Fashion Week: Pasta Purses - the New Prada

Quite a few years ago – in the year 2000 – Mark and I rented a beautiful Tuscan farmhouse in Fiano (Certaldo). The stone building, with a medieval watchtower at its core, was wreathed in star jasmine, and was the perfect setting for a two-week-long holiday we shared with a gaggle of women friends. Husbands, boyfriends and children were left at home with labeled frozen food and microwaving instructions; arrangements were made for cats and dogs left behind. It was a magical two weeks – sometime I will tell you about the Night of the Shawls from that same trip.

Toward the end, friends reluctantly wandered home to their varied commitments. For us, the trip ended with an overnight in Florence with a lingering quartet. Barbara and Sue filled out our foursome, and we arranged for rooms at the Hotel Executive, about a block from the Arno and the Ponte Vecchio.

Mark, sitting outdoors at the Trattoria Quattro Leoni, Firenze
We crossed into the Altr’Arno for dinner that evening in the small Piazza della Passera (square of the hen-sparrow) – in a restaurant chosen for its intimacy and the aromas wafting from its kitchen. We chose well.

The Trattoria Quattro Leoni, situated on the southeast side of this tiny rectangular piazza, has become one of our favorite dining venues in Florence. We both – all four of us, perhaps? – had tiny purses of pasta filled with cheese and pears, with a creamy cheese and asparagus sauce. Amazing.

The entry courtyard of Salt Spring Island Cheese
Flash forward 12 years. We spent a too-brief summer vacation in British Columbia on Salt Spring Island visiting friends, and then in the city of Victoria wandering the floriferous harbor and parks there. It was one of the most beautiful vacations we have had. And it was Fall fashion Week, or so said the newspapers...

While on Salt Spring, one day of touring included a stop at the artisanal Salt Spring Island Cheese.

Sherry and Ziggy in the courtyard
We were greeted in the courtyard by the four-footed Ziggy. The court was a wonderful place to linger with bread and cheese for a midday meal. Inside, the two-legged Sherry helped us get to the heart of the matter – cheese!

I am a huge fan of goat cheeses, and I was really excited to find Salt Spring Island Cheese, and their amazingly varied offerings. They include hard, semi-soft, and soft chèvre cheeses, and four types of surface-ripened cheeses, and many more. I immediately fell for the Chevaro – a semi-hard cheese that melts beautifully and is somewhat reminiscent of an aged Gouda or provolone … but made with goat’s milk.

In truth, I fell for all their cheeses, and while we were on the island, we ate them at every opportunity. As we were at the source, I was compelled to choose some to bring home. I chose two of them expressly with the thought of recreating the little purses of pasta we had in Florence years ago.

No, these are not Italian cheeses – but does that really matter? They tasted so good that I just knew they would pair perfectly with the pears and asparagus; the Chevaro with the pears because of its deep, nutty flavor, and the Juliette – a surface-ripened Camembert-style cheese – for the cream sauce with asparagus.

Since I was altering the cheeses in the recipe (I believe Quattro Leoni used Taleggio), I opted to treat the asparagus differently, as well. I made ribbons of my spears, sautéed them briefly in some olive oil, and added a bit of lemon zest before topping them with the purses, and finally saucing the entire dish with a light creamy sauce made from the Juliette.

If you get to Salt Spring Island, you should definitely visit the farm – you can watch through large plate glass windows to see all the steps of production as the fresh goat’s milk is curdled, washed, pressed, and aged into cheese. If you are lucky enough to live in the Seattle are, some of the Whole Foods stores there carry Salt Spring Island Cheeses. Otherwise, it is up to you to take the plane and ferry to get there and bring some home for yourself.

Incidentally, I declared all the cheese at customs, and my only problem was that the officer admired the cheese as much as I did!

I made this dish for a date night for just the two of us; the garden was beautiful by candlelight. We would love to share this dish with others; reservations are now being taken. (But be prepared to help make the pasta!)

~ David

Pasta Purses on Asparagus "Noodles" - Crème de Chèvre

One recipe homemade pasta (your own recipe or this one, or this one)
1 medium firm-ripe pear, Bosc, Bartlett or Anjou
3 ounces Chevaro cheese - or aged Gouda or provolone
pinch of salt

4 ounces Juliette cheese - or any goat brie or Camembert
2 tablespoons grated Pecorino Romano
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 cup light cream
1 egg yolk
2 pounds asparagus
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon lemon zest

Peel, core and cut the pear into a 3/16-inch dice. Dice the Chevaro (or other aged semi-had cheese) in 3/16-inch dice. Combine with the pears, sprinkle with a pinch of salt and set aside.

Divide your pasta dough into 2-inch balls. (While working with one ball, keep all others well covered, as they will dry out.) Flatten the balls, one at a time, and run them through your pasta machine to the thinnest setting - "7" on mine. Cut 5-inch circles out of the pasta (using a bowl or plate as a guide) and stack them on top of one another. Cover them to keep moist. You will need 16 rounds for this recipe; if you have more pasta, freeze it for another use.

Fill each round with 1 tablespoon pear and cheese filling, then gather up the sides and pinch the tops together to make your purses. Place each one, sitting upright, on a parchment-lined baking sheet and place in the freezer. Keep them frozen until ready to cook.

Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil. Keep it simmering until just ready to cook the pasta.

Remove the rind from the Juliette (or goat Camembert or Brie), and cut into 1/2-inch cubes; place in a medium saucepan. Add the grated Pecorino Romao and the cornstarch, and toss to combine. Add the light cream and place on a medium-low hot burner. Stir carefully until the cheese all melts. While this is melting, slice the asparagus.

Remove the tips from all the spears and set aside. Using a mandoline or a vegetable peeler, cut the asparagus spears into long, flat "noodles." When done, heat the olive oil in a large skillet and add slivers of asparagus. Sauté until soft, but not dark green. Add lemon zest. Keep warm.

Cook the asparagus tips in a little olive oil until crisp-tender for garnish. Set aside.

With asparagus is ready, remove cheese sauce from heat, whisk to loosen and add the egg yolk; whisk it in quickly. Return to lowest heat to keep warm.

Bring water to a full boil. Plunge frozen purses in the salted water and cook them for 3-5 minutes, until hot throughout, and the pasta "necks" are tender. Drain.

Put a next of asparagus "noodles" on each of four serving plates, surround each nest with 4 purses, and then sauce the purses and asparagus with the cheese sauce. Garnish with asparagus tips and serve immediately.

Serves 4.


  1. The words, the pictures, I swear I can taste this dish now and it is one of the best! Will I ever get up the nerve to try and make it?? We shall see.

  2. A post about Italy and goat cheese, what can be better? I´m crazy for both! Interesting how the pasta purses stay sealed. This is something to do on a lazy day and eat outside. Really wonderful David! The shaved asparagus is perfect for me now, almost in season here.

  3. Thanks for adding this to my list of wonderful recipes with goat cheese. we have 3 dozen goats at the ranch and I just completed my Advanced Certification at UVM as a Cheesemaker, so you really have to visit. www.ranchosolymar.com.

  4. Paula - I always get so happy when the spring asparagus starts coming in. I can imagine getting the thinnest possible spears and not even slivering them! Next time, I might pinch the purses in a slightly different way, as they got a little thick in the middle... But they were so pretty!

    Holly - we would love to come down there some day and see your place and - more to the point - eat your cheese!! Do you and Dan make your own pasta?

  5. this looks beautiful and simple! bookmarking to try it!

  6. Thanks, Ahu! I bet you have all sorts of cheese you can find in NYC to make these!

  7. These delicate pasta purses are so beautiful to look at and so tasty to eat. This is when food is fun!

  8. Colette - yes, indeed, this was fun! I love playing like this in the kitchen, as I know you do, too!

  9. What a stunning dish. I love goats cheese and try to use it often.
    Loved reading about your time in Fiano too, I would love to visit there some day...

  10. Thanks, Anna! The recipe does take a little work but not as much as I had originally thought! Fiano is beautiful - we are looking forward to going back someday.


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