Monday, September 15, 2014

Candy-Wrapped Tortelli with Rainbow Chard and Ricotta

Although I am a fan of quick and easy cooking on most occasions, there is something truly special about creating a dish entirely from scratch. When I have the time and energy, I like to take that "from scratch" cooking to a whole other level.

Making pasta from scratch is easier than you'd think, especially if you have the right tools. I highly recommend if you have a Kitchenaid mixer to invest in the pasta roller attachment. It is exponentially easier than using a hand-cranked pasta roller, and even more so than rolling with a rolling pin. Investing in this kitchen accessory has made it much easier to create homemade pastas in a fraction of the time that you'd expect.

I recently decided to utilize some of my parents' home-grown Swiss chard as a pasta filling. I didn't look any further than this Candy-Wrapped Tortelli with Rainbow Chard and Ricotta from The Glorious Pasta of Italy by Domenica Marchetti. Not only did the filling sound fantastic, but I was intrigued by the candy-wrapped shape of these little pasta bundles. They are much larger than ravioli, and actually much easier to make (also since you're making less total pieces).

I went all out in the "from scratch" department and decided to not only making the filling and pasta from scratch, but to also make the mascarpone and ricotta cheeses myself. I've made ricotta cheese before, and it's so easy! It's delicious and yields a super thick consistency that is just right for filling ravioli. Rather than just buying a tub and draining it, an extra step gives you a totally homemade version that tastes even better.

Homemade ricotta cheese

I also decided to make my own mascarpone cheese. It's generally way overpriced at the supermarket and also very easy to make, so why not? I don't think I will ever be purchasing mascarpone again when I can make it myself in a couple very simple steps. Please note, the cream mixture will only thicken enough to coat the back of a spoon when you cook it, but will thicken A LOT once it's being strained in the refrigerator.

Homemade mascarpone cheese

In addition to my home-grown chard and homemade ricotta and mascarpone cheeses, I also used fresh tomatoes from a local farm to make this super fresh sauce for cloaking the tortelli. It's incredibly simple (are we sensing a theme here?) and definitely worth making yourself instead of opening a jar of pre-made, overly processed sauce.

Cooked, chopped chard

Who says making a meal from scratch needs to be difficult? I realize the recipe has a lot of steps, but each component when prepared independently is straight-forward and uncomplicated. If you plan out the creation of this meal, it will not seem daunting at all.

I prepared my mascarpone cheese on Friday evening and let it drain overnight. Saturday morning I made the ricotta cheese since it only needs to drain for about an hour. I then prepared the chard and mixed together the filling.

I actually also made another ravioli filling the same day (I'll share that in a future post) with more of the fresh ricotta. I also made my sauce on Saturday and chilled it until the next day.

Sunday morning I prepared the fresh pasta dough, rolled it out and then assembled ravioli with the other filling I had made, and then I made these tortelli. I actually used the dough scraps from both the ravioli and tortelli to try and finish up the chard/ricotta filling. You may end up with a bit of extra filling if you don't have extra dough scraps like I did (from the batch of ravioli). You can fill these quite generously, so don't be shy.

By Sunday at lunchtime, these guys were cooked, sauced, and ready to devour while watching the Patriots kick a little Vikings butt. I do love football season :) Add a few bottles of cold Italian beer and this is a great International spin on a game day meal.

These tortelli are so worth the effort! The filling is creamy from both the marscarpone and ricotta cheeses with delicious, tender greens that are not nearly as assertive as some of their cousins. They balance so beautifully with the cheeses, and since my chard was entirely red as opposed to rainbow, my filling had a slightly pink hue. Dressed with that chunky fresh tomato sauce, these delicate tortelli are utterly fantastic. I would not hesitate to make them again.

Candy-Wrapped Tortelli with Rainbow Chard and Ricotta
Makes 24 to 28 tortelli; 8 to 10 appetizer servings or 4 main course servings
(Adapted from The Glorious Pasta of Italy)

2 bunches rainbow or Swiss chard, tough stems discarded and coarsely chopped (about 1 lb/455 g after trimming)
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
1/2 cup/115 g mascarpone cheese (I used homemade--see recipe below)
3/4 cup/170 g sheep's milk ricotta cheese or drained whole cow's milk ricotta cheese (I used homemade--see recipe here)
1/2 cup/57.5 g freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (I used Pecorino Romano)
Kosher or fine sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
1 large egg and 1 large egg yolk, lightly beaten together

All-purpose or semolina flour for dusting the work surface
1 pound fresh pasta dough (see recipe below)
1 batch fresh tomato sauce with onion and butter, heated to a simmer (see recipe below)
1/2 cup/57.5 g freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (I used Pecorino Romano)

To make the filling: Put the chard, with the rinsing water still clinging to it, in a large frying pan placed over medium heat. Cover and cook, reducing the heat to low if necessary to prevent scorching, for about 12 minutes, or until the chard is completely wilted and tender and the liquid has evaporated. Remove the chard to a cutting board and chop it finely.

Warm the olive oil and butter in a smaller frying pan over medium heat (I actually used the same frying pan after wiping it clean). When the butter is melted, add the onion and saute, stirring frequently, for about 10 minutes, or until soft and translucent but not browned. Stir in the chard and saute for 5 minutes, until well combined with the onion and warmed through. Remove from the heat and transfer the mixture to a large bowl. Let cool to room temperature.

When the chard mixture has cooled, fold in the mascarpone, ricotta, and the Parmigiano. Season witih 1/2 teaspoon salt, a few grinds of pepper, and the nutmeg. Taste and add additional salt, if you like. Gently fold in the beaten egg. Cover and refrigerate until needed (filling can be made up to 2 days in advance).

Cover sheet pans or trays with a light dusting of flour and set them aside. This is where you will put the tortelli once you have made them. Have on hand a sharp knife or fluted pastry cutter for cutting out the tortelli and a small bowl or glass of water with a pastry brush.

Cut the ball of pasta dough into four equal pieces and rewrap three pieces. Roll out the remaining pieces of pasta dough into a long, thin strip (1/16-inch thick--#5 on a Kitchenaid pasta roller attachment is good). The strip should be 28 to 30 inches long. Carefully lay the strip on a work surface dusted with flour.

Cut the strip crosswise into six or seven rectangles, each 4 by 5 inches, trimming the ends if necessary to ensure straight edges. Place a heaping 1 tablespoon of filling onto the center of a rectangle, creating an oblong shape. Fold the long sides of the rectangle over the filling, using a little water on the pastry brush to seal the dough closed. With your fingers, carefully grasp the two open ends of the tortello and gently twist in opposite directions, as though you were twisting a candy wrapper to close it. Continue to form tortelli with the rest of the rectangles, transferring them to the prepared trays as they are shaped. Roll out the remaining dough pieces and cut, fill, and shape in the same manner. Collect the scraps as you go and store them in a plastic bag. These can be rerolled once to form more tortelli. You should end up with 24 to 28 tortelli.

Tortelli can be made in advance and frozen. Place them in a single layer and not touching on the flour-dusted baking sheets/trays into the freezer and freeze for about 1 hour, or until firm. Transfer them to a large zipper-lock freezer page or tightly lidded container and freeze for up to 1 month, then cook directly from the freezer.

Bring a large pot of water to a roiling boil and salt generously. You may need to cook the tortelli in two batches to avoid crowding the pot. Heat the oven to 200 degrees F to keep the first batch warm.

When the water is boiling, carefully drop the tortelli into the pot. Cover the pot until the water returns to a boil and then uncover and cook the tortelli for 3 to 5 minutes, or until they are just tender (I think 3 minutes is enough in order to not overcook them). Gently stir the water once or twice with a wooden spoon to make sure they do not stick together.

Spoon a little of the tomato sauce into the bottom of a warmed serving bowl or shallow individual bowls. Using a skimmer or large slotted spoon, transfer the tortelli to the large bowl, or divide evenly among the individual bowls. Take care to let the excess water drain away before you place them in the bowls. If you are cooking the tortelli in batches, top the first batch with a little sauce and keep it warm in the oven whil you cook the remaining tortelli. Spoon the remaining sauce over the tortelli and sprikel with Parmigiano. Serve immediately.

*Alternatively (and this is what I did), heat the sauce in a large shallow frying pan and kept warm on low heat. Boil the tortelli in a couple batches and then use a skimmer or large slotted spoon to transfer cooked tortelli into the hot sauce. It will only take a few minutes to cook the second batch since the water will already be boiling. Cook the second batch and then transfer to the sauce with the remaining tortelli. Gently toss the tortelli in the pan to coat with sauce and then serve in warmed serving bowls.

Mascarpone Cheese
Makes about 4 ounces

1 cup heavy whipping cream
1 1/2 teaspoons lemon juice

Pour the cream into a small saucepan or into a glass or metal bowl set over a saucepan filled about an inch deep with water (for more gently heating). Over medium heat and stirring constantly, heat the cream to about 190 degrees F. Add the lemon juice and continue stirring, adjusting the heat as necessary to maintain the same approximate temperature, until the cream thickens and coats the back of a spoon, about 5 minutes.

Remove from the heat and cool the cream for about 20 minutes. Line a sieve with fine mesh cheesecloth or a double layer of regular cheesecloth (or a coffee filter works too). Suspend over a bowl and then pour the thickened cream into the sieve. Let the cream cool completely and then cover with plastic wrap and transfer the sieve/bowl into the refrigerator to drain slowly overnight or up to 24 hours. Scoop the mascarpone out of the cheesecloth and store in an airtight container for up to 3 or 4 days.

Basic Egg Pasta Dough
Makes about 1 pound

2 cups/250 g all-purpose flour
3 large eggs
1 to 2 tablespoons water, as needed

In the bowl of an electric mixer (or food processor) add the flour and eggs and mix at low speed with the dough hook (or metal blade for food processor) to allow the flour to slowly absorb the eggs. Scrape down the sides and add a little bit of water at a time as needed to bring the dough together. When the dough begins to come together in a ball, turn the speed up another notch and allow the dough hook to knead the dough for a few minutes. Remove the dough from the mixer and knead by hand for a few more minutes until it is nice and smooth. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and set aside at room temperature for 30 minutes to an hour to allow the gluten to rest.

Fresh Tomato Sauce with Onion and Butter
Makes 3 to 3 1/2 cups (enough to dress 1 pound pasta)
(Adapted from The Glorious Pasta of Italy)

2 1/2 to 3 pounds tomatoes
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
Kosher or fine sea salt

Cut the tomatoes in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds with your fingers (over the sink). Place a box grater in a large mixing bowl. Hold the cut side of a tomato flat against the large holes of the grater and grate the tomato, pressing it gently, until only the skin is left in your palm. Continue until you have grated all the tomato halves.

Heat the olive oil and butter in a large saucepan placed over medium heat. Add the onion and saute for 8 to 10 minutes, or until softened. Stir in the tomatoes. Season with 1 teaspoon salt, raise the heat to medium-high, and bring the tomatoes to a simmer. When the juices start bubbling, reduce the heat to medium-low and let the tomatoes simmer uncovered, stirring from time to time, for 25 to 30 minutes, or until thickened to a nice sauce consistency. Remove from the heat. Taste and adjust the salt, if you like. The sauce may be stored in a sealed container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days or in the freezer for up to 3 months.


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