Pasta of the Week: Tortelli
I love shopping for kitchen gadgets. Last week’s project was to look for a new rolling pin. Much to my surprise, my favorite shops were either sold out of rolling pins or had a very limited stock. This news made me happy because I like to think of making pie crusts or fresh pasta as a quotidian event for many people.
In this time of advanced technology, smart phones, and hours spent in front of screens, I believe it is good for our souls to use our hands and create the things our grandparents used to make.
So, this week’s pasta dish is a glorious example of this concept; a traditional Italian hand-rolled, stuffed pasta called Tortelli. I learned this technique from my friend Stefania who lives in the Chianti region near Florence. She gives cooking classes and is very passionate about wholesome, healthy food and simple ingredients. In Emilia-Romagna where she was raised, at Christmas time, they make fresh Tortelli stuffed with ricotta, spinach, and freshly grated parmagiana-reggiano cheese. Below is the recipe I learned from Stefania. If you find yourself in Florence and are looking for a way to spend an afternoon, take an Italian cooking class with Stefania Fermi at Cooking at Home with Style.
Spinach and Ricotta Tortelli for Christmas
Enjoy these delicious stuffed Tortelli at Christmas or anytime.
Notes to the cook: For step-by-step instructions and photos on making and rolling fresh pasta dough, please click here.
For Tortelli Pasta
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
2 large eggs
pinch of salt
1 cup cooked spinach, finally chopped – fresh or frozen – (1 pound of fresh spinach makes 1 cup of cooked spinach)
1/2 cup ricotta cheese
1/3 cup parmigiana-reggiano cheese, grated (plus a bit more for garnish)
Zest of 1/2 lemon
A healthy pinch of freshly ground nutmeg
1/4 cup fresh basil, chiffonade
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 Tablespoons butter
5 – 6 fresh sage leaves, chopped
Make the filling:
Important note: The filling needs to be as dry as possible so that the dough doesn’t get soggy. For the spinach, squeeze out as much of the liquid as possible. I like to put it in a strainer and press out the water with my hands. Same goes with the ricotta. Buy firm ricotta and let it drain in a strainer so all the extra liquid drains out.
In a bowl, mix spinach, ricotta, parmigiana-reggiaino, basil, nutmeg, lemon zest, and salt until uniform in color.
To make pasta dough:
1. Dump the flour onto the middle of a large wooden board and make a well in the center. Add the two eggs and pinch of salt to the well and mix with a fork while incorporating the flour with the eggs until completely mixed. Knead the dough for 4-5 minutes until it is soft and elastic.
2. Form dough into a ball, put in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
Take the dough out of the fridge and roll to 1/16 inch thickness. You can either roll the dough by hand or use your pasta machine to make thin sheets.
3. Cut rolled pasta into 2 1/2 in squares
4. Lay all of your pasta squares out on a floured wooden board.
5. Place 1 teaspoon of filling into the corner of each square.
6. Roll tortelli shape. This takes some practice, but it is so worth it. These little pasta shapes are so much fun to serve to friends or for dinner. One of the secrets is to roll the tortelli right away so the dough stays supple and moist. This video might help:
7. Bring 4 quarts of salted water to a gentle boil.
8. While waiting for the water to boil, melt butter in a skillet on very low heat. Add sage leaves to melted butter and stir for one minute. Should be just fragrant. Remove from heat.
9. When water begins to boil, carefully drop Tortelli into boiling water one by one. If they get too overcrowded, they might break apart, so cook them in two batches.
10. After about 2 minutes Tortelli will rise to the top. Cook for 2 minutes longer.
11. Using a slotted spoon or small sieve, carefully remove Tortelli and place them in the skillet with sage a butter. Heat and stir gently for a minute or two so that the tortelli are nicely coated in the butter.
12. Serve on your favorite Christmas platter with a bowl of parmagiano-reggiano cheese for garnish.
Enjoy this lovely treat. You worked hard and deserve much praise!