Tortellini en Brodo
Last Thursday was the Vernal Equinox, the day in the Northern Hemisphere when the night and day are essentially the same length. It is also the official start of spring and my second favorite time of year after fall. But living in Southern California, it’s easy to get a little detached from the seasons—the daffodils, cherry blossoms and tulips started blossoming at the end of February and I’ve returned to wearing flip flops most days—but I find that cooking always keeps me in time with the earth’s clock. Feeling springy, I decided to host “Easter” dinner for a few friends, a slightly surprising turn of events since I’m Jewish. Yet no sooner was the guest list confirmed than I found out I was supposed to work Sunday brunch at the restaurant I’ve been moonlighting at. Rather than cancel I decided to pick a simple menu, prep Saturday and have Neal do a bunch of the cooking while I was at work.
The “simple” menu I planned started with Tortellini en Brodo, a soothing traditional Italian dish consisting of delicate tortellini floating around in clear, flavorful broth. For the second course I decided to roast a leg of lamb, following the recipe for Easter Leg of Kid I found in the bible of Italian cooking, the Silver Spoon. With that I’d serve a simple contorno of asparagus, English peas and fresh basil that I found in the April issue of Gourmet. With my dear friend Brooke of Foodwoolf promising to bring a deconstructed creamsicle for dessert it seemed easy enough. But remember, I’m a masochist.
I decided to follow the Silver Spoon’s recipe for tortellini since it was the simplest I found, but buying ground veal was harder than I thought. Whole Foods had none and would only grind me fresh veal if I paid $25 a pound for the bone-in veal shanks. Thanks but no thanks. I finally found fresh ground veal at Marconda’s, a butcher shop in the Fairfax Farmers Market, but by that point I’d already lost about two hours of precious time and was to hungry and frustrated to appreciate it.
Ordinarily I would go into all the gritty details of prepping: the meditativeness of shelling peas or the near tortuous task of peeling pearl onions, but it’s been nearly a week and the memories have been filtered through a wonderfully joyous meal. I will say this: making tortellini is not easy and I understand why most people would rather buy it from a box. Neal and I were up until one in the morning measuring two-inch by two-inch squares of pasta dough, filling, folding and pinching each into little tortellini shapes—probably not most people’s idea of a relaxing Saturday night at home. But then again, the first time is always the hardest and the results were so delicious, so perfectly balancing the salty sweetness of the filling, the melt-in-your mouth pasta dough and the soothing warmth of homemade organic chicken broth that I’d quickly do it again.
What I appreciated most about the meal, besides sharing it with fabulous and wonderfully appreciative friends, was how the table reflected the transition from winter to spring. The tortellini en brodo was like the last kiss of winter, warming and comforting. The lamb, rubbed with rosemary, garlic and olive oil and surrounded by onions, a rainbow of carrots and new potatoes sat on the cusp of the seasons. The carrots and onions were a nod at winter’s staples, the new potatoes and spring lamb a hopeful hello, like the first morning you awake to hear the birds yapping wildly outside your window. The tender young asparagus, snappy English pea and basil side dish fully embraced the new season, verdant and fresh they tasted like wearing a tank top and feeling the warm sun on your bare shoulders. So while I don’t really celebrate Easter in the Christian sense, our dinner that night celebrated the season, the idea that life can rise again out of the darkness of winter. I don’t think you need to be any religion to find joy in that.
Tortellini En Brodo
adapted from the Silver Spoon
2 tbsp butter
½ c ground veal
2 tbsp Parmigiano-Reggiano, freshly grated
½ c prosciutto, diced
¼ c mortadella, diced
1 egg, lightly beaten
Fresh pasta dough
1 ¾ c flour, plus extra for dusting
2 eggs lightly beaten
1 chicken, skinned and trimmed of visible fat
1 celery stalk
You can make the chicken broth ahead of time and either refrigerate or freeze it. Chop the celery, onion and carrots into large pieces. Heat a tablespoon of olive oil and add vegetables and a pinch of salt. When the vegetables start to sweat out their liquid add the chicken and cover with water and sprinkle with more salt. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered for at least two hours, occasionally skimming any scum that rises to the surface. Pour finished stock through a wire mesh strainer and let cool, skimming off any fat that rises to the surface. Set aside.
On a wood cutting board sift flour and a pinch of salt together and make a mound and a well. Add beaten egg yolks to the well and start incorporating the flour. When the dough comes together, knead for about 15 minutes by hand or with the dough hook on your mixer. Wrap dough in plastic and set aside to rest for 30 minutes.
In the meantime, melt the butter in a small pan; add the veal and cook, stirring frequently, until browned. Transfer to a small bowl and let cool. Stir in the Parmigiano, prosciutto, mortadella and egg. For a smoother filling place all ingredients in the food processor and pulse 3-4 times until incorporated.
Roll out a sheet of the pasta dough and cut into 2-inch by 2-inch squares. (It’s easiest to roll out a sheet at a time, since filling and folding is time-consuming and as the dough dries out it cracks when you fold it.) Pipe or spoon filling into the center of a square and then fold the square into a triangle and seal the edges with a little water. Fold the triangle over the top of your finger then gently fold the flap of dough backwards to make a tortellini shape. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Let tortellini dry on a cookie sheet for about a half hour before cooking or moving to the refrigerator, covered with plastic or in a zip-top bag.
When you’re ready to serve, bring the chicken broth to a boil. Add the tortellini and cook until they float to the surface, about five minutes.
Ladel broth and about 20 tortellini into a shallow bowl. Grate fresh Parmigiano over the top and finish with a dusting of fleur de sel.