Chocolate Pasta with Zucchini and Ricotta Aglio Olio
Last year Bogota Pop Ups convinced me to cook a chocolate-themed dinner for sixteen people. I was terrified, let’s not be coy about it. I’m a chocolatier not a chef, my profession doesn’t require plating a meal beautifully so it both looks and tastes delicious. Nor do I have to deliver my chocolates while still hot to sixteen eager diners at the same time. But these were problems to worry about later. Before that stress began, I had two happy months in my kitchen to develop and perfect eight courses of a chocolate dinner.
There is a lot of science behind recipe development and one of my favourite rabbit holes on the internet is the Food Pairing website whose online app will bring up the most surprising combinations of ingredients, all based on compatibility between foods on a molecular level. Strawberry with Parmigiano cheese? Beef and coffee?
However when cooking for myself I follow a simpler method, one borrowed from Thai cuisine: combine the five basic tastes of sweet, salty, bitter, sour and umami in every dish.
All good bakers know a pinch of salt in a cake batter will increase the sweetness but did you know that a little sugar will lift a bland tomato sauce? Or that the most divine beef stews are those served with a sprinkling of lime zest and chopped parsley?
If you subscribe to this theory then chocolate, and its raw material cacao, are your best friends. Between them they can cover all five of the basic tastes plus over 500 possible aromas. If you're wondering how to incorporate chocolate into your cooking, start with these ingredients:
Cacao beans that have been fermented, dried, roasted and winnowed to remove the skins, look like an almond-shaped 3D puzzle. When subjected to just the slightest pressure, these beans break into small pieces known as nibs. They give a dish a deep chocolatey flavour with a bitter edge. They can also add umami, and bring the wide array of aromas that chocolate is famous for such as floral, fruity, earthy, nutty or woody notes. Texturally they add a lovely toothy crunch. You can find cacao nibs in most health and gourmet food stores.
When these nibs are milled or ground, they create a paste, thanks to the high fat content of cacao beans. This paste is called cacao mass or cacao liquor. There is no alcohol in cacao liquor, it’s just the term used by the industry. The fat in the beans, called cacao butter, is solid until 37 degrees centigrade, so cacao liquor is usually bought in solid form. It can be grated, chopped, or melted and tempered to create different intensely chocolately flavoured dishes. Cacao liquor is sometimes called “100% chocolate”. In Colombia you can find it in gourmet and health food stores as 100% chocolate de mesa, or drinking chocolate. In other countries, look for 99% chocolate bars.
The cocoa butter can be extracted from the cacao liquor using a press or centrifugal machine. What’s left behind is cocoa powder. This is a common ingredient in cakes and desserts because it can be easily combined with other dry ingredients like flour and castor sugar. Like nibs, cocoa powder lends a chocolately flavour without sweetness.
Cocoa powder can be divided into two categories, dutched and non-dutched. Dutching is a process that reduces the acidity in the cocoa powder, and also makes it much darker. It lends dishes a more intense chocolate colour, but less chocolate flavour.
Of course there are so many variations within this category. We can work with dark, milk or white chocolate. There are different percentages of cacao, the chocolate flavour becoming more intense as the cacao content increases. Chocolate also offers an array of textures. It can be liquid when warmed, smooth when combined with cream or butter and other fats. It can also be crunchy in its solid form, which can range from ultra thin leaves to thick chocolate wedges.
Savoury chocolate recipes
Of the many hours spent in my kitchen, this chocolate pasta dish was one of the most satisfying results. I added cocoa powder to a basic pasta dough recipe, creating a pasta with depth that adds significant richness and umami taste to the final dish. This recipe for Chocolate Tagliatelle With Zucchini And Ricotta ticks all the taste boxes:
- Sweetness: slivered almonds, zucchini and ricotta cheese;
- Bitterness: cocoa powder;
- Sourness: lime;
- Saltiness: Parmigiano cheese;
- Umami: that Parmigiano cheese working double time plus cocoa powder.
And it all begins with the classic base of "aglio e olio", olive oil and garlic.
This pasta recipe was perfected in a fun afternoon spent with pasta-making-extraordinaire Sara Lisa Orstovik from Bogota Pop Ups. It is undoubtably a weekend project, but you can make extra pasta and dry it for future meals.
Recipe: Chocolate Pasta with Ricotta and Zucchini Aglio e Olio
For the chocolate tagliatelle:
400 grams all purpose flour
1 egg yolk
40g high quality cocoa powder
Mix together the flour and cocoa powder in a large bowl, or if you’re brave on the kitchen bench. Make a large well in the centre and add the eggs and egg yolk. Mix with your index and middle fingers or whisk with a fork, adding the flour into the well a little at a time until no dry bits remain. Knead the mixture on the bench until you have a smooth evenly-coloured dough, about 10 minutes. This will be hard work as the dough is quite stiff, but it is a necessary step to creating chewy yet supple pasta. Consider it a pre-dinner workout.
Wrap the dough in plastic and allow it to rest in the fridge for at least an hour.
If you have a pasta machine, use it. It will save you a lot of effort. If not, you can use a rolling pin and a knife to make your tagliatelle following these instructions, or skip the hard work and make trofie shaped pasta instead. Trofie are normally made from a water-based pasta dough, but egg dough works just as well.
If using a machine, divide your dough into four pieces. Cover three of them with plastic wrap so they don’t dry out. Working with the remaining piece, shape it into a rectangle and flatten it slightly with a rolling pin. Roll it through the pasta machine on the thickest setting. Lay the dough on the bench and fold it in half gently and press down lightly on the fold to mark the centre. Unfold the dough so you can see the vertical line marking the centre. Then fold each side in half until the each edge touches the centre line. Fold this in half again, and in half again until you have a neat rectangle. Use the rolling pin to combine all the layers and flatten the dough slightly. Repeat this process three times: run the dough through the pasta machine, fold until you have a rectangle, roll a little using a rolling pin.
Once you have completed this process, roll the dough as normal through each setting of your pasta machine until you reach two settings from the end. Most pasta machines go up to nine so if that’s the case on your machine, roll the dough until you reach setting number seven.
Attach the fettucine cutter to your machine and run your pasta sheet through the tagliatelle setting, or use your knife to cut the pasta into thicks trips, approximately 1.5cm wide. Coat with flour if necessary to prevent the pasta from sticking to itself and store in piles on a floured tray while you repeat the process for the remaining portions of pasta dough. Cover with a tea towel or cloth until ready to use.
Zuchinni and Ricotta Algio Olio
6tbs olive oil, divided
6 cloves garlic thinly sliced
2 zucchinis, grated
Juice and zest of two limes
150 g ricotta cheese broken into small chunks
1 tsp chilli flakes
1/2 cup of fresh mint leaves, chopped
1/2 cup of flat-leaf parsley leaves, chopped
2 tbs reserved water from cooking the pasta
1/4 cup slivered almonds
Salt and pepper
Heat 3 tbs of the olive oil in a large fry pan over medium heat, then add the garlic and cook 30-60 seconds until fragrant but not brown, then add the chlili flakes and cook for an additional 30 seconds.
Put the grated zucchini in the pan and cook, stirring frequently, until most of the liquid from the zucchini has evaporated and it is beginning to brown, about 15 minutes. Turn off the heat.
Meanwhile bring a large pot of water to the boil. Add 1tbs salt and allow it to dissolve before adding your pasta. Fresh pasta cooks very quickly, so keep your eye on it. 3-4 minutes might be all it needs. You need to remove the pasta when it is still quite firm as it will continue cooking in the frypan with your sauce. Before straining your pasta in a colandar remove at least a cup of the cooking liquid.
Add your zucchini mixture to the now empty pot and return it to medium heat. Add the Parmigiano cheese and slowly add your reserved pasta cooking water 1 tablespoon at a time, stirring constantly until the mixture comes together as a loose sauce. Add your pasta to the pot, along with the ricotta cheese, herbs, almonds, lime juice and zest, plus a healthy dash of freshly ground black pepper. Toss to combine. Taste and season with more salt if its needed.
Serve immediately drizzled with the remaining olive oil and with more Parmigiano cheese and slivered almonds sprinked on top.