It’s pumpkin season again and the shops are full of all shapes and sizes of squash ready to be made into soups, risotti, gnocchi and so on. Italians love pumpkin, or zucca as they call it, and there seems to be no end to their inventiveness in cooking them. So, I thought I’d share with you one of my (and my dinner guests’) favourite recipes: tortelli di zucca.
So what are tortelli?
Tortelli is a word used mostly in north-central Italy to describe two very different pasta shapes. In Tuscany, it’s used to describe a shape like ravioli. In the province of Arezzo, tortelli di patate, ravioli stuffed with mashed potato—eaten boiled or often deep fried (yes, you read that right)—are a local tradition. Elsewhere, such as in Emilia-Romagna, the word is used for large tortellini, which are often called tortelloni outside the region.
Mantova or Modena?
There are various different traditional stuffings for tortelli but as you might have read in my blog on Modena, when I was there I tried them stuffed with pumpkin. Although originally from Mantua (Mantova in Italian), this recipe now considered part of Modenese cuisine and indeed I had them served with a reduction of balsamic vinegar (Aceto Balsamico di Modena DOP), which is decisively from Modena.
Sweet or salty?
The most interesting feature of these tortelli is that the filling is sweet and so the dish has a mix of sweet and salty flavours very common in European cuisine before the 18th century. It’s worth noting that balsamic vinegar reductions are often served with strawberries, so there’s not surprise there.
Machine or rolling pin?
I prefer to use a matarella (rolling pin) when making stuffed pasta because you can make one large sheet which is more convenient when making stuffed pasta. However, you can use a machine. In either case, its’ very important to make sure that the pasta is very thin. I would use the penultimate setting on a pasta machine. The received wisdom is that you should be able to see through the pasta when it’s rolled out.
People (Italians included) often say that it’s MUCH harder work using a rolling pin than a pasta machine. They complain that the pasta often shrinks back while you are rolling it out and it requires a lot of effort to stop it doing so. However, if you follow my advice and allow the pasta to rest for at least thirty minutes after kneading, this is not a problem.
Another way to make the job seem easier is to pick a suitable piece of music to roll the pasta out to. You get into a rhythm and by the time the piece of music is finished so are you. I once put together a playlist that you could use for this purpose. You can read about it here.
When you’ve made the tortelli you should allow them to dry for at least an hour before cooking them. This will allow the pasta to seal properly so that it won’t burst open when plunged into boiling water. As the filling is quite wet, it’s a good idea to turn them after 15 minutes to avoid them sticking to the tea towel.
Here are a few photos showing the pasta making process again. I describe the process for shaping the tortelli in the recipe below.
- For the filling:
- 600g (21 ounces) pumpkin
- 60g (2 ounces) amaretti biscuits
- 80g (3 ounces) grated parmigiano reggiano
- grated nutmeg to taste
- For the glaze:
- 100ml (1/2 cup) balsamic vinegar
- For the pasta:
- 400g (14 ounces) '00' flour
- 4 eggs
- semolina flour for dusting
Make the filling
- Pre-heat the oven to 180° C (355° F).
- Cut the pumpkin into cubes and place on a baking tray. You can leave the skin on.
- Roast the pumpkin for 30 minutes. Allow to cool. The skin will now peel off easily.
- Put the amaretti biscuits in a food processor and blitz until they are in crumbs.
- Add the pumpkin and mix until you have a smooth paste.
- Add the parmesan cheese and nutmeg and combine.
- Place into a piping bag and put in the fridge until you need it.
Make the glaze:
- Pour the balsamic vinegar into a saucepan and bring to the boil.
- Simmer gently until the liquid has reduced by half.
- Allow to cool.
Make the pasta:
- Place the flour in a mound on a work surface and make a hole in the middle.
- Put the eggs in the hole and beat them with the fork.
- Go round the edge of the hole with the fork, gradually bringing the flour into contact with the eggs until you have a paste.
- Bring the paste together into a dough with your hands.
- Knead for about 15 minutes until you have a nice elastic dough.
- Wrap the dough in cling film and leave to rest in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.
- Using a pasta machine or a rolling pin, roll the dough out into sheets as thin as possible. If you are using a machine use the setting before last. Dust the board and pin or machine with semolina flour to stop the dough sticking.
- Using a pizza wheel, cut the sheets into 4 cm (1 1/2 inch) squares.
- Pipe a small amount of the filling into the centre of each square.
- Fold the squares in half diagonally, squeeze along the edges to seal and then roll around your finger to form a tortello shape. Press the two ends together firmly to seal.
- Place the tortelli on a baking tray covered with a tea towel and place another tea towel on top. Leave to dry for at least an hour turning after ten minutes.
- Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil and drop the tortelli in.
- As soon as they have risen to the surface (about five minutes) drain them.
- Serve in bowls with the balsamic glaze poured over the top.