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Author Notes: This recipe was taught to me by my Italian boyfriend's mother who lives in Parma, Italy. The little city is world-famous for its parmigiano reggiano, prosciutto and culatello, but should be equally famous for these tortelli! Tortelli di erbette are a local Parma tradition that Americans might call ravioli, filled with a creamy ricotta and swiss chard filling. The tortelli can be served in a variety of sauces, but my preference is in a puddle of sage-infused butter with shaved parmesan on top. Making the ricotta and the pasta at home is a fun way to get others involved in the process. This is not a quick, weeknight recipe - this is a recipe that takes some time, but the results are so delicious that this Texas girl was able to hang on to her Parmigiano boy. —Christie Twist
For the filling
- 1/2 gallon whole or 2% milk
- 1 pint half and half
- 1-2 lemons
- 2 handfuls kosher salt
- 2 bunches swiss chard
- 1 egg
- 1 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
- 1-2 teaspoons grated nutmeg
- To make the ricotta, put the all of the milk and cream in a large, heavy-bottomed pot (I use a dutch oven). Bring this mixture to a boil slowly over medium heat, stirring occasionally. As soon as you see signs of boiling, reduce the heat to low and squeeze in the juice of one lemon. Stir stir stir and watch for the milk to begin to curdle. If nothing happens, increase the heat just a bit and add the juice of half of the second lemon. Once it looks like about half of the mixture is curds and the other half whey, pour it out over a fine mesh sieve (or a sieve lined with cheesecloth if you feel so inclined). This ricotta needs to be fairly dry for the filling, so let a good amount of whey drain out from the curds. Put the ricotta in a bowl to cool, and add half of the handful of kosher salt (or to taste). While it is cooling, put a spoonful on a piece of bread with a little olive oil and try it - you will never buy ricotta in a store again.
- To make the filling, first boil the swiss chard. Bring a large pot of water to boil and add a handful of salt, much like you were making pasta. Prepare the swiss chard by removing the tough stem from the leaves, going almost all the way up the center. Put the chard leaves into the boiling water and cook for about 2 minutes, until the chard is soft. I do this in batches of 3-4 leaves at a time. Drain the leaves in a colander or sieve, and press out as much water as possible with the back of a big spoon. Once the chard is cool enough to handle, chop it finely or place it in a food processor for a few seconds. If using a food processor, add all of the ricotta to the processor bowl and whir whir whir until combined and homogenous. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl. If you are not using a food processor, put the finely chopped chard into a large bowl and add the ricotta, mixing well.
- Whether using a food processor or not, at this point the chard and ricotta should be in a large bowl and we are back on the same path. Add the egg, grated parmesan, and grated nutmeg to the bowl and mix well. Please use freshly grated parmesan - this is what men are for, and the pre-grated parmesan in stores tends to be too dry and the pieces too large. The final texture of the filling should be moist but dry enough to be spooned onto the pasta without running anywhere. If the filling feels too wet, add more grated parmesan. If the filling feels too dry, add some olive oil. Taste the filling and add salt if needed. Cover and store in the fridge until you are ready to assemble the tortelli. The filling can be made a day in advance and left in the fridge, or a while in advance if you store it in the freezer.
For the pasta
- 6 eggs
- 600 grams all-purpose flour (= 4.8 cups)
- 12 tablespoons butter
- 2-3 sprigs sage
- 1 handful kosher salt
- 2 pinches fine (table) salt
- The classic Italian pasta recipe is 1 egg for every 100 g of flour, type "00" flour if you can find it. I can't, so I use all-purpose flour and if the end result feels a little dry I add a bit of olive oil. Put all of the flour in a large bowl and make a crater in the center. Put all of the eggs in the crater and throw in a couple pinches of fine salt. (Italian mammas do this on a countertop, but I always make a mess so I use a bowl.) With a fork, beat the eggs in the center and start to slowly incorporate some of the flour at the edges of the crater into the eggs. Slowly but surely, keep bringing in a little more flour into the eggs. Eventually, the mixture will become solid enough that you have to put the fork down and go in with your hands. Incorporate all of the flour into the pasta with your hands. If it is too floury and dry, add a touch of olive oil or water. Put the lump of pasta onto a floured surface and knead it for a good 10 minutes. If you are a weak kneader then make it 15 minutes. After kneading, wrap the pasta ball in plastic wrap and set aside to rest for at least one hour. If you want to make the pasta more than an hour in advance, wrap it and put it in the fridge to rest. Take it out of the fridge about an hour before you are ready to make the tortelli it to give it time to warm up.
- Assemble the tortelli. Enlist someone to help with this step! Clear a big space on a countertop and sprinkle flour everywhere. Attach a pasta machine to the counter (I use a cheap hand crank machine), and set the machine to the thickest setting (no. 7 on mine). Unwrap the ball of pasta dough and cut off a 1/2 inch section. Move the remaining dough out of the way and flour the piece that you just cut off. Flatten it down with the heel of your hand or with a rolling pin. The idea is to get this piece thin enough to get pulled into the machine. Roll the pasta through the machine on the thickest setting. Fold it in half and roll it through again. Then move the machine down to the second-thinnest setting (no. 2 on my machine) and send the pasta through the machine once. The result should be a sheet of pasta that is quite thin and about as wide as the machine will allow. Irregular ends are fine, just cut them off and throw into a pile for later. (The scraps can be used to make tagliatelle! No time now, that's for another recipe.) Spoon about 1-inch diameter balls of the filling onto the sheet of pasta in one row, offset slightly toward one of the long edges. These lumps of filling should have about 1 inch of space between them. Take the long edge of the pasta sheet that is farthest from the filling and fold it over the row of filling, trying to match the long edges. Press around the lumps of filling with your fingers so that the pasta forms a tightly-sealed pouch around the filling, pushing out any pockets of air in the process. Take a crimped-edge pasta cutter (rotellina) and cut around each tortello, leaving a border of pasta around the filling (except on the folded side, which will not have a crimped-cut border!). Move the individual tortelli to floured "holding area" to wait while you finish the others. As you are moving them individually, give the edges an extra little pinch to seal in the tortelli and keep them from opening while cooking. The end result should look like what Americans call ravioli. Repeat these steps until the filling is gone or until you just can't make any more. Drink a glass of wine.
- Bring a large pot of water to a gentle boil. Add a handful or kosher salt to the water. Place the butter and sage into a large pan over the lowest heat possible. This pan is the holding place for the cooked tortelli to stay warm, since they will be done in batches. Drop in about 8-15 tortelli in the gently boiling water (don't overcrowd them) and allow to cook for about 2-3 minutes. I always take one out and eat it (or give it to someone else to eat) to make sure it is cooked but still al dente - there is no better test for pasta. Remove the tortelli from the water with a slotted spoon and place into the butter and sage pan, gently and one at a time. Keep cooking the tortelli in batches in the boiling water, transferring them to the butter and sage pan when ready. Keep the butter circulating over the tortelli so they all get some of the sage and butter goodness. Serve on a plate, and spoon some of the sage-infused butter on top. Finish with some grated parmesan, which each person can do themselves. After all, you worked very hard to make this meal!
- This recipe was entered in the contest for Your Best Dark, Leafy Greens