A Winter Delight from Emilia: Tortellini in Brodo
Tortellini in the window of Paolo Atti & Figli
An Italian from Emilia would claim that a true tortellino (that would be the singular of tortellini) resembles "l'ombelico di Venere," Venus's bellybutton. Bologna, located in Emilia-Romagna (the western half, Emilia) is likely the birthplace of tortellini. Along with fresh pastas like passatelli, quadretti ("little squares"), and maltagliati ("poorly cut pasta"), tortellini should be served in a meat broth, either of beef, chicken, or both. While you may see tortellini served in a cream or meat sauce (and you may even prefer them that way), you'll find that some restaurants in Bologna refuse to serve tortellini in anything but broth. This makes it the perfect dish for the winter, and a must for the holidays.
Of course there is the easy recipe (buy packaged tortellini and packaged broth, cook the pasta in the broth, then serve), but I'd rather give you the long one! Why? Recipes like this one should be learned and respected, not to mention, what a great way to spend . . . a weekend. Yes, really good food takes a lot of time. It's worth it. Take pics along the way and share with me.
First, How to Make the Broth
Ingredients: One celery stalk; One onion; Two carrots; Salt and pepper; Chicken legs/thighs; Beef shank; Veal shank
Tools: Knife; Cutting board; Large pot; Filter; Kitchen spoon
Recipe: 1. Dice carrots, celery, and onion. Set aside. Slice meat into pieces (either use one or preferably a combination of the meats listed above). (Note, you may also add, as you wish, a diced tomato, some garlic, or a bay leaf.)
2) Put meat and vegetables in the pot. Pour enough water to cover all of the meat and vegetables, leaving a couple of inches to spare. Be sure to add the bones, too. Set over a medium flame. Bring to a light boil. Stir and occasionally remove the foam that will accumulate on the top of the broth with a kitchen spoon. Let simmer for two and a half hours, adding water as necessary. Test the flavor, adding pepper and salt as needed.
3. Filter the broth into a bowl so that only the juice is preserved. You may now discard the meat and vegetables, or do with them what you wish. Put the broth back in the pot for both cooking and serving the tortellini, or you may set the broth in the refrigerator. (If you set in the refrigerator, after a few hours with a spoon you may remove any fat that will accumulate on the top of the broth.)
Second, How to Make Tortellini
Ingredients: Flour; Nutmeg; Eggs; Four oz. of Mortadella (substitute w/Bologna); Four oz. of Prosciutto crudo (substitute w/quality ham); Six oz. of Parmigiano-Reggiano; Four oz. of Pork loin (preferably marinated in salt, pepper, rosemary, and garlic).
Tools: Egg beater; Food processor; Mixing bowl; Measuring cup; Rolling pin or pasta machine; Wheel dough divider (pasta cutter); Small nutmeg grater
Recipe: 1. In a mixing bowl or on a board, add two cups of flour (forming a flour "bowl"), two eggs (already beaten) dropped in the "bowl," and two pinches of salt. Mix carefully for ten to fifteen minutes. Rest. Form a ball. (Every cup of flour requires one egg and one pinch of salt. Choose how much pasta you'd like, then measure accordingly. You may also increase the measurements of the meats as you wish to create enough to fill the pasta. Best make more pasta than necessary, just to be safe.)
2. Dice three or four thin slices of mortadella, a few pieces of prosciutto crudo, and the pork loin. Once diced, put all of the meat in a food processor. Add a few pinches of ground nutmeg, one egg, and the grated Parmigiano-Reggiano. Blend until you get a nice, soft mixture. Remove and set in a bowl.
3. Now, back to the pasta. Knead the dough carefully for a few minutes, then form another ball. Either grab your rolling pin and roll out the pasta on the counter (one that's been lightly coated with flour), or run it through a pasta machine. In short, you want to create a large thin sheet of pasta from which you can form the tortellini.
4. Once the pasta has been flattened, take the wheel dough divider and roll it horizontally over the pasta, a line for every inch of pasta. Do the same vertically. You will be left with a grid of squares (see the video to the right).
5. Once you have the "grid" of pasta before you, carefully pinch from the bowl little bit of meat to fill the pasta. Put a dab in the center of each of the pasta squares. Once you have finished, take each square, one by one, and fold one corner over the meat until it touches the opposite corner. Flatten the pasta over the meat until a triangle is formed. Be sure there is no air left in each tortellino. Once you have a triangle, take the bottom two corners and, around the tip of your finger (or just in the air) fold the corners until they meet. Press the pasta together. You have now formed a single tortellino. Set the tortellini aside on a dry cloth, preferably a pasta drying rack. Let them dry for an hour.
The Final Step: A Match Made in Heaven
Set the broth over medium heat, bring to a boil, cook the tortellini in the boiling broth for three to four minutes. Then serve piping hot!
Keep in mind this proverb from Bologna:
In dialect: "Al premm turtel an ven mai bel."
In Italian: "Il primo tortellino non riesce mai perfetto."
In English: "The first tortellino is never perfect."