Sunday, March 18, 2012

Tortelli Piacentini

This pasta shape has always intrigued me from the first time I ate this dish in Italy. They're called tortelli Piacentini and are found only in the area around Piacenza, where my relatives live. They're made in two versions, but it's this pinched and pleated version that I wanted to tackle on my most recent trip, and my cousins Lucia and Luisa were more than willing to help me in my quest.
We started with all the ingredients necessary for making the pasta and the filling - flour, eggs, ricotta, spinach, nutmeg, and parmesan cheese. Italians use a flour labeled "00" for making pasta. It's ground much finer, and makes a much more supple dough. There's even a "00" flour that is superfine - practically like baby powder. Apparently, there is a mistaken belief that "00" flour contains less gluten, but according to Jeffrey Steingarten, author of the book "It Must've Been Something I Ate," flours of various protein levels can be milled to the "00" category. Steingarten had different samples of flour analyzed by a lab and found that the "00" flours were higher in protein than many of the less refined flours. Flours labeled "panifiable" in Italy mean they're good for bread.
You could substitute regular all-purpose flour, but the texture is different. Italian "00" flour produces a more tender pasta but with a nice bite. Here in the U.S., it may be hard to track down in stores, but you can order it online in several places. King Arthur sells it (here) or  you could order the Caputo brand (here) that comes even in the superfine version.
My cousins started out rolling the dough by hand, rather than through a pasta machine. Since Lucia (on the right in the photo below) won the "Miss Tagliatella" competition in the region a few years ago, she had a reputation to maintain, so the machine stayed on the shelf while the rolling pins came out.
Here's a video on how they made the pasta dough and the filling. There's a little sisterly ribbing going on (in Italian of course) about whether it's better to use parmigiano reggiano or grana padano in the filling and whether it's better to roll out the dough by hand or use a food processor. In the video, Luisa mentions she uses 3 etti of flour. In the metric system, one kilo is 2.2 pounds (35.2 ounces) and there are 10 etti in a kilo, hence one etto is 3.5 ounces or about 1/4 pound.
After the dough was rolled so thinly you could almost read through it, they cut small circles using an old implement that's been in the family for decades. Of course you could use a cookie cutter or any other implement that makes circles.
A teensy bit of filling was added to each circle.
And then the pinching and pleating began.

Here's a video on how to shape the pasta.

At a certain point, they switched to making a kind of ravioli that sits at attention like a little package. This went a whole lot faster than the tortelli, as you can imagine.
 We also made some tortellini and farfalle -- but just for fun -- not enough to make a meal. In all, it took us only an hour and a half to make this amount of tortelli Piacentini plus a bunch of the ravioli. There was leftover filling, but Lucia used it the next day to make crepes filled with the ricotta and spinach.
Here's how they look close-up. These are called tortelli "con la coda" ... or "with a tail" to distinguish from the other kind of tortelli from the region. That one looks more like a candy caramel with both ends twisted to keep the cellophane shut.


We ate them that night as a primo (first course) simply dressed with butter, sage and parmesan cheese.

Here is the recipe with ingredients listed in both in Italian and in English.

Tortelli Piacentini
(my cousins also add a tiny bit of oil to the dough, something neither my aunt nor my mom used to use. It's your call).
printable recipe here
in Italian:

2 etti farina 00 per sfoglia
1 etto farina 00 (normale)
3 uova
4 tuorli

in English:

about 12 ounces all-purpose flour
or if you can get it:
8 ounces superfine 00 flour
4 ounces 00 flour
3 eggs
4 egg yolks

Mix the flour and eggs together. Knead until soft and supple. Let it rest at least 1/2 hour before rolling it out. Roll out thinly and cut into circles.

Filling:

una manciata di spinaci, cotti e frullati
3 etti di ricotta
parmigiana reggiano o grana padano, grattugiato

a handful of spinach, cooked and chopped fine
12 ounces ricotta cheese
parmesan or grana padano cheese, grated

Mix the filling ingredients, then place a small spoonful near one edge of the circle. Start pinching the circle closed by bringing one side toward the middle. Then overlap with the other side and squeeze the two pieces of dough together. Continue squeezing and pinching the dough in the center, alternating to form a braided look.

Cook in boiling water, drain and serve with melted butter, sage and parmesan cheese.

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34 comments:

Rosa's Yummy Yums said...

I've never heard of this speciality before. Those tortelli look so pretty and delicious.

Cheers,

Rosa

Claudia said...

Amazingly, "00" flour appeared in MN a few years ago. I don't know if I could every do those pleats - never was good a small-motor-coordination. Now the ravioli is a good possibility! I love the camaraderie and the idea that you can win a "pasta title." So much more civilized than a beauty title.

AdriBarr said...

Oh Linda, I am totally overwhelmed. (I just posted on FB, but a bit of repeat is in order with such an inspiring post.) Brava! Bravissima! What a spectacularly informing post. The pasta is just great and altogether unique. I can not wait to try it. I recall that you enjoyed some of the handmade pastas I have written about - the stracnar that I made with my cavarola board, and the tortelli caramelle which you said comes from the same region as your relatives. It is a pleasure to meet them! I too enjoy using 00 flour. It is becoming much esaier to find now. And I love working with the dough. It is so tender. Oh, thanks for a terrific post!

AdriBarr said...

Oh Linda, I am totally overwhelmed. (I just posted on FB, but a bit of repeat is in order with such an inspiring post.) Brava! Bravissima! What a spectacularly informing post. The pasta is just great and altogether unique. I can not wait to try it. I recall that you enjoyed some of the handmade pastas I have written about - the stracnar that I made with my cavarola board, and the tortelli caramelle which you said comes from the same region as your relatives. It is a pleasure to meet them! I too enjoy using 00 flour. It is becoming much esaier to find now. And I love working with the dough. It is so tender. Oh, thanks for a terrific post!

A Feast for the Eyes said...

Oh, how fun! It made me smile to watch the one making the pasta, keeping an eye on the other making the filling. I have a pasta maker, but find that making the dough by hand can be therapeutic. I'm still a beginner, but really appreciate this video. How fun to watch, and the pasta is beautiful. There is nothing like homemade pasta.

Anonymous said...

ciao Linda. Che bella pasta e che favolosi tortelli piacentini con la coda.Un bacio tua cugina Lucia

Cristina, from BA to Paris said...

This post is just amazing..informative but fun! I have to go to Piacenza!

domenicacooks said...

This is why I will never get tired of the food of Italy. The local specialties are 'truly' local, so local that they're sometimes unfamiliar to those who live on the other side of the hill or valley. Although this may be less true than it once was, there are still countless culinary treasures to be discovered and savored. Thanks for sharing this recipe, Linda. BTW, I'd love to know the name of that implement that is used to cut the dough into rounds. Grazie.

bellini said...

I ca't wait to find myself in Italy and discover some of the local dishes. If I spoke Italian I am sure I would discover more!

christo AKA doggybloggy said...

so cool on so many levels - listening to you speak italian is so soothing.

SavoringTime in the Kitchen said...

Beautiful! They look like shafts of wheat which makes sense. The pasta and dough and filling sound delicious! I love to try it in a less intimidated version, like ravioli.

Proud Italian Cook said...

First of all I love when you speak Italian! Making handmade pasta is such a labor of love, each pleat all done by hand, it's amazing! I think I could pull it off after watching your excellent video's but I'm sure I would use the food processor for the kneading and a pasta machine for rolling. Loved this post!

Pat @ Mille Fiori Favoriti said...

This was a very enjoyable post. I loved hearing the conversation between you and your cousins as they made the pasta. I showed this post to my husband as I knew he never saw this type of tortellini before, Linda. He was intrigued with their intricate shape and we both thought they must taste so divine.

Marcellina said...

My father comes from Piacenza and his speciality is Tortellini di Erbetta. Basically the same filling but a simple shape. I love the pleated tortelli your cousins have made. I will visit my cousins in Piacenza this September and I can't wait to try their specialities!

Cathy at Wives with Knives said...

Wow, wonderful post, Linda. What a special experience to make pasta with your cousins in Italy. I know I would be all thumbs if I tried but it sure would be fun.

janie said...

Wow-quite an operation! I'm sure they were absolutely delicious. I don't think I have the patience for making them-I'll stick to ravioli! Thanks for posting the videos too.

Melissa @IWasBornToCook said...

I remember seeing these in Italy for the first time. Delicious. Great post!

Rosemary said...

I'm wowing, too. I would have loved to be an observer in that beautiful kitchen! Works of art, acts of love. Just a lovely post. Thank you for sharing.

Peter M said...

Just when you think you've seen all the pasta shapes...this comes along! Love it..rustic and fancy all in one.

mr. pineapple man said...

So thats how you make them! Awesome!

Jersey Girl Cooks said...

Great pasta! Well worth all the work.

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Gracie said...

Never eat those, and I'm just a few kms away from there....

Frank said...

Looks like a fair amount of work, but they're so pretty I'm sure it's worth it!

emiglia said...

Gorgeous! I've never heard of that kind of tortellini. They look beautiful, but I think I'm too lazy to make so many... or not nearly as talented as you and your cousins!

Linda said...

Those look amazing! What a fun project...you and your cousins are beautiful!

Donna@Conghaile Cottage said...

Hi Linda,
This post was "SO MUCH FUN"! LOVE,LOVE,LOVED IT!!! It's so nice to adventure through you...AND the thought of visiting Italy to make TORTELLI PIACENTINI was a bit overwhelming in SUCH a fantastic way!
Thank you for the recipe...
Have a wonderful weeks end,
Hugs,
Donna

Laura Schenone said...

Heart stopping pasta. thank you.

black eyed susans kitchen said...

This is where art meets food...both in the tutorial and the final results. Beautiful job Linda!

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valerie Niemann said...

Thanks for sharing. Love to see pasta the "old way."

Daryl Cobranchi said...

Thanks so much for posting this. My Nana made these spinach & ricotta treats every holiday. She learned from my grandfather's mother, a native of Piacenza. My Nana tried to teach my wife and me how to make the tortellini (she called them torte, with the accent on the second syllable). We never quite mastered it, but with the help of your video, I think I'll give it another try.

Daniela said...

Io sono di Piacenza e questi tortelli li conosco bene. Sono ottimi e bellissimi, non trovate?
Vi abbraccio tutte :)