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Eat this! Tortellini, Venus’s belly button in pasta

Cucina Paradiso's tortellini.

Cucina Paradiso's tortellini.

What it is: Tortellini are filled egg pasta, formed into a distinctive ringlike shape, which, legend has it, resembles Venus’s navel. Although cheese fillings for tortellini are popular, as are many meat combinations, the Accademia del Tortellino, an Italian culinary guild whose members wear robes with pasta-shaped pendants, prescribes a mixture of prosciutto, mortadella, ox marrow, egg and parmesan cheese.

Anthony Gambino

Anthony Gambino

Where it comes from: Tortellini are a specialty of Bologna, Italy. A dish very similar to present-day recipes was described in the 16th century by Giovanni Rosselli.

What to do with it:Add tortellini to soups — tortellini in brodo is a Bolognese classic — or serve them with a variety of sauces, from a simple butter sauce to a rich ragu.

Chef Anthony Gambino of Cucina Paradiso in Oak Park fills tortellini with veal and pork and serves it in a mushroom ragu.

Cucina Paradiso’s tortellini with mushroom ragu
Chef Anthony Gambino

Tortellini filling:
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
8 ounces ground veal
8 ounces ground pork shoulder
4 ounces prosciutto, finely diced
1 egg, beaten
1 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
Salt and pepper to taste

Pasta:
3-1/2 to 4 cups flour
4 eggs
1/2 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil

Mushroom ragu:
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 pound mixed mushrooms (crimini, oyster, shiitake) chopped
1/2 cup red wine
1/2 cup tomato crushed
2 cups vegetable broth
1/3 cup whipping cream
1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
1/2 to 3/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Make the filling: In a Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed, large saucepan, heat the butter and oil until it foams and subsides. Add the veal and pork shoulder and cook over high heat, stirring occasionally, until the meat is well-browned and begins to release some of its juices. Add the prosciutto and cook for 6 minutes more. Remove from heat and allow to cool.

Place in a food processor and mix to combine. Add the egg and the Parmigiano-Reggiano and mix well to combine. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Make the pasta: Mound 3 cups of flour in the center of a large wooden cutting board. Make a well in the middle of the flour, add the eggs and oil. Using a fork, beat together the eggs and begin to incorporate the flour starting with the inner rim of the well. As you incorporate the eggs, keep pushing the flour up to retain the well shape. The dough will come together in a shaggy mass when about half of the flour is incorporated.

Start kneading the dough with both hands, primarily using the palms of your hands. Add more flour, in 1/2-cup increments, if the dough is too sticky. Once the dough is a cohesive mass, remove the dough from the board and scrape up any left over dry bits. Lightly flour the board and continue kneading for 3 more minutes. The dough should be elastic and a little sticky. Continue to knead for another 3 minutes, remembering to dust your board with flour when necessary. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and set aside for 20 minutes at room temperature.

Roll the pasta into sheets using a pasta machine. For the desired pasta sheet thickness, gradually pass the dough through the settings starting with the widest and continuing to the number 9 setting. With a pasta cutter or a knife, cut the pasta into 1-1/2-inch squares.

Assembly: Place 3/4 teaspoon of filling in the center of each square. Fold into triangles, press out any air around the filling, and press to seal the edges. Bring the points of the long side together to form a ring, and seal between your fingers. Set the tortellini aside on a sheet pan, wrap well with plastic wrap, and refrigerate until ready to cook.

Make the ragu: In a large skillet, heat the oil to almost smoking; add the onions and garlic, reduce the heat and cook over medium-low until the onions have wilted, about 8 minutes.

Add the mushrooms and season with salt and pepper. Raise the heat to high and saute until the mushrooms are tender and all the liquid has evaporated.

Remove the pan from the heat and pour in the red wine. Return the pan to the stove and allow wine to evaporate, about 3 minutes. Add the vegetable broth and simmer for 1/2 hour, until the sauce has reduced by half. Add the cream and tomatoes and mix well.

Take the pan off the heat and add the fresh herbs and cheese. Season with salt and pepper. Mix thoroughly and keep warm.

Finish: Cook the tortellini in boiling salted water for 5 to 7 minutes, or until all the tortellini are floating on top of the pot. While the tortellini are cooking, slowly heat the mushroom ragu. Serve the pasta with the sauce. 8 servings.

 
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