At some point between Christmas and New Year’s, in a haze of inevitable over-indulgence, I find I begin craving a night in, perhaps mostly spent on a cozy couch, with a steaming mug of herbal tea and my ideal comfort food.
Tortelli or their littler versions, tortellini, have to be one of the ultimate comfort foods. They hold a place in the hearts of many Italians, especially at this time of year where this pasta often makes an appearance at the table around Christmas or the New Year.
Tortelli are the most perfect little packages of thin, fresh egg pasta, encasing meat or cheese fillings, best served in the simplest of ways. Purists will undoubtedly prefer them cooked and served in homemade chicken broth – tortellini in brodo, the ultimate. Artusi suggests serving them with a knob of butter and a sprinkling of cheese. I love both. The important thing is that the joy of eating tortelli lie in the tortelli themselves – the delicate and tasty filling wrapped in silky egg pasta shouldn’t be overcome by a heavy sauce.
I’ve heard tortellini nicknamed in honour of the goddess of beauty herself: “Venus’ bellybuttons” because of their shape. It’s not tricky to master – just cut a round of pasta dough with a cookie cutter, fold it into a half moon and bring the corners together to get these perfect ‘bellybuttons’.
Despite being 120 years old, Artusi’s cookbook is still my go-to reference for the most classic (Central-Northern in particular) Italian dishes. Over the past year, I’ve published one recipe a month from his thoughtful suggestions of seasonal menus from the back of his cookbook, Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well. Here is a run down of the year’s Artusi recipes:
- January was the Sicilian almond pudding, biancomangiare.
- February was tortelli’s meat-filled cousin from Piemonte, agnolotti.
- March featured the Zuppa alla Certosina, an elegant fish stock soup, a monastery secret and the favourite of the Medici duke.
- April was gnocchi alla romana, baked semolina gnocchi (perfect for Easter).
- May was the classic Tuscan antipasto, crostini with chicken liver pate.
- June was one of my favourite seasonal gelato recipes, sour cherry and cinnamon.
- July featured an unusual “Acetosa” syrup made from raspberries and vinegar (which happens to go beautifully in cocktails).
- August was pan-roasted whole quail risotto.
- September was a fresh egg pappardelle with a duck sauce, the way they do it in Tuscany’s south in Arezzo.
- October was another comfort food favourite, delicate chicken gnocchi.
- November was Artusi’s pudding-like pumpkin pie (gluten free too!).
- The year is rounded out with December featuring this most perfect of pasta dishes, the beautifully simple and tasty tortelli.
Tortelli, no. 55
Note: Artusi only includes the filling recipe, not the pasta recipe. The general rule for fresh egg pasta is 100 grams of flour and 1 egg per person. The filling is noted by Artusi to be “enough for three people” but I would venture to say four, especially if this is going to be served as a ‘primo’ (an entrée) with other dishes to follow.
For the pasta:
- 400 gr flour
- 4 eggs
For the filling:
- 200 gr Ricotta
- 40 gr Parmesan cheese, grated
- 1 whole egg plus one egg yolk
- Freshly grated nutmeg
- 1 tbs of chopped fresh parsley
- Pinch of salt
- A handful of finely grated Parmesan or Pecorino cheese
- A knob of butter per person
- Some of your favourite herbs (optional)
Prepare the pasta by tipping the flour onto a clean surface, creating a ‘well’ in the middle of the flour and cracking the eggs into this space. Using a fork, whip the eggs until they are combined and, still whisking, slowly begin to incorporate the surrounding flour until the mixture becomes creamy and eventually becomes too thick to continue whisking. With floured hands, finish incorporating the flour (you may not need all of it, depending on the size of the egg) until the dough no longer sticks to your hands. Knead on a floured surface for about 5 minutes or until it becomes smooth, elastic and a finger poked into the surface of the dough bounces back. Let the dough rest, covered with a damp cloth, under a bowl, or in cling film, for at least 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, prepare the filling by combining all the ingredients in a bowl and mixing well.
Divide the rested pasta dough into pieces, and, keeping covered the pieces that are not in use, roll out the pasta into paper-thin sheets (you should see your fingers through it) with the help of a pasta rolling machine. Cut rounds out with a cookie cutter or a glass if you don’t have a round cookie cutter. Place a heaped teaspoonful of ricotta mixture in the middle, fold one side of the pasta over the other to make half moons, then fold the corners of the half moon together to form the tortelli in their characteristic shape.
Don’t keep the tortelli waiting too long before you cook them, they should be cooked immediately or they can be frozen for cooking at a later time but they do not refrigerate well. Once they are ready to be cooked, it takes just minutes until they’re on the table, ready to be devoured.
Cook the tortelli in boiling salted water for a few minutes; when they float, they are ready. Pull them out of the water with a slotted spoon, place in bowls and dress them with a knob of butter and some freshly grated Parmesan cheese. I like to throw in some of my favourite herbs for some colour and delicate aromatics. Serve immediately.