Thursday, December 6, 2007

Tortellini (Tortelloni)

The day after Thanksgiving I got together with my mom, my sister, my aunt and my cousin to make tortellini. This is something we do periodically to keep in touch with our Northern Italian heritage. Every holiday my grandparents would cook them in chicken broth and then we'd heap grated parmesan (the kind in the green can, shame shame) on the top which would melt into a delightful cheesy ooze in the bottom of the bowl. When my mom and I visited our relatives outside of Bologna, they also served us bowls of tortellini as a first course, though the cheese was actual Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated from a giant chunk that lived in the corner.

The origin of tortellini is surrounded by several legends.

One says that this dish is born in Castelfranco Emilia (province of Modena). One night during a trip, Lucrezia Borgia checked into an inn in the small town. Over the course of the night the host became so captivated by Lucrezia's beauty that he couldn't resist the urge to peek into her room through the keyhole. The bedroom was only lit by a few candles, and so he could merely see her navel. This pure and innocent vision was enough to send him into an ecstasy that inspired him to create the tortellini that night.

Another separate but similar legend, originating in medieval Italy, tells how Venus and Jupiter (also known as Aphrodite and Zeus) arrived at a tavern on the outskirts of Bologna one night, weary from their involvement in a battle between Modena and Bologna. After much food and drink, they shared a room. The innkeeper, captivated by the two, followed them and peeked through the keyhole. All he could see was Venus's navel. Spellbound, he rushed to the kitchen and created tortellini in its image.

(Courtesy of Wikipedia)

Well, unless all of these ladies had abnormally large belly buttons our pasta was more like tortelloni, which are traditionally a wee bit bigger. Usually we fill them with cheese, though this year we also made a pumpkin filling which is traditional.

Step 1: Pasta is simply flour, eggs and salt if you wish. The amounts depend on the size of the eggs and the humidity. And of course how much you want to make. We made three small batches with an average of an egg per cup of flour. We began in a bowl, but if you're brave you can just make a mound of flour right on the counter and make a well for the eggs. I was feeling brave for the second batch but I actually spent a lot of time chasing runny eggs around the counter.

Step 2: Dump everything out onto the counter and squish it together until it's pliable. Add more eggs or flour as needed. Just when you think it will never work, it comes together as a smooth, yellow, pliable dough.

Step 3: Let machine ready balls sit to "relax" under a damp cloth, and put scraps back under the cloth to rejuvenate.

Step 4: Run balls through the pasta machine a few times until they're the correct thickness. While there are a lot of cooking projects that you can complete without fancy equipment, making flat pasta without a pasta machine would be a pain in the neck.

Step 5: Slice the pasta ovals into squares.

Step 6: Fill each square.

Step 7: Shape

Naval vista:

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