Cooking for a Lock-Down

Handmade Tortellini

Making tortellini by hand from start to finish is a very good way to while away an afternoon. Throw in boiling your own soup and making the stuffing from scratch and it could take up 2 days. None of it is particularly difficult to do and if you’re locked down with your partner, it’s a great way to test each other’s patience. If you’re still on speaking terms after grinding the meat, rolling the pasta sheets and arguing about how to fold the tortellini, you’re probably destined for a life together.

To make tortellini in brodo, I find it best to follow this order of making things: Make the broth, make the dough, while the dough is resting, make the filling, roll out the dough, cut, fill, shape. This recipe will give you more tortellini and broth than 2 people can eat, but it all freezes perfectly and you’ll get 2 great meals out of it. I’ll even show you how to make tortellini alla panna (tortellini in cream sauce) out of the same bases plus cream and parma ham.

The Dough

If like me you ground the gears of your hand-cranked machine to smithereens, threw it away, never bought a new one and are now waiting for one to be delivered from Louisville Kentucky (don’t ask!), you’re going to have to follow me and do it all by hand. At least it’s good exercise!

So let’s start with the dough. The ingredients for this could not be simpler:

350g plain flour
200g egg

I use local Malaysian flour, which works perfectly well and gives me pasta of a texture I really like, but if you’re Italian (yes, it’s an excuse), or a flour snob and need to order “typo 00” or wheat milled by octogenarian virgins in the dales of some hamlet the world forgot, be my guest.

There are 2 different types of eggs in my chiller, each claiming to be “Large”. One weights 58g and the other 52g with shell (you will need to get rid of the shells, though) and that’s why I am giving you the eggs in grams. Now to the work:

Put the flour into a bowl, break the eggs into it and work the whole thing with your hands into a messy dough. Yes, I know, there’s the floured marble surface, the well dug into the middle, the eggs, yellow and rich, broken into the well, the old lady’s hands deftly drawing the flour into the eggs from the edges… work on that and come back to me later. your messy dough may have some flour left in the bowl that doesn’t seem to want to go into the dough (just throw it out), the egg may be visibly darker in places, but trust me, it’s going to work. You just need to knead. Use a machine, if you like, but it’s hard on domestic equipment. My “Heavy Duty” Kitchenaid groans like it’s having fun, but I know it really isn’t and might join my paste machine on the scrap heap soon, if I make it do pasta dough one more time. So take that dough out of the bowl, lean your whole weight into it and push/stretch it away from you. Fold back into a odd shaped ball and start again. Do that for 15 minutes. Yes, I’m not kidding. I’m going to upload a video showing me kneading the dough in a couple of days (unless my pasta machine arrives before that. Then you’re on your own, suckers! – just kidding)

Wrap the dough in clingfilm, leave it out at room temperature and get yourself a cold beer. You’ve earned it. Take an hour. So that’s really two beers!
Oh, and while we are chatting; there is a much simpler way of kneading your dough. I’ll show when my pasta machine arrives.

So there we are; the ball of dough is rested and ready to go. I’ll guide you through it step by step:

1. First flatten the ball with your hand into an oblong shape about 3cm thick.
2. Using a rolling pin (or a wine bottle) roll the oblong out to about 1cm
3. Turn the dough by 90 degrees; so from vertical to horizontal
4. Fold the right third over, so you have half a double layer of dough and half single
5. Fold the single layer over the double. You should now have a rough rectangle of 3 layers of dough (this is damn sight more difficult to explain than to do!)
6. Roll this out once again to about 1cm and repeat steps 3-5.
7. Repeat again and again and again and again….

…until you have a really smooth dough that keeps its shape without shrinking back much. You should really not have to do more than 4 turns in total, so if it doesn’t seem to happen, rest it another 30 minutes, covered in cling film and give it one last turn.

Cut your dough in half, wrap one half and start to roll out the other half as thin as you can. You definitely need to be able to see the pattern of the marble (or the wood, or whatever is underneath through the dough. See picture above. Unless you’re a genius, you are not going to achieve absolute even flatness and that’s okay. Just roll that dough as flat as it will go.

Next you need to decide what to do. If you’ve had enough, you can just cut it into strips to make spaghetti, linguini, fettuccini, taglerini, tagliatelle, pappardelle or even sagnette. It’s all just different thickness, length and width. For scientific interest, you can check out this: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_pasta

We are almost done! Cut the pasta into 4cm squares, pile the squares into stacks (this way they don’t dry out so fast) and start. Now here is the point at which I give up. There is no way I can effectively describe the folding in words. You have to see it. First of all you need to use a very small amount of filling, about the size of a big pea (or a small peanut). Place filling in the middle, wet 2 sides of the pasta square (in an L, not on opposite side, dumbo!), fold over into a rectangle.

So far so good. Now the difficult part. Hold the pasta so the tip of the triangle points to the sky (you can change direction to anywhere you like once you got the hang of it, but for now, for God’s sake, just do what I tell you!) triangle tip pointing to the sky, lightly pull down the two tips pointing to the walls, so you get a shape that looks a little like the Star Trek Enterprise logo. Pull the bottom tips around so they meet under the sky pointing tip and squeeze them together. Move the tips up to the belly of the filling to make what looks like a bishop’s mitre (a one sided one, admittedly). If your tortellini can stand o the table without falling over, you’ve done good. Congratulations! You just have another 299 to make.

Traditionally, you boil the tortellini in the broth you serve it in, grate Parmesan on top, grind black pepper into it and eat it for Sunday Lunch.

The Filling

Making the filling is much easier! You will need:

  • 100g pork loin or chicken breast
  • 100g mortadella (smoked chicken breast or turkey slice might work too)
  • 25g Parma ham or air dried beef
  • 50g Parmesan or Grana Padano cheese
  • 20g egg
  • salt & nutmeg to taste

If you have a meat grinder, chuck the pork/chicken, mortadella and ham into it and grind, then put that mix though the grinder one more time. You want a very fine mince. Then add the rest of the ingredients; Parmesan, egg, salt & nutmeg and mix it all together. You want quite a dry mix. If it seems too wet, add a little dry breadcrumbs. Tortellini filling is dry, but highly flavoured!
Alternatively, you can put the whole batch of ingredients into a food processor and blitz it to a paste. That will work too. Just try not to get the mix to heat up too much.

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