When time comes for my birthday dinner, I’m always very clear as to what I want to cook and eat. (Fear not, dear T took me out to dinner on Saturday night, too.) It’s usually a simple menu that nonetheless manages to be labor-intensive, partially since anything that one cooks for one’s own birthday is always going to feel like a bit of a chore, even if it’s sandwiches! But truth be told, I’m truly happiest in the kitchen, getting my elbows into a project (no matter if I emerge from the experience older by a year!).
And I’ve been wanting to make tortellini for some time. Meaty little dumplings with an Italian accent? Just what I love to eat! And it seems like the only way to serve tortellini is bathed in very hot, rich chicken broth, which, if you’ve been reading this blog, you’ve heard before. Hot, rich chicken broth…. As usual, I made the broth the day before, since a night’s rest in the fridge will congeal the fat and make it so much easier to remove. I’m far too impatient to skim.
It did occur to T and me that neither of us had eaten tortellini in Italy - and at home, only the horrifying frozen cheese tortellini that sometimes can’t be avoided. And so while making tortellini was a leap of faith, the end result had a flavor that seemed entirely appropriate for a dish from the Lombardia region. And I attribute that flavor to the generous use of both mortadella and prosciutto in the filling. Deliciously haunting. From now on, I won’t make tortellini without cured meat – a good meat filling would be something else, just not tortellini.
Several cookbooks I consulted warned about the difficulty of shaping tortellini, which I found to be time-consuming, but very simple. The final adorable character depends on cutting the pasta into circles or squares. For the sake of efficiency, mine were squares, and the little triangular packets got pinched together in front to make little rings. Keep the dough covered to prevent it from drying out, and roll just a few sheets at a time for the same reason. Get a friend to help with the cutting and filling, or turn on the radio and open that bottle of prosecco…
I stopped at 100 pieces, since dinner was just T and me. Cooked in chicken broth, homemade tortellini were nothing like the aforementioned factory-made stuff – but tender, delicately spiced and swollen with the goodness of the broth. A sprig or two of fried nettle for color (you could add a sprinkling of chopped parsley), a watercress salad, and the remainder of that bottle of prosecco, and that’s my birthday dinner – neither simple nor complicated, but just right.Recipe: Tortellini in Brodo The amount of filling below will make about 200 pieces, to serve 6 For the filling, combine 1/2 lb. mixed ground pork and ground beef, 3 oz. each mortadella and prosciutto, 1 egg, and a generous dusting of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. You can add a smidgen of ground nutmeg, if you like, and several cranks of black pepper, but please, no salt! The mortadella and prosciutto are salty enough. Process in a food processor until pasty. For the dough, combine 1 cup semolina flour, 1 egg, a glug of olive oil and enough sprinkling of cold water to make a firm dough. Knead until smooth, then let rest, covered. To assemble the tortellini, thinly roll the pasta (I stopped at number 6 on my pasta machine), and cut out 1 1/2 inch squares. Add a dollop of filling, bring all points together to make a triangle, and press the edges to seal. Bring the long points to the front, and pinch to secure. Set on a well-floured tray to prevent sticking, and cover with a dry cloth until ready to cook. Cook tortellini in boiling chicken broth, lightly seasoned, until they float – about 3 minutes. Serve in heated bowls, in their cooking broth.