For the Tortelloni Dish:
1. Make the tomato sauce. (See directions below.) It will mostly cook on its own while you work on the rest of the recipe, just remember to stir it once in a while.
2. Remove the stalks from the Swiss chard. Wash the leaves in several changes of cold water and put them in a pot with 1/2 cup water and a teaspoon of salt. Place the pot over medium high heat, cover and cook until the leaves are tender, 5-6 minutes. Drain in a colander and squeeze out as much water as possible by pressing on the leaves with a spoon. Transfer the chard to a cutting board and finely chop it.
3. Make the pasta dough. (See directions below.)
4. Peel and finely chop the onion and put it in a 10” skillet with the butter. Place over medium high heat and sauté, stirring occasionally, until the onion turns a rich golden color, about 5 minutes.
5. While the onion is sautéing, finely chop the prosciutto. When the onion is ready, add the chopped prosciutto and sauté until it loses its raw pink color and begins to brown. Add the Swiss chard, lower the heat to medium, and sauté for 5 minutes, stirring periodically. Transfer the chard to a medium bowl and set aside to cool slightly, about 10 minutes.
6. Add the ricotta, 1/2 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano, egg yolk, and nutmeg to the chard. Season with salt and pepper and stir very thoroughly. Taste the filling and adjust the seasoning if necessary.
7. Fill a pot for the pasta with at least 6 quarts of water, place over high heat, and bring to a boil.
8. Roll and fill the pasta dough.
9. Add 2 tablespoons salt to the boiling water. Collect all the tortelloni on one towel and slide them into the boiling water. Cook until the edges are tender, but al dente, about 3 minutes, then drain or lift them out with a skimmer. Transfer to a shallow serving bowl and gently toss with the sauce and the heavy cream. Sprinkle the remaining Parmigiano-Reggiano over each serving.
Simple Butter and Tomato Sauce (Sugo al Burro e Pomodoro)
This sauce has been a favorite since my mother made it when I was a little boy. Now it is a favorite of my 5-year-old daughter, Gabriella. Nothing could be simpler, or more delicious. When flavorful ripe fresh tomatoes are in season, by all means use them. If it is winter and only mediocre tomatoes are available, a good quality canned tomato is best. When tossing pasta with it, mix in some freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. I like this sauce with spaghetti, bucatini, penne, or, my favorite is with tortelloni filled with Swiss chard.
Preparation time: 5 minutes
Total time from start to finish: 45 minutes
Makes enough for 1 pound dried pasta
1. If using fresh tomatoes peel them. Coarsely chop the tomatoes and put them in a sauce pot. Place over medium heat, add the butter, and season with salt.
2. Peel the onion, trim away the root end, cut it in half, and add it to the pot. When the tomatoes begin to bubble, lower the heat to low and simmer until the tomatoes are no longer watery and the sauce has reduced, 30-45 minutes, depending on the size and shape of the pot. The sauce will cook faster in a larger, wider pot. When the sauce is done you should not see any more liquid in the pan.
Note: Once cool, the sauce will keep in the refrigerator for 2-3 days or you can freeze it for up to two months.
Egg Pasta of Emilia Romagna (Pasta all’Uovo)
Making pasta dough by hand is simple. Do not be discouraged by the length of my instructions. I have tried to describe as clearly as possible the method. With a little practice it will easily become second nature and you will have finished dough in less than 15 minutes. Rolling the dough out by hand with a rolling pin undoubtedly makes better pasta than using a machine with rollers, however it is a skill that is a bit harder to master. Fortunately, machine rolled pasta is almost as good as hand rolled and certainly far superior to store bought. If you must buy egg pasta use the dried egg noodles in boxes. Avoid the so-called “fresh pasta” in the refrigerated case. Pasta cooked while still fresh is not superior to pasta that dried completely. In fact, pasta that is not allowed to dry spoils unless some kind of preservative is used, which is why you should avoid commercial “fresh pasta.”
The region that is best known for egg pasta is Emilia Romagna, of which Bologna is the capital. There are other regions that have an egg pasta tradition and each makes it differently. In Tuscany a little olive oil and salt is often added to the dough. In Liguria they use fewer eggs and add water. In Piedmont and the Veneto, a very rich pasta is made using predominantly egg yolks and very few whites. The egg pasta from Emilia Romagna is made simply with whole eggs and flour. My family is from Emilia Romagna, so perhaps I am biased, but I find this egg pasta the most satisfying.
It is impossible to give a precise measurement for the amount of flour needed. Depending on the size of the eggs, the humidity, and even the temperature in the room, you may need more or less. In making pasta it is important to avoid cold so use room temperature eggs. Also, do not work on a naturally cold surface such as marble or stainless steel. Wood is best; otherwise Corian or linoleum will work. If you do not make perfect pasta dough the first time don’t be discouraged. All you need is a little practice. Just have some store-bought pasta on hand for dinner the first time around.
Preparation time: 20 minutes
Total time from start to finish: Approximately 45 minutes
Makes enough pasta for 4 as a single course meal or 6 as part of a multi-course meal
1. Pour the flour in a mound in the center of your work counter. With your fingers make a well. When your fingers reach the counter, push the sides out to make a well in which the eggs will fit comfortably. To avoid the possibility that the eggs will overflow, it is better to make the well a little wider than necessary than too small.
2. Break the eggs into the center of the well. Using a fork, beat the eggs as if you were making scrambled eggs until the yolks and the whites are thoroughly blended together. Use the fork to mix a little flour into the eggs by taking it from the bottom of the inside walls of the well. Continue until the mixture thickens enough to cling to the fork when you lift it into the air. Use your fingers to squeeze the dough attached to the fork back into the well and set the fork aside. Push about 1/4 cup of flour to the side, then use your hands to bring the rest into the center of the well. Mix together with your hands to begin forming a dough. If the dough feels sticky when you plunge a finger into the it add a little more flour. The dough should feel moist but not sticky. Wrap the dough in plastic, because the surface of the dough can begin to dry out in as little as a minute, while you scrape off any bits of dough that have stuck to the counter. Reserve any remaining flour off to the side.
3. Unwrap the dough and begin kneading it. Think of stretching the dough rather than compressing it by using the heel of your palm and pushing away from you. Knead until the dough feels homogeneous and smooth. If it seems to stick to your hand or to the counter, add a little more flour. On the other hand, if it feels too hard to knead, you may have added too much flour. Try wetting your hands and kneading the moisture in. If that does not seem to help, it’s probably easier and faster to start over. I you don’t need to add any more flour while kneading, it should only take 5-6 minutes. Adding flour during the kneading process may increase the time since the further along you are, the longer it takes for the flour to get incorporated. When you have kneaded the dough sufficiently, wrap it in plastic again and let it rest for at least 15 minutes or up to 3 hours. Never refrigerate or freeze pasta dough. As the dough rests, the gluten in the flour will relax, making it much easier roll the dough.
4. Unwrap the pasta dough and knead it a few times to incorporate the moisture that inevitably rises to the surface. The surface of the dough at this point should feel silky smooth (a baby’s bottom is what it is traditionally compared to).
If using a pasta machine to roll out the dough:
a. Cut the dough in as many pieces as you used eggs, in this case three. Wrap two of the pieces in the plastic wrap. Flatten the remaining piece of dough as best you can with your hands then put it through the rollers of the machine set at the widest setting. Fold the dough in three, and put it through the rollers again with the folds perpendicular to the rollers. Fold the dough in half and put it through one more time, again with the folds perpendicular to the rollers. Lay the dough on a towel and repeat the procedure with the other two pieces.
b. When all the pieces have been through the machine at the widest setting, adjust the rollers down one notch and put each piece of dough through once. Repeat, going down one notch at time, until you reach the next to last setting. Cut each sheet of pasta in half then put each piece through the machine at the thinnest setting.
If rolling the dough by hand:
a. Flatten the dough by pressing it down on the counter with your hands, making as even a disk as possible. Use a rolling pin at least 30” in length, if possible, place it on the bottom third of the disk and roll away from you, stopping just short of the edge. Turn the dough 90° and repeat. Continue until the dough is about 1/4” thick.
b. Roll the top edge of the dough onto the rolling pin. Hold the dough in place with one hand and place your other hand on top of the rolling pin. Gently stretch the dough by rolling the pin back and forth. While the dough is still on the rolling pin, turn it 90°, unroll it and again roll the top edge onto the rolling pin.
c. After you’ve done this at least 4 times and the dough is no more than 1/8” thick, begin rolling more of the dough onto the rolling pin and use both hands on the pin, sliding them together and apart while rolling forward and back. Continue until the pasta is very thin, almost transparent.
5. If making noodles, let the pasta dry on a cloth until it is leathery in consistency, dry enough that noodles will not stick together when cut, but still pliable enough that it won’t crack, anywhere between 5-25 minutes depending on the temperature and humidity in the room. To cut pasta using the machine, cut the pasta sheets into lengths approximately 12”-15” long. Put each piece through the desired cutting attachment of the pasta machine. Loosely fold the noodles into nests. Once the noodles are completely dry, they will be easier to pick up. If cutting the pasta by hand, roll the dough loosely and use a chef’s knife or cleaver to cut the pasta into noodles of the desired width. After every 5 or 6 cuts, unravel the noodles then loosely fold them into nests.
To make filled pasta, you need to keep the pasta moist to be able to seal it. Work on just a portion of the sheet of pasta at a time and cover the rest with plastic so it won’t dry out. If using the machine, roll out only one piece while keeping the rest of the dough wrapped in plastic. Cut the pasta sheet in half before putting it through the rollers the last time. For filled pasta squares, such as tortelloni or tortelli, lay the pasta flat on a cutting board. Place 1 tablespoon dollops of filling at 1" intervals along the bottom half of the pasta sheet. Fold the top half of the pasta sheet over the stuffing and gently press down with your fingers in between each dollop to squeeze out excess air. Use a pastry cutting wheel to cut along the bottom edge, the sides, and in between each dollop of stuffing forming approximately 1 1/2” squares. The edges will be sealed by the cutting action of the pastry wheel. Place the filled pasta on a dry cloth without overlapping. Continue the process until all the pasta and/or the stuffing is used up.
6. Noodles may be cooked right away or dried and stored in a cool dry place (not the refrigerator) almost indefinitely. Noodles that are cooked right away will be done by the time the water comes back to a boil. Dried noodles will be done in about 3 minutes. Filled pasta needs to be cooked within a couple of hours or the pasta that is in contact with the stuffing will get too wet and eventually dissolve. It is best when served as soon as it is cooked but it is possible to make it up to 2 days ahead, if necessary. Cook it partially, about 1 minute, then toss with some vegetable oil, cool, and store in zip lock bags in the refrigerator (do not freeze). When ready to serve, drop into salted boiling water, and cook until done, 1-2 minutes.
Green pasta variation: Cook 8 ounces frozen spinach or 12 ounces fresh spinach in salted boiling water until tender. Drain and set aside to cool. Using your hands, squeeze out as much water as possible. Chop finely by hand or in a food processor. Proceed as for Egg Pasta of Emilia Romagna, adding the spinach to the eggs and an extra 1/2 cup of flour.