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20th February 2024 - Aaron Bulging
Culinary Masterclass - Tortellini
Aaron's Tortellini Aaron preparing tortellinis
Italy is stuffed with filled pasta shapes - pun intended.
Created as far back as the Renaissance period, many of these are specific to particular regions and feature locally favoured fillings and sauces.

According to a local legend, tortellini has its origins at the Corona Inn in at Castelfranco Emilia between Bologna and Modena in Northern Italy.
Sometime between the 12th and 14th centuries a beautiful noblewoman, marchionesse, or possibly the Goddess Venus (depending on which story you believe) spent a night at the inn. The captivated innkeeper keen to catch sight of the woman's charms peered in through her bedroom keyhole, but was rewarded only with a view of her navel.
He immediately rushed to his kitchen and re-created her belly button in pasta form.
And thus was the tortellini born!

Tortellini are traditionally filled with a mixture of minced pork, prosciutto and mortadella bound with egg, Parmigiano Reggiano and flavoured with a pinch of nutmeg. Always served in a rich capon brodo (broth) they have become commonly eaten as a Christmas lunch.

Spinach and ricotta fillings are not unusual, but Aaron chose the slightly more refined spinach and mascarpone. Because our fingers are too fat and clumsy to be trusted to make the forty tiny jewelled tortellinis each bowl would require, we actually ended up making giant tortellonis. Starting with pasta squares about 3 inches across instead of the correct 1.

We dressed ours with a beurre blanc, to which asparagus spears make a nice addition - just throw them in with the tortellinis to cook.
I would have added a few jerusalem artichokes too to my versions made at home, but the greengrocer had run out as soon as I wanted some, and I haven't seen them anywhere else since.

Torture Leany
Spinach and Mascarpone Tortelloni
Like tortellini. But fatter. With...
Spinach and Mascarpone Filling
Like spinach and ricotta. But creamier. And...
Chive Beurre Blanc
Like béarnaise. But butterier.

Tortellini Pasta Shapes
staple ingredient veg
If you've made the pasta to just the right consistency you won't really need to wet it to get it to stick together on folding, but you might find it useful to have a wet pastry brush on standby.

Serves 4

Place the flour on the bench and make a well in the centre.

Add the eggs and oil into the well and combine until this is formed into a dough, cling film tightly and rest in the fridge for 20 minutes.
No need to salt the dough - you should salt the water in which it cooks.

Generously flour the surface, pasta and pasta machine. Halve the pasta if you like, to make it easier to manage, and flatten out each ball to begin.
Roll through the pasta machine starting at the largest stop and gradually working down to the lowest, or next-to-lowest stop. You should end with a slightly transparent sheet, but not so thin as to easily tear as you form it into shape.
Roll through two or three times on each stop as you go.

Cut the pasta sheet(s) into 3cm squares, or larger if you want fat tortellonis.
Cover the pasta with a damp tea towel or plastic to prevent it from drying out before you use it.
Place a dollop of filling in the centre of each square - about half a teaspoonful will be plenty, unless they're large.
Run a wet pastry brush around the edges of the square, then fold into a triangle, pressing down firmly to seal and working from the centre out to expel any trapped air.
Curl the two bottom corners down around your finger top and join them together underneath wetting again if necessary.
The top corner should naturally fold itself over as you do this to make a shape much like a navel. Have you heard their origin story?
Set aside to dry a little on a rack, mesh, or floured surface as you shape the rest. Don't use paper towels - the tortellini will likely stick.
These are best cooked straight away - the longer you keep them the more the filling will leach into the pasta.
If you need to keep them they might last a day or two in the fridge, though they tend to get rather sticky. It might just be best to just freeze them immediately - they cook well from frozen and will keep for months.
Lay the tortellinis out on a tray to begin their freezing, so they don't end up irrevocably stuck together.
You can bag them up once they're hard for longer storage.
Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil.
Drop in the tortellini and boil for 2-3 minutes. They're ready as soon as they float up to the top.
A bit of a fiddle when you're making hundreds. It's certainly easy to overfill them which makes it all much harder.

Spinach and Mascarpone Filling
sauce ingredient veg
An up-market spinach and ricotta filling.

Serves 4

Clean the spinach and boil in salted water for 2 minutes until it collapses.
Throw in the garlic cloves too to soften them and take the edge off their bitterness.
Refresh immediately in cold or iced water.
Squeeze as dry as possible, and chop.

In a clean bowl mix the spinach, mascarpone and the parmesan. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Feel free to add herbs like parsley, sage or chives, and a grinding of nutmeg.

Chive Beurre Blanc
sauce veg
We're going to use this beurre blanc as a sauce for filled pasta tortellinis, so we can make it a little thinner than you otherwise might.

Serves 4

Peel and finely mince the shallots.
Heat the shallot, vinegar and white wine in a saucepan until bubbling. Reduce the heat and simmer until there is only about 50ml/2 fl oz of liquid left in the pan.
You ordinarily reduce the liquid to a syrupy couple of tablespoons, but you can make the sauce a little thinner here, since the sticky pasta will thicken it further when dressed.
Whisk in the butter, a little at a time, waiting until most of the butter has melted and incorporated into the mixture before adding more.
Once all the butter has been added, stir in the chives and season to taste with salt and freshly ground white pepper to avoid the black speckles.
Add the cooked pasta to serve.
Dress with extra chives and grated parmesan.
And feel free to add some rocket, cooked asparagus spears, fried mushrooms, and even some jerusalem artichokes if you can find any.