Monday, 13 August 2007

Tortelli di Erbette

This is another traditional dish from the Parma region and one that I have eaten all my life. It was an easy one for my mother to recreate in the UK as all the ingredients were readily available and even if she couldn't get ricotta cheese all those years ago in the 1960's she could substitute it with cream cheese. In those days she also had to use the ordinary plain flour that was on sale in the corner shop as the influx of imported flours now available was a dream of the future.

Tortelli may be readily available in the supermarkets but it is not a patch on the home made variety which was kept for feasts not eaten as an every day food. Some things are special and the ready made stuff is ordinary so, in my view, is not worth eating. Real tortelli takes time to make. I won't kid you that it is quick but it is worth it. You will taste the difference and that is not a plug for Sainsbury's.

This recipe will make enough for 4 people.

So we start with the pasta:

3 medium eggs, use the best organic free range eggs that you can get if you want your pasta to be a good bright yellow colour.
300g of '00' Italian flour. This is soft flour. It says tenero on the pack. This means tender or soft. I've heard some UK cooks telling TV audiences to use hard flour. Ignore this twaddle.
1/2 a teaspoon of salt.

Throw the lot into a food processor and process until it resembles a rubble. Pour out on to a work surface and kneed to get the mixture together. Do not be tempted to add water, even though it may seem dry to you. Wrap the dough in cling film or put in a small plastic bag and put to rest in the fridge for about an hour. You will be amazed at how the dough has softened up after its rest.

While the dough is resting get on with the filling.

You will need about 1 Kg of Spinach beets. Use ordinary spinach if this is unavailable. Weigh before thae stems are removed. I tend to like my tortelli green, if you prefer more cheese then alter the proportions.
250g Ricotta cheese
1 egg
100g grated Parmesan cheese, grate it yourself. Do not buy the ready grated.
1/teaspoon of salt
A pinch of nutmeg. I hate nutmeg so I leave it out. I tell you this for authenticity only.

Clean the spinach in plenty of water and cook in a pan with only the water clinging to the leaves. This will take only a few minutes. Drain and squeeze out as much of the water as possible.
Do not be tempted to skimp on this as it is important. A wet filling will cause the pasta to disintegrate. Not good. What I do is put on a pair of clean latex gloves and squeeze as hard as possible. Latex gloves are good as they stop the spinach from staining your nails. It takes days to get the stain out. Stained nails may be good on old style Nonna's but this modern one likes to keep her nails clean.
Put the spinach in a food processor along with the rest of the ingredients and pulse until the mixture is thoroughly amalgamated. You should have a semi-soft mixture. It should not be sloppy. If it is too soft add more grated parmesan or dry bread crumbs. Set aside.

Now the fun begins.

Cut the pasta into about 4 pieces. use 1 and keep the other three under wraps to stop it from drying out.

Put the machine on its widest setting and pass the pasta through the machine a minimum of 12 times, folding it in half each time. You will see that the pasta becomes firmer and pliable as you do this. If it is not then pass it through the machine again. Do not stint on this for if you do the pasta will develop holes when you try to make it thinner. Do not flour the pasta as this will alter the proportions and the pasta will not stick together when you come to make the tortelli

When you feel that the pasta is ready to make thinner start reducing the width of the rollers and pass through the machine to make a long thin length of pasta. This time there is no need to fold. I tend to go down to the last but one width and pass it through the machine twice at this thickness. That's about right on my machine but you can experiment with yours. Not all pasta machines are the same.

I am lucky enough to own a ravioli tray, see photo, which I line with pasta, fill and cover with another sheet of pasta. I then press it down and the tray will put the cutting lines in the pasta.If you have not floured the pasta surface you will have no trouble getting the pasta to stick. There will be no need to use egg to make the pasta stick. That is a faff invented by TV cook. No one in Italy does it. I speak with no authority at all except that of having watched my mother and aunts make this sort of thing so very often.
If you are clever you can press the pasta down with the rolling pin that comes with the tray but I can never seem to be able to do this so I turn it out onto a floured surface and I cut it out along the lines with my pasta wheel. I then transfer the tortelli to a floured surface, this stops them sticking, and get on with the next lot.

To cook the pasta
Put about 3 litres of salted water in a large pan and bring to a rolling boil. Throw in about half of the tortelli. It is not good to overfill the pan. Cook for about 5 mins until the pasta is cooked. Do not fall for the UK rubbish of 1 minute as there is a double thickness of pasta on the join and this takes time to cook.. Try one and see what you think. If it is cooked to your liking strain well and eat, if not cook for another minute. Keep these warm while you cook the rest.

To serve brush with melted butter and sprinkle generously with grated Parmesan cheese. About 100g will be enough betweent eh 4 servings. Do not use flaked cheese, these tortelli need the cheese to come into contact with the pasta. Enjoy.

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