What to CookPastaCheeseNew York City

The Creamy, Cheesy Pasta That Reminds Me of Childhood

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We partnered with Giovanni Rana, makers of traditional Italian fresh pasta, to share our co-founder Merrill's go-to recipes when she wants to recreate one of her favorite childhood pastas for her own kids.

One of the standard responses when you ask someone why they love living in New York City is the endless options for dining out. And it is true that on any given night, with enough persistence, you can track down pretty much any dish from any country you may be craving.

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But when it comes down to it, New Yorkers are just like everyone else living in every other small- to medium- to large-sized town. We’re all creatures of habit, and what habit brings more satisfaction and comfort than eating? Even my most adventurous restaurant-frequenting friends—the ones who’ve inevitably tried a new spot before I’ve even heard about it—have a couple regular haunts, the culinary blankies they return to over and over again.

Culinary blankies: We all have 'em.
Culinary blankies: We all have 'em. Photo by Julia Gartland

I grew up in Manhattan in the 80s as a third generation New Yorker. My mother was—and still is—a great cook, so we ate at home a lot, but we started going to restaurants about once a week when my sister and I were probably four and six, respectively. My parents took us to new places from time to time: the weird and thrilling Trixie’s diner, where servers dressed in drag and patrons were often forced to sing for their supper, or Peter Luger in Brooklyn (which may as well have been the end of the world) where we devoured hunks of steak amidst raucous crowds of investment bankers.

But at least once a month, we ended up at Parma, a family-owned Italian spot on Third Avenue just a few blocks from our apartment. The servers, a cheerful group of middle-aged men with thick Italian accents, would greet us with a booming “Buona sera!” as soon we walked in, ushering us warmly to a table towards the back.

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Two Shirley Temples would appear on the table almost immediately, without anyone saying a word, along with a Stoli martini with extra olives for my father and a glass of white wine for my mother. My parents listened intently to the specials, my father often settling on one of them, but my sister and I never deviated from our standard order: tortelli alla panna.

Creamy Lemon Tortellini with Sugar Snap Peas and Soppressata
Creamy Lemon Tortellini with Sugar Snap Peas and Soppressata

We tried not to fill up on bread as we waited for the pasta. The meat and cheese-filled parcels (tortellini means “little pies” in Italian) arrived on large oblong plates, swimming in a sauce of cream and cheese and dotted with green peas and small squares of prosciutto. We ate them one by one, chasing the sauce around the plate so every bite was fully coated. It was rich and delicious, and we never wished we’d ordered something else.

My children, who are two and five, eat out with us a couple times a month but we don’t have an old-school Italian local like Parma, so I decided to come up with my own version of this dish for them at home. It’s springier and a little lighter than my childhood staple, with sugar snap peas fresh from the greenmarket and a generous hit of lemon juice. I substituted soppressata for the prosciutto because my kids love it and we always have it around; any dry cured sausage or prosciutto will work just fine.

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Creamy Lemon Tortellini with Sugar Snap Peas and Soppressata

Cbfb27ea 071f 4941 9183 30dce4007b50  merrill Merrill Stubbs
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Serves 2 hungry adults or 4 kids
  • kosher salt
  • 1 lemon
  • 1/2 cup crème fraîche (you can use sour cream in a pinch)
  • 2/3 cup grated Parmesan, plus more from serving
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 ounces sweet soppressata (you can also use salami, or really any dry sausage), sliced into 1-inch-by-1/8-inch strips
  • 8 ounces sugar snap peas, trimmed and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 10 ounces cheese tortellini
Go to Recipe

Giovanni Rana's artisan Italian products, like their refrigerated pastas, filled pastas, and sauces, are made with high-quality, fresh ingredients, and with no preservatives, artificial colors, or flavors added. (Hooray!) Head here to find out where you can get Giovanni Rana products in the U.S., plus more recipes and tips.

Tags: giovanni rana, pasta, tortellini