Sunday, February 15, 2009
Since our first Valentine's Day almost 12 years ago, I'd say that my husband and I have spent about half of them dining in. I love the intimacy of a candle light dinner at home. Not that it was terribly intimate this year. Or that it was really much of a choice whether or not to go out. With no babysitter in sight, we made the decision to stay in based on the consideration that our children (one of whom is entering that frustrating restless-toddler-in-a-highchair stage)in crowded restaurant...potentially disturbing the romantic experience of others...might be considered more stressful than romantic for all of us. By staying in, we shared the experience in the comfort of our own home. As always, I set the table "fancy" with linens and candles. We even got to prepare the meal as a family.
Tortellini alla Panna was an easy choice for our Valentine's dinner. It's my husband's all-time favorite dish. I even have to credit him with discovering this recipe. He emailed this recipe to me from his office one day with the a message to the effect that he would like to see the following recipe on the table for dinner that night. He was joking...but I also believe that he was a little hopeful. You can imagine how I responded. Sure, honey. Whatever you want honey. Your wish is my command, sweetheart. Right? I think I said something like, "Yeah. Whatever. Okay. I'll get right on that, babe. Just as soon as your boxers grow legs and walk themselves across the room and leap into the hamper."
And then I read over the recipe again. Why not? I smiled just thinking about how surprised my husband would be to find his precious Tortellini alla Panna on the stove when he arrived home from work. Ahh. Love. Well, let me tell ya, I was NOT smiling 5 hours later when I was STILL stuffing and twisting each teeny tiny tortellini. This is hard work. I had no idea what I had gotten myself into. Now, I only make it for the most special occasions. This is definitely NOT an "Oh, just because I feel like tortellini" Tuesday night dinner. This is every-other-year-on-your-birthday-IF-you're-still-my-favorite-person-dinner.
After reading all of that, if you're still up for it (and you've got 4 extra hours in your day), take the Homemade Tortellini challenge. You won't be disappointed. This is, hands-down, the best tortellini dish I have ever tasted. Worlds better than that pre-made stuff you can buy in the grocery store (and you know that I buy that stuff too). More delicious than any tortellini I've tried in a restaurant, it reminds me of child birth. Once you sit down to eat this, it's so wonderful that you completely forget the pain involved in getting it here. : )
Here we go...let's make the filling. I start by melting 1/4 cup of butter in a skillet.
Add in 1/2 lb. of thinly slice pork loin. Cook until no longer pink.
While the pork loin cooks, I prepare my "meat medley". This is smoked turkey, prosciutto, and garlic bologna. I chop them up a little and toss them into the skillet with the cooked pork loin. I cook them all together for a few minutes longer.
Remove the meat to a food processor and mince.
Now add salt, pepper, and dash of nutmeg, 3 tablespoons of Parmesan and an egg yolk. Pulse until combined.
Here's the filling. I cover it and put it into the refrigerator while I make the pasta dough.
Before I begin to construct the tortellini, I thought that I'd give you a fun bit of trivia about this ring-shaped pasta. Here is the story of origin, according to Wikipedia:
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 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.
Hmmm. Navel pasta.
To make the pasta, make a mound with 2-3/4 cup of flour on your work surface. Scoop out a well in the middle
Pour the eggs into the hole and add the salt. It looks like a little tortellini volcano.
Work the eggs and the flour together till you have a smooth dough, adding just a little water if necessary. I always need a little water. Be patient. The first time I made this I thought, "What the heck? No way is this ever going to form a dough." It did. Messy, isn't it?
Knead the dough for ten to fifteen minutes, until it is smooth, firm, and quite elastic. Don't skimp on the kneading or the dough will tear while you're rolling it out.
Divide the dough into two parts.
Roll out the dough, rolling from the middle, flipping it occasionally, and flouring it as necessary to keep it from sticking. I find that if I just scrape the area where I kneaded the dough, so that there aren't any dough pieces, I can roll the pasta out without adding any additional flour. To keep the sheet from breaking, once it has reached a certain size, roll it up around the rolling pin and then invert the rolling pin; you can, as you are unrolling the sheet, gently stretch it by holding the unrolled part firm and pulling gently away with the rolling pin. Keep on flipping and rolling till you have a sheet that's almost transparent -- as thin as a dime, or thinner, if you can manage it. If you've never made pasta before, you may be suprised at how difficult it is to roll out the pasta dough. It is tough, not like rolling out and shaping bread. You'll get a little workout
Now cut the rolled out sheet of pasta into 1 1/2 inch squares.
Put a 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of filling on each square and fold the squares diagonally to make triangles, tamping them well so the filling won’t come out while they’re cooking. I keep a damp paper towel over the pasta sheet while I shape the tortellini to keep them from drying out.
I'm not sure what happened with this picture. My camera wouldn't focus for some reason. Here is the triangle stage of tortellini, right before the "wrap and twist".
Now for the "wrap and twist". Wrap each triangle around your little finger, giving it a half twist, and stick the opposing corners together to make the tortellini.
The first little tortellini. In the words of Lao Tzu, “A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step.”
This step required reinforcements. My husband ended up shaping most of these tortellini. We worked shoulder to shoulder for a bit and then I realized that I needed to start my Lava Cakes for dessert and set the table if we were going to eat before kids needed to go to bed. So, I left my dear husband to the tortellini and moved on to dessert. It took about two hours to stuff and shape both sheets of the dough into tortellini. He did good, didn't he?
Boil 1 1/2 quarts of water and drop in the tortellini to cook for 5 minutes.
While the pasta is boiling, melt 1/2 cup of butter in a skillet. Add 1-2 oz. of chopped prosciutto. I like to cook it until the butter is lightly browned and the prosciutto is a little crisp.
While the tortellini cooks and the prosciutto crisps, I take a moment to grate some Parmiggiano-Reggiano cheese.
Drain the tortellini and toss it in the skillet with the prosciutto and butter.
Now pour the heavy cream over the tortellini and stir.
Add the cheese. Cook and stir until melted.
Top with a little more shredded Parmesean before serving.
Tortellini all Panna by Kyle Phillips, copied from About.com
** For The Stuffing: **
1/2 pound pork loin, thinly sliced
1/4 pound turkey breast, thinly sliced
2 ounces prosciutto
2 ounces Mortadella di bologna, finely sliced (Substitute Bologna bought in a delicatessen if need be)
A scant 1/4 cup unsalted butter
3 tablespoons grated Parmigiano
A pinch of nutmeg
Salt and pepper
1 egg yolk
1 pound fresh pasta sheets, either store-bought or home made per below instructions
** For the Sauce: **
1/3 to 1/2 cup heavy cream
An ounce of finely sliced prosciutto, shredded
A scant 1/2 cup unsalted butter
Begin by making the tortellini: melt the butter in a frying pan and sauté the pork and turkey till done over a moderate flame. When the meat is cooked, remove it and mince it in a food processor, along with the mortadella (bologna) and the prosciutto.
Put the mixture in a bowl, and mix in the cheese, the yolk, and a pinch of nutmeg. Correct the seasoning (about an eighth of a teaspoon of pepper and maybe a half a teaspoon of salt, depending on the saltiness of the prosciutto.)
Using 2 3/4 cups of flour, 3 eggs, a pinch of salt, and a spoonful of water if necessary, make the pasta. Make mound with the flour on your work surface and scoop out a well in the middle. Pour the eggs into the hole, add the salt, and work the eggs and the flour together till you have a smooth dough, adding just a drop of water if necessary, and no more. Knead the dough for ten to fifteen minutes, until it is smooth, firm, and quite elastic. Don't skimp on the kneading or the dough will tear while you're rolling it out.
You are now ready for the hard part: separate the dough into two pieces. Flour your work surface (the marble counter tops in Italian kitchens are ideal for this, though wood or Formica work as well -- a pastry cloth gets in the way) and start to roll out the dough, rolling from the middle, flipping it occasionally, and flouring it as necessary to keep it from sticking. To keep the sheet from breaking, once it has reached a certain size, roll it up around the rolling pin and then invert the rolling pin; you can, as you are unrolling the sheet, gently stretch it by holding the unrolled part firm and pulling gently away with the rolling pin. Keep on flipping and rolling till you have a sheet that's almost transparent -- as thin as a dime, or thinner, if you can manage it (the pasta will almost double in thickness while cooking). The Emilians, acknowledged masters of home-made pasta, say your backside should work up a sweat as you're rolling out the sheet.
Roll one of the pieces out till it’s as thin as a dime and cut it into 1 1/2 inch squares with a serrated pasta wheel. Put a 1/2 teaspoon of filling on each square and fold the squares diagonally to make triangles, tamping them well so the filling won’t come out while they’re cooking. Wrap each triangle around your little finger, giving it a half twist, and stick the opposing corners together to make the tortellini. Set the finished tortellini on to rest on a lightly floured surface. When you’re done with the first sheet, roll out the second and continue until the stuffing is used up. Bring a pot of water to boil and add the tortellini.
In the meantime make the sauce: set the butter to melt in a deep bottomed skillet without bringing it to a boil. Add the prosciutto to the butter. Drain the tortellini and add them to the skillet. Pour the cream over the tortellini and finish cooking them over a low flame, stirring them carefully.
As soon as the tortellini are done, transfer them to a heated serving dish. Sprinkle them with grated cheese and serve.
Serves four to six.