I eat a lot at this time of year. I actually eat a lot at every time of year, but I reassure myself that at the moment it’s about hibernation and surviving the cold, so therefore very necessary for survival.
Pasta and soup are default choices for colder weather. Pasta with soup is even better. Northern Italy is littered with variations of this recipe. This one showcases tiny stuffed parcels, packed with chicken, mortadella and pancetta. These little tortellini, which look a bit like belly buttons, are stuffed with deliciousness, intensely savoury and highly addictive. The use of chicken and pork together might be unexpected, but is a brilliant combination as the chicken gives the filling lightness and the pork a rich, salty, porcine flavour. Try and get mortadella with flecks of jewel-green pistachios if you can, as this adds a lovely nutty backnote to the taste.
Traditionally tortellini this small are served in a broth (or brodo) as a starter at Christmas, but can just be piled on a plate with parmesan and a healthy trickle of extra virgin olive oil. They freeze incredibly well and can be cooked straight from frozen. Just add an extra two minutes to the cooking time.
This is not a quick recipe. It takes time, practise and concentration, but it is very much worth it. If you have ever bought ‘fresh’ tortellini in packets from the supermarkets, you will be blown away by the flavour and delicate texture of these. I cannot pretend that they aren’t a little fiddly to make, but persevere and you will get your own production line rhythm going before you know it.
Tortellini con Pancetta, Mortadella e Pollo
For the pasta:
400g good quality flour-00 Italian flour is best
4 medium organic eggs
pinch of salt
semolina flour to dust
For the filling:
1 small chicken breast (about 200g)
40ml double cream
Freshly ground black pepper
1 egg yolk
1 litre of good chicken stock-if making soup
Grated Parmesan (optional but necessary)
First, make your filling. Put the chicken breast in a food processor or small blender, with a little cream to loosen if necessary, and blitz until smooth. Add the pancetta, mortadella and the rest of the cream, along with some pepper, and process again until smooth. Add the egg yolk and blitz to mix. Put in the fridge until needed.
Now make your pasta. Roll it out into sheets on the thinnest setting of your machine.
Cut the sheets into squares of about 7cm on each side.
Place a small teaspoon of the filling mix into the middle of each square.
Dip your forefinger into the water and run it over two edges of the pasta square-the top and one side. Fold the pasta over so that the filling is enclosed in a triangle of pasta. Press the edges down gently enough to not rupture the filling, but firmly enough to ensure the filling is secure with no air bubbles around the sides (these will make your tortellini break apart when boiling).
Rest the triangle on the underside tips of your left hand, if you are right-handed, with the top of the triangle pointing up your middle finger. Dampen the end tips of the other two ends, curl your thumb so it sits on top of the middle of the triangle over the area of filling. Bring the side ends over the top of your thumb and press gently together so they stick.
Gently slide your thumb out from the centre of the pasta and sit on a surface lightly dusted with semolina flour.
If you are having the pasta in broth, bring the chicken stock to the boil and cook the pasta for about five minutes. If having without the broth, simply boil a pan of water as usual and cook for the same time. Either way, when the pasta is added, bring the temperature down to a simmer for the cooking, so the delicate parcels aren’t damaged.
Serve with grated parmesan and plenty of black pepper.