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Casoncelli  (Casonsei)

(Makes 30 - 36 pieces)
Casoncelli: A traditional pasta from Lombardy
Casoncelli (pronouced ka-ZONE-chelli) are made with fresh pasta dough that envelopes a slightly sweet meat filling and are typically served with melted butter flavored with pancetta and sage leaves. They come from the area in Italy called Bergamo in Lombardy.  Casoncelli in the style alla bergamasca are filled with a variety of stuffings. There might be a single type of meat or a mixture of meat (ground beef, pork, veal, sausage, or salami) and then a combination of other ingredients may be added, such as cheese, spinach, raisins, amaretti cookies, pear, or garlic.  The pasta shape is made by folding a sheet of pasta over the filling and pressing it together at the edges, similar to a ravioli.  The finished shape looks a little like a piece of wrapped candy.   Casoncelli is a very rich dish but the flavor is unforgettable.  Six or seven pieces are adequate for a main course and 2 or 3 for an appetizer course.
Although this recipe is made with pork, casoncelli can be made with a variety of different meats.  I like to use pork ribs because of their mild flavor and because they have a fair amount of fat in them.  You could also use cooked leftover pork or ground pork for this recipe.

Ingredients:

3/4 pound of fresh egg pasta dough

Filling:
8 ounces boneless pork ribs
Salt and pepper
Olive oil
1/4 cup golden raisins
2 amaretti cookies, crushed
1/2 cup finely chopped pear
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 egg
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg

Sauce:
6 tablespoon unsalted butter
4 ounces pancetta, cut into 1/4-inch cubes
About 24 sage leaves
1 garlic clove, sliced

Parmesan cheese for serving

Directions:

To make the filling:
Cut the pork into small (about 1/2-inch) cubes.  Season the meat with salt and pepper.  Heat 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat.
Sauté the pork in the skillet until no pink remains, about 5 minutes.  Remove from heat and set aside to cool.

When the meat is cooled, transfer it to the bowl of a food processor.  Add the raisins and pulse to finely chop.  Add the rest of the filling ingredients and season with salt and pepper.  Process the mixture until well combined. The texture of the filling should be slightly coarse, not completely smooth.  Put the filling into a disposable pastry bag; clip the tip to make a 1/2-inch opening.  If you don’t have a pastry bag, you can use a spoon to distribute the filling.

To form the casoncelli:
Roll out the pasta dough into strips about 4-inches wide.  Place tablespoons of filling at 2-inch intervals down the center of each dough strip.  Brush the edges and between the filling with a little water (this will help to seal them.)  Bring the bottom edge of the dough strip up to meet the top edge.  Use your fingertips to seal the dough around each mound of filling. 

With a round fluted cutter, cut a half-moon shape around each mound of filling.
To shape each casoncelli, place the folded side of the filled pocket on a work surface.  Lightly press down so that the folded side flattens and the pocket stands upright.  With one finger, gently press down on the middle of the half-moon to indent the middle. Place the formed casoncelli on a cornmeal or floured surface as continue forming the remainder.

To make the sauce:
Put all of the sauce ingredients in a skillet over low heat.  Cook for 10 to 15 minutes, until the butter begins to brown.  The pancetta should be crispy brown, the garlic golden, and the sage leaves will also be crisp.  Remove from heat and set aside.

To serve:
Cook the casoncelli in boiling salted water for 5-6 minutes, or until tender.
Place several casoncelli into individual serving bowls.  Sprinkle with some grated Parmesan cheese.  Spoon a few tablespoons of the sauce over each and serve.
Step by Step - Forming Casoncelli
1. Cut pasta dough cut into 4-inch wide strips.  Place tablespoons of filling placed at 2-inch intervals down the center of each dough strip.
2. Brush the edges and between the filling with a little water.  Bring the bottom edge of the dough strip up to meet the top edge.  Use your fingertips to seal the dough around each mound of filling.
3. With a round fluted cutter, cut a half-moon shape around each mound of filling.
4. Separate the cut casoncelli from the
folded strip of dough.
5. Place the folded side of each filled pocket on a work surface.  Lightly press down so that the folded side flattens and the pocket stands upright.
6. With one finger, gently press down on the middle of the half-moon to indent the middle.
Casoncelli: A traditional pasta from Lombardy
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Sometime called "Italian bacon," pancetta is salt-cured pork belly.  It isn't smoked like American bacon.  It is rolled into a spiral loaf, and can be sliced or diced for cooking.  Look for pancetta in your market's deli section.
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