. Mezcla is one of those books. This picture is testament to that fact - it's from a Twitter post by Tanuj Suri who also made it. Unfortunately I was so caught up in the moment that I didn't take any photos, but whereas it didn't look quite as wonderful as the official photograph it still looked pretty good.

Ixta Belfrage herself made some suggestions for varying her recipe:

"The rocket pesto recipe is really just a blueprint, a good opportunity to use odds and ends of herbs and cheeses you might have in the fridge already, so feel free to mix it up."

Actually, of course, you can stuff it with anything - there are endless suggestions out there. What makes her recipe unique perhaps is the silver beet leaves that the whole thing is wrapped up in. Traditionally it's just pasta wrapped around a filling. This is a pretty classic interpretation - Rotoli di spinaci from the late Ruth Rogers of River Cafe

where Jamie Oliver learnt to cook and where he was discovered:

"that’s what I was cooking when Christmas at the River Cafe was filmed 23 years ago. It’s the only reason I got discovered and ended up on TV. It’s how I got to where I am today." Jamie Oliver

As you can see from that photograph it also doesn't have to be served with tomato sauce. The River Café version is simply served with a sage butter sauce.

Besides the vast number of fillings, and sauces, there seem to me to be three basic ways of cooking a rotolo. The traditional way, as in this Rotolo di pasta ripieni from Gourmet Traveller, is to poach your stuffed roll of pasta. Well you roll it up in a tea towel which is tied at the ends and in the middle too and poach it. I loved this statement in their introduction to the recipe:

"The cooking is the simplest part. A fish kettle works best"

Simple and fish kettle are not two words that naturally go together to me. First find a fish kettle. I actually looked for one once - back in the day when I thought there might be a possibility one day of cooking a whole salmon. I'm still waiting for that opportunity. I still have it but it's never used unless I want to make something huge like cassoulet for lots of people. Also never done these days. I bought it in Daimaru - gone long ago with much sadness on my part. You could buy things in Daimaru that you couldn't buy anywhere else. Really, for this dish you only need a deep baking dish or sauté pan that you can use on top of the stove as well as in the oven. Or, as somebody suggested, make smaller rotoli, that will fit in your widest pot.

Then there's the baking method which Ixla Belfrage uses - rather simpler, with the proviso that your lasagne sheets are at least half pre-cooked. In which case they should not be too thin or your rotolo will collapse when you roll it up.

The last is a variation on the baking thing in which you slice your rotolo before cooking and stand the pieces in a sauce and then bake. Which would give a crisper top to the pasta I guess. There are lots of this kind of thing on the net. This one is called Ham and asparagus nests and is from Rosemary Schrager.

I tried to find an origin story for the dish but couldn't. People seem to think it comes from the Emilia-Romagna area of Italy where Parmesan, balsamic vinegar, prosciutto and pancetta come from, but nobody seemed to know anything else.

Fun to make and classy to look at anyway. Give it a go.


I am told I am over my storage limit for this website, so am currently trying to decide between deleting all the early pages - after all I guess nobody is ever going to read them again, or up my contribution to the coffers of Wix by upgrading. If anyone has any suggestions or opinions on this please let me know. I think it will probably be the first option but I'll think about it some more. I have 28 days!


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