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Recipe Trialling of Three Different Tortellini

Submitted by Vettoria di Gio... on November 20, 2011 - 8:41pm
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By Lady Caterine de Vantier

As part of some recent recipe testing I did, I tried out three different tortellini recipes. I want to serve tortellini as part of the Canterbury Faire feast, but could not decide which recipe would be best. The answer was obviously to try them all, and get feedback from a bunch of people about which they preferred.

The first recipe came from Giacomo Castelvetro, Gillian Riley (trans.), The Fruit, Herbs & Vegetables of Italy (Viking, London, 1989)

The second and third recipes came from Bartolomeo Scappi, Terence Scully (trans.), The Opera of Bartolomeo Scappi (1570) L'arte et prudenza d'un maestro cuoco (University of Toronto Press, Toronto, 2008)

Tortellini from Castelvetro, p60:

Castelvetro gives a recipe for crushed fava (broad) beans, which he says can be made into tortellini, then lightly fried in oil to serve. To make mine I used just under 400g of broad beans - some fresh, but mostly frozen. I boiled them with enough water to cover them, and about a 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Instead of crushing them in a mortar, I blended them in the food processor, using only a couple of tablespoonsful of the cooking liquid, and adding in a decent teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper and two tablespoons of oil. I added three small handfuls of sultanas to the mixture, so that there was a fairly even scattering of these throughout.

The mixture was quite stiff and pastelike. I possibly could have added more of the cooking water or extra oil to it to make it a bit smoother, but decided against this as I did not want it to become too liquidy as this would make it difficult to fill the tortellini.

As Castelvetro does not provide a dough recipe, I used a standard pasta mixture of one cup of flour mixed with one egg, a teaspoon of olive oil, and a tablespoon of rosewater in place of water. Rosewater as an ingredient in pasta dough is quite common in Scappi, so I felt quite comfortable about making this substitution.

I filled each tortellini with 5-10 grams of filling (1-2 teaspoons), then lightly fried them in olive oil. I have previously deep fried tortellini, and that works especially well.

My testers were in universal agreement that this was not their favourite tortellini, most saying that it was okay but a bit bland. Adding more salt to the cooking water may have helped, and then also perhaps adding more pepper to the mixture. However, given the simplicity of the recipe it is a bit hard to see how it could be made much better.

Scappi, Book II.180 p231

Espying this recipe below the herb tortellini I was intending to try, I decided on a whim to make this also. As this was a last minute decision, I was missing a couple of ingredients, but had enough to get the gist of the dish.

I cooked my approximately 400g of broad beans in vegetable broth rather than meat broth, so that they were still appropriate for the vegetarian at the table. Again I put these through the food processor rather than crushing them by hand. They possibly could have done with a little longer blending as they were not quite as smooth as the ones from Castelvetro's recipe. Since I had cooked them in broth rather than water, the blended mixture came out fairly brown. To this I added a couple of egg yolks, a teaspoon each of pepper and cinnamon, a pinch each of nutmeg and cloves, and a tablespoon of sugar. As I mentioned, I did not have the spring onions fried in butter but if I was trying the recipe again with the same amount of beans, I would use a bunch of spring onions sliced finely and fried in a tablespoon of butter. I added about 1/2 a cup of cheese, using Parmesan and a block edam instead of ricotta as I had not planned on making it. The cheese flavour did not really come through, but I think this would have been improved with the use of ricotta instead. As it was, the mixture was already quite a lot sloppier than Castelvetro's, so I was quite glad to be using hard cheese in place of soft since this would just have made filling the tortellini more difficult.

I used the same dough recipe as the one above, for convenience, as I was most interested in trialling the different fillings rather than focusing on the doughs. The recipe I should have used omits eggs, the ingredients instead being flour, rosewater, salt, butter, sugar and warm water. I have made this dough before and it works quite well. I do not think it would affect the overall taste of the finished tortellini too much as they are cooked in broth as well, so there are quite a lot of other flavours going on around them.

I cooked the tortellini in vegetable broth rather than meat broth, bearing in mind the vegetarians.

In general, my testers liked this recipe as it had a bit more flavour. It was a wee bit sweet, which some people liked but put others off. Some preferred this over the other two recipes, however, the herb tortellini below won the day as they thought it would better compliment the lamb. It would be interesting to try the recipe again with fresh peas to see what difference this brings overall, and whether this would be more popular than the recipe when made with broad beans.

Scappi Book II.179 p231

It seemed a bit much to be first frying the spinach in butter and then boiling it also, but I nevertheless did both. I used a really large bunch of spinach, chopped it small and fried it with roughly 50 grams of butter. Once it had cooked down, I put it in a pot and boiled it with a selection of herbs - fennel, sage, rosemary, and mint. As Scappi calls for a handful to be added, I added whole sprigs and fished them out once everything was cooked. Normally he would tell you to chop the herbs if this is what he wanted. Reading the recipe again, I wonder if he meant that the spinach should boil in the butter instead of water - it's a bit hard to tell. It would have taken quite a lot more butter to be able to boil the spinach in it, and I am not entirely convinced that even the Pope could handle that much butter clogging his arteries in one dish.

After the spinach was cooked I added about 1/3 of a cup each of Parmesan and block edam cheese. Scappi just calls for a "creamy" cheese in addition to the Parmesan, so it is hard to tell whether he wants a soft or a hard cheese as he also considers Parmesan to be creamy. Spice-wise I added in a decent 1/2 teaspoon each of pepper and cinnamon, along with a pinch of cloves and a generous pinch of saffron; I also added a handful of raisins. I only added one egg, but this seemed to be plenty to bind the mixture. Scappi mentions that if the mixture is too moist then grated bread can be added, however, it seemed to be of a nice consistency midway between the two bean recipes in overall texture.

I used the same dough as I had for the other two recipes, although again I should have used the recipe I mention in Scappi's bean tortellini above. Although Scappi says to make the tortellini "of various sizes", I made mine all of the same size - ever so slightly larger than commercial tortellini. Again I cooked them in vegetable broth so that the vegetarians could eat them too.

After much umming and ahhing, most people decided that this was either their preferred option, or that it would be the one to best compliment the lamb which it will be served with. This recipe certainly had the most going on in terms of complex flavours and textural interest, so I can see why it won the day.