Known as tirtlen or tortelli alle erbe, this vegetarian homemade fried rye flour ravioli is a traditional recipe from the beautiful Alto Adige (South Tyrol) in Northeast Italy. There, rye flour is a staple ingredient used to make bread, pasta and other foods. These ricotta and spinach raviolis are easy to make and very moreish.
South Tyrolean cuisine.
Also called the Alto Adige or Südtirol, this Italian province is part of the Trentino-Alto Adige region. From 1815 until 1919, it belonged to the Austrian Hungarian Empire. The South Tyrol borders with the modern-day Austrian region of Tyrol.
Many people there speak German and, as you can imagine, there are a lot of similarities in the food in both parts of the Tyrol. That’s why many South Tyrolean recipes and dishes have Germanic names, as you will notice below.
I found this recipe for spinach and ricotta rye flour ravioli in an Italian cookbook for recipes from Trentino-Alto Adige. This book is part of a collection of cookery books with recipes from all the Italian regions. Apart from these tirtlen there are some other dishes I really want to make from it; like tagliatelle with cabbage and sausage, different types of canederli and gnocchi and more rye flour ravioli recipes.
Rye flour in the South Tyrol kitchen.
Wheat doesn’t grow well in the mountainous South Tyrol. In fact, only the most rustic and resistant plants have adapted to the rough terrain of the Dolomite mountains in which the region is located. So, the locals traditionally use hardier types of grains to make their breads and pasta etc. These include spelt, oats, buckwheat, and barley.
However, the most popular grain is rye. Rye has weed-like characteristics and not even the snow kills it, let alone the altitude. Consequently, it has long been a source of staple foods that in the past helped the local population survive during difficult times.
The most well-known traditional rye breads from this part of Italy are schüttelbrot: a crispbread made from rye, sourdough and cumin seeds and Vinschger Paarl meaning the ‘Venosta couple’: two flat loaves of rye and spelt or wheat joined together.
Plus, Pusterer Breatl: a flat and round loaf typical of the Val Pusteria, made with a mixture of rye and wheat and flavored with fennel seeds, coriander, cumin and fenugreek.
South Tyrolean pasta made with rye flour.
Interestingly, schüttelbrot is even used to make pasta. Some time ago, I was given some schüttelbrot tagliatelle which I used in another South Tyrol pasta recipe with speck and chanterelles.
To make that tagliatelle, they finely grind the bread and mix it with eggs and durum wheat semolina. So delicious, but sadly hard to find and not easy to make at home.
Apart from the fried ravioli in this recipe, the South Tyroleans make other rye flour ravioli including ravioli alla Pusterese or schlutzkrapfen. These are usually crescent, or half-moon shaped (mezzelune). The ingredients are mostly the same as tirtlen, but instead of being fried, they are boiled and served with brown butter and Parmigiano.
Is rye flour healthy?
Rye flour is a lot more nutritious than wheat flour as it retains a large amount of nutrients. This is because it’s harder to separate the bran whilst processing the flour. Rye flour is rich in B vitamins, which are important for the brain and nervous system. It’s also mineral rich with magnesium for nerves and muscles, phosphorus for healthy bones, iron for blood formation and oxygen transport and zinc.
Is rye flour pasta gluten free?
Rye flour has less gluten than wheat flour but it’s not gluten free. However, the gluten in this flour (gliadin) is a different type of gluten to that found in wheat flours. Rye flour lacks the glutenin needed to form the elasticity in dough.
This is why many rye flour breads and most rye flour pasta also contain wheat flour. The homemade fried ravioli in this recipe has an equal amount of rye flour and soft wheat flour.
How to make the rye flour ravioli dough.
As mentioned above, the flour for this ravioli dough is half rye flour and half soft wheat flour. The liquid you need for the dough is actually milk, plus a tablespoon of olive oil. This dough is quite easy to make. Just sift the two flours together into a bowl, add a pinch of salt, the olive oil and some milk.
Start to mix the flour and liquid together using a fork, adding more milk until you have the start of a dough that doesn’t stick to the sides of the bowl. Of course, you can mix the dough without a bowl on a floured work surface.
Next, turn the dough out onto a floured work surface and knead until it’s quite smooth and elastic. Then roll the dough into a ball, wrap it in cling film or a damp tea towel and let it rest for 30 minutes.
The spinach and ricotta filling for rye flour ravioli.
While the dough is resting is the perfect time to make the filling. This version of tirtlen has just spinach, ricotta and salt. There are also versions with potato as well and others made with cabbage and potato or cheese and Swiss chard.
Making the filling is pretty simple. All you need to do is cook the spinach in salted water, drain it very well, squeeze out any water and chop it finely. I used a food processor to do this. Then mix the spinach with the ricotta and add salt to taste. You can also add some grated nutmeg.
Making and filling this ravioli.
Once the dough has rested, cut off about 20% of it and rewrap the remaining dough so it doesn’t dry out. Roll out the piece of dough you cut off until it’s reasonably thin. You can use just a rolling pin or a pasta machine.
I used my manual pasta machine, passing the dough through the widest setting a couple of times first. Then again through the next two settings. On my machine, the widest setting has the highest number, 7. On other machines the wisest setting is sometimes the lowest number.
The dough sheets for this homemade rye flour ravioli don’t need to be super thin. The next step is to cut circles out of the dough using a glass, or cookie cutter. Some Italian make their tirtlen 12cm (4.7in) in diameter. Mine were 9cm (3.5in).
Once you have some circles of dough, place a couple of teaspoons of the filling onto the centre of one dough circle, wet around the edge with some water and cover with a second circle.
Press the edges down around the filling to seal your ravioli. Place the ready uncooked rye flour ravioli on a floured tray and repeat the process with the rest of the dough and filling.
Frying and serving your rye flour ravioli
These homemade spinach and ricotta rye flour ravioli from the South Tyrol are traditionally eaten fried as a snack or street food. You can find them for sale at many of the region’s markets and fairs. They are best when they are hot and freshly cooked.
The best oil to fry your tirtlen in is a vegetable, sunflower seed, or peanut oil. In the past, locals also fried this ravioli in lard but that’s not common these days.
Depending on the size and depth of your frying pan, fry the ravioli in hot oil until they brown on each side. I didn’t use a lot of oil so I did them 4 at a time and turned them over to brown. Once cooked, place the ravioli on some kitchen paper to drain some of the oil. But serve them whilst still hot.
What to do with leftovers.
Leftover cooked rye flour ravioli can be kept in a sealed container in the fridge for a couple of days and reheated in the microwave or eaten cold. BUT, they don’t taste as good as freshly fried ones!
Uncooked rye flour ravioli can be frozen and cooked from frozen but be careful when you add them to the hot oil. You can also just boil uncooked tirtlen (fresh or frozen) and serve them with browned butter and parmigiano like schlutzkrapfen.
Let me know what you think.
These vegetarian spinach and ricotta rye flour ravioli make a great appetizer for guests. They can also be eaten at a party as a finger food. Whichever way you decide to serve them, I'm sure they'll be a hit.
If you do try this fried ravioli recipe, I’d love to know what you think. Please write a comment here on the blog or post a comment on the Pasta Project Facebook page.
Your feedback means a lot to me!
Pin for later.
Other homemade ravioli recipes worth trying.
- Baked Easter ravioli from Marche
- Sweet ravioli from Friuli Venezia Giulia
- Baked fish ravioli from Liguria
- Ricotta and saffron ravioli from Sardinia
- Homemade meat ravioli (agnolotti)
Are you interested in learning how to make other homemade pasta and different types of gnocchi? Then check out my shop page for some great video online courses from my friends in Rome! Nothing beats learning to make pasta from Italians! Plus while you’re there why not order a copy of one of my pasta recipe cookbooks or checkout some recommended pasta making tools?