Thursday, October 15, 2009


A few trips ago to Italy I came home inspired to re-create the hand rolled tortellinis we made in a wonderful class. This was during the time that I was still very raw from the end of my marriage. Creating the pasta by hand was very therapeutic. I made the pasta for a few friends and they asked for the recipe. So I started out to write it down. But as I wrote my inner world took over. I found myself mixing into the recipe a few extra things. Those came out as I wrote. I never gave this version to my friends. I had forgotten about it until I read this wonderful post on one of my favorite blogs. This other posted recipe is much lighter than my heavy Tortellini one. In fact, I am happy to say that I, myself, am much lighter in heart (unfortunately not in body) than when I wrote this. But for what it's worth:

Tortellini with Meaning

Wear an apron and clear off the kitchen counter. You need a big surface and the flour dust, if done properly, will be down your front and on your face. This is not a pretty process, though it is beautiful.

My aprons are hiding from me. Amongst the towels and a chefs hat that someone who once admired my cooking gave to me. There is an apron that was my mother’s. I have a hard time getting rid of anything that was my mothers. When I was young, maybe seven, she was wearing this same apron, the house well into the nineties, the kitchen even hotter. My father had just come through the back door with a bounty of beets from the garden. I hate beets. They taste like dirt. My father had a huge proud smile on his face. My mom had tears in her eyes. The canner was belching steam into the already saunafied kitchen. My mother looked at me, and in a controlled voice, under her breath, directed at me like an arrow to target said “DO NOT EVER LEARN TO CAN.”

You will need a kitchen scale. The hand rolled pasta dough is made by amounts that aren’t traditionally measured. No measuring cups, no measuring spoons. Use special white flour. Must be 00 weight. You may have to go to an Italian food store to buy. Or from a large grocery that has lots of choices. 00 flour is the finest cut. It is used for smooth, silky hand rolled pasta.

I used to buy this flour at DeLaurenti’s Italian Grocer on the Eastside. This market was not at all like the markets in Italy as it had everything Italian. The shops in Italy are more specialized. There are the meats shops, the dairy places, the vegetable stands or more likely the private gardens where one can get their vegetables. Milk and eggs, if not from the animals at home can be bought from the purveyor who cycles them to town or from the small markets. The bread is in the bakeries. Shopping for a meal means ducking into four or six little side by side shops over there. The last time I was there they had a SUPERMARKET where all things Italian and otherwise could be bought with several brand choices for each type of item. This made me immensely sad. When I move to Italy I will have my own garden and chickens and will know my neighbors that make their own cheeses and wines.

The dough is made from flour and eggs. Buy large eggs and have them at room temperature.

In Italy, the eggs are gathered fresh from the chickens that hang outside the kitchen doors. The chickens hang outside the kitchen as they are fed the scraps from the kitchen. The hard yellow rinds from the wedges of Parmesan, when fed to the chickens make for the yellowest eggs you have ever seen. These eggs result in a pasta dough of a shade of yellow that is hard to describe. Not a lemon yellow, deeper. Not an orange. Softer. When I own chickens I will have to work hard to make friends with them. I do not think they tend to attach to people very well. They of course will come running when I open the kitchen door to see what scraps I will throw out for them. But they will not care whether it is me or anybody else. I will have to have a dog to care about me and for me to care for. For now I have a son that fulfills that role but if we have done our job right he will have a life of his own and will not be there for me to care for on a daily basis. I will have lovers instead. At least one. Maybe two. They will be younger than I and adore me. I will enjoy their company and feed them homemade pasta and we will make love in front of the fire, the dog watching jealously from the side of the room. I will send my lover home when the fire goes cold.

Take your 00 flour and measure out 100-grams of flour per egg you will use. For your home kitchen, a three egg batch is a good place to start. Unless you are entertaining and need to make more.

I entertained a lot in my former life. I would spend weeks planning the menus, usually a theme, inviting four or five couples to our modest home. Or, just as likely, I would wake up on Saturday morning and want to share the evening with a small group of friends. I know I did this to break up the monotony and disappointment of life with my husband. We had become people who live together and tolerate each other, but not very well. He did not know me. What I knew of him I grew to despise. What he told me in the end removed any ounce of love or hope I ever had. I am still picking up the pieces, but not very well.

When making your tortellini it is good to have a friend or an older child to help with the process. Have a friend help anyway. It makes it more fun and gives you the excuse to enjoy wine as you cook. Take your measured flour (300-grams of flour for three eggs) and dump it in a pile in the middle of your working surface. I use one side of my wooden pastry board. Push the flour into a little mountain, three to four inches high in the middle. Then take your fingers and dig into the top of the mountain a well. Think of Crater Lake. The well must be big as it must contain the eggs. Digging almost to the bottom, but not quite…you must have some flour on the surface to keep the eggs from sticking to the board. Pull the well out towards the sides to leave an edge around the top that gets thicker and wider as it reaches the outer edge. Take each egg and break it into the well. As the well fills up you may need to push the sides of the mountain up to contain the egg whites that are want to spill over.

I am a vessel prone to spill over. Full beyond capacity, not one to let things go. One must maintain control at all costs. It is important to understand the difference between being in control and being controlling. When someone you love is out of control, take your hands and brace the sides. Angry words fill the well and threaten to spill out into a mess that could be visible to all.

Once you have your egg filled crater lake, take a fork, just a table top fork will do. Take the fork in your right hand and use the left hand to reinforce the sides of the mountain as you work your way around, slowly blending egg to flour. Round and round with the fork until the egg yolks break and the flour and egg begin to mix into a gloppy, nasty looking mess. Out of some of the biggest messes come the most delicious meals. Do not be intimidated or discouraged at this point. The way to the good pasta is through this mess. Continue to mix until most of the egg is somewhat mixed with the flour. At this point there will still be dry flour and very wet egg. You can get rid of the fork now and dive in with your hands. Work this mixture until the flour is uniformly wet. Keeping hands and board lightly dusted. Though your hands will become caked with glops of the moist slop. (This is the time when the phone will ring. Nothing is important enough to answer the phone at this moment. But you will not know this until you have left a smear of dough on the front of your apron and on your phone.) At this time you should be able to press the mixture into a nice ball. Brush the globs from your hands into the pile, reforming the ball and set it to the edge of your work surface. Clean off your hands. If needed, dust the ball and your hands with a very little bit of flour so you can begin kneading. You may need to stand on a chair as you must be able to lean over and onto the dough as you work it. You need to abuse this dough. Take the ball and with the lower palm surface, the ridge at end of wrist and root of thumb, lean into it, pushing down and out. At this point it is helpful to think of your frustrations and speak with authority. Lean push, scoop back and quarter turn.

You told me I did not support YOU enough. You pointed to our wedding picture and asked “what about the promise?” Well guess what. I signed on for richer for poorer. I signed on through sickness and health. I signed up for good times through bad. I did not sign up to carry it all after you gave up. I did not sign up for darkness and cruelty. I did not sign up to be the adult and allow you to fuss and complain and criticize in childish fervor. I did not sign on for the ranting. You frightened me. You told the therapist that I had changed. It was twenty five years. Damn right I changed. You only got worse. You told me you hoped I would be very lonely one day. I told you I am with you and I am already there. When I left you told our son I would be OK in a few days. After a week you told me this had gone on long enough. When it went on for two months you told me you were not going to play this game any more and you held me hostage. You tried to force me to stay. The word “love” never passed our lips when we tried to sort this out. You argued with the professional when she reminded you that you had your own family now and you needed to put them first. You said you wanted to stay together because to part would cause you great embarrassment. You never brushed my wounded heart tenderly. Instead you decided I was flawed. I WAS flawed. YOU broke me.

After you have pushed, you sort of fold the flatter part back towards the center and then turn a quarter turn so you are pushing down on a different area. Only add a dusting of flour if things get sticky. You can turn the ball over after about every four full rounds of pushing (16 or so presses). Continue with this motion long after you want to stop. Your wrists should be aching and your palm numb. The dough should be smooth and beyond well incorporated. Finally, at this stage you can rest. Well the dough can rest. It must rest. You probably need to work on the filling. Put the dough in a plastic bag and put in the refrigerator. It must rest for at least an hour now. Don’t shortchange this rest.

The most beautiful rest is crawling naked into clean sheets after a long soak in the tub. Pure, clean, complete. When I arrive in heaven, the angels will draw my bath and while I soak, every night they will put clean sheets on my bed. They will carry me from tub to bed so my feet do not have to touch the ground. The candles will be lit, the sheets cool and crisp. The air will smell of pine and paper-whites and jasmine. I will close my eyes and smell White Shoulders and know my grandmother is near. I will fall asleep to the sound of my mother’s laughter and will reach out my hand and my finger tips will touch those of my sister, clean in her own clean bed, just within reach. I will sleep with no fear or dread of waking up.

Take this moment, before next steps to check the music you have on. Reload the CD player if you want. Good sing along music is a must. I recommend R.E.M. Some U2. Or something sultry and deep. Dianna Krall. If no boy is around, belt out Neil Diamond or Don McLean.

Time to begin making the filling.

In a bowl put about ½ carton of Ricotta cheese. Take some Gambozola cheese, I don’t know, maybe about a half cup, less, if you want it more subtle. Break the Gambozola into little chunks into the ricotta. Go to the patio and harvest a big bunch of Italian parsley. Or sage. Or thyme. Whatever you have that is wanting to be picked. Though Rosemary might be a little to strong for this.

Pots of fresh, robust herbs ring my deck. There is Rosemary, one eighth the size of the formidable bush I left behind. Rosemary reminds me of Italy and I am transformed. I crush the needles between my thumb and finger and breathe in. I want to leave this place and disappear into the Tuscan hills. I could live in a garden shack, with a small wood stove and a grandmotherly landlord who will check on me if she has not seen movement for a few days. She will sit down for tea and shake her head in concern but I assure her I am OK. I am just restoring myself. There is much work to be done.

Clean and chop this, putting maybe a quarter cup into the cheese mixture. The rest you save for tossing on the finished tortellinis just before serving. Take a ripe but firm pear. One ripe enough to smell. Core, but don’t skin, it. Chop finely.

My child is like a pear. Easily bruised. So full of flavor.

Put into cheese mixture. If you like nuts, add some freshly ground walnuts or pecans. A few grinds of black pepper and maybe a quarter cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese. High quality, aged, a rough grate. Add one egg. Dig in with your hands and squeeze and squish the mixture to blend thoroughly. Grab big fistfuls and squeeze. It would have been best if I had warned you to remove your rings and watches and bracelets and roll up your sleeves. If you haven’t done this yet, you will remember to do it next time. There is something a little gross but pleasurable as the mixture eases through the spaces in your fingers. It makes a slurpy sound if done right.

Do those who know of me know how I am not afraid to squeeze scary things through my bare hand? When I was young I remember watching my mother reach into the throat of the sink, disposal turned off and children out of switch reach. She reached through the greasy, cloudy, chunky water, pulling out globs of the most disgusting mass of yuck, to free up whatever was getting the disposal stuck. At that moment I had my doubts about my future abilities as a mother. I did not think I had it in me. I was wrong. I have done things as a mother I could never do elsewise. I have been brave in the face of spiders that used to freeze me solid. I have controlled my temper and used patience I did not know I had. I have given first-aid to wounds that would have made me light headed. I can mix meatloaf and I can mix tortellini filling with my bare hands. Do this just until all well blended. You can put in the refrigerator at this time.

After the pasta dough has rested at least an hour (more is better) pull it out and take roughly a third of it. Make into a smooth ball and set in the middle of a well floured board. This is the directions for hand rolling. If you have succeeded at this once or twice then you can move to a pasta roller and crank out sheets down to number 2 thickness. But for the first few times you must hand roll. This labor is part of the experience. Keeping a little pile of flour on the edge of the board and brushing the top of the ball if things get sticky take your lightly floured roller (rolling pin) (a long roller is best as the pasta should get very big and very thin) and press down from the middle out. Again, after each motion, turn a quarter turn.

What is the hardest thing you have ever done? When have you pushed beyond what made sense? Sometimes to breathe is all it takes but is impossible to do. Have you ever known that if and when you fall asleep you will not wake up because to breathe takes focus and effort and to sleep will give that up? Have you ever wanted to sleep so badly at this time that the desire to sleep is stronger than the fear of not waking? There are plans greater than what we know and so we wake when sleep is preferred. In and out of air and life, as out and out the pastry spreads. Grows to keep and nourish to bare out a labor bigger than breath. It is life. And it will not give up on you. Do not give up on it.

This is a very long tedious process. The sheet of pasta must get paper thin. You must go beyond what you think you want to. You should be able to see through the sheet before you quit. Using a sharp knife or pizza cutter, cut one-and-three-quarter inch strips. Cross cut into one-and-three-quarter inch squares. Take two small spoons and working them together get a big of cheese feeling and scooping from one spoon to another then on to the dough lay a bit of filling into the center of each square. Fold the dough diagonally over the top to form a little triangle. There should be a good one-quarter inch edge around the two cut sides. Pinch the edges firmly to seal in the filling. Then bring the points together as if wrapping around a pencil. Turn one corner upside down in an outward motion and pinch the edges together. Firmly. Place these tortellinis on a drying rack or on a dry tea towel and turn frequently so all sides can dry. Air dry for an hour or so. If storing at this point shake a little of the 00 flour in with the tortellinis to keep them from sticking. Let the floured board air dry at the same time. When dry dust off. It will come clean. Water only muddies the board.

Boil up some broth or water with a little olive oil and salt. Toss in the tortellinis. Cook until the pasta turns clear, al dente. Drain. Toss with a little butter, olive oil fresh herbs and fresh grated Parmesan. Serve with a good salad and wine. Magnifico!

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