About ten years ago, I attended a cooking class at the Gambero Rosso premises just off Viale Marconi. The interior was new and exciting, escalators and three floors, shops and wine bar etc., and there was a fab atmosphere at the time. The theme that night was regional specialiaties from Emilia Romagna and pride of recipe place went to the making of tortellini. It was conducted by chef, food historian and writer Sandro Masci who now runs another cooking school in Rome (Les Chefs Blancs) and it was thanks to his charm and good will and sheer didactic proficiency that I was able to even get through the trying process of rolling teensy weensy meat balls (think the size of a finger nail) and then couching these balls in doll-sized handkerchiefs of stretched pasta (3cm by 3cm). They tasted fantastic, however, I have to say – nothing like the shop bought ones I normally would use which were never ‘bad’ as such – just not nearly so tasty.
And so, nothing loath, a few weeks later I ventured to recreate them at home. I started out enthusiastically enough, I have a good relationship with enthusiasm, but it was short lived. It was easy enough to make the home-made pasta and roll it out (I’m good at that). Weighing and cooking the filling, also easy peasy. But then came the Lilliputian hand-rolling routine and it didn’t take long before I got flustered. Much sighing, raising of eyes up to heaven, biting of lips in frustration. So much so that I called upon my next door neighbour, inveigled her into coming over for a cup of tea and a chat, and innocently asked her to kindly give me a hand with the dastardly dwarfish meaballs. How could she not comply? We chatted for well over an hour, put it that way: that’s how long it bloody well took. So these days, when darling husband goes to Bologna for work, I make sure we buy the tortellini from there. They come at around Eu40 per kg, so not cheap, but then neither is medication for high blood pressure, now, is it?
What to do? What to do? is the head-scratching question as regards stuffed pasta in delicious bouillon. And ‘brodo’ is the Italian word for bouillon or meat stock/broth. Answer: change region – nip over to Lazio and make “cappelletti”, meaning “little hats” instead! The filling is more or less the same but aha! the size isn’t ! Yeay! These little hats are much larger and easier to deal with than their cousins, the finicky Venus’s belly-button-inspired tortellini. Hats off to that! (Would anyone care to count the number of exclamation marks in this paragraph … that is my sense of enthusiasm escalating).
Just the other day, even though the temperatures didn’t warrant it, I thought I’d make soul-warming brodo and home-made cappelletti. The meat stock of the brodo produces a lovely soup for the cappelletti to cook and be served in. Number one. Then, the meat used to made the brodo can be eaten as as “picchiapo” Number Two, and as “polpette di lesso”, Number Three, both of which are typical Roman dishes (one can also eat the boiled meat accompanied by a salsa verde or by the spicy candied fruit in syrup, known as Mostarda di Cremona – and that would be recipe Number Four).
I call this abundance of recipes a bonanza, a Brodo bonanza.
INGREDIENTS FOR CAPPELLETTI FILLING:
100g Parma ham, 100g Mortadella, 100g pork loin (the Butcher looked at husband in disbelief when he ordered that amount of meat and my husband had to reassure him that it was for a good recipe reason!) 1 bayleaf, 20g butter, 1 egg, 135g parmigiano reggiano cheese, freshly grated nutmeg, freshly grated white pepper.
If you look at the following photos, it will be easy to understand what needs to be done. The cheese needs to be grated. The pork loin needs to be cooked on both sides in the butter flavoured with the bayleaf. Allow to cool and then add all the ingredients minus the bayleaf in a processor and use the pulse to turn them into a sticky mince. Place in the fridge for at least one hour. It can be frozen too by the way, for future use.
And then the pasta has to be made: 100g flour per 1 egg is the rule of thumb. I used two kinds of flours, half and half, one was 00 Italian flour and the other was the Semola flour (durum wheat flour, the kind used for making dry pasta). I didn’t take photos but I assured you that I placed the flour and eggs in the food processor and blitzed them into a dough. Easy enough to do with a total of 300g of flour and 3 eggs and a tiny dribble of olive oil. I then wrapped the pasta in clingfilm and put it in the fridge. Normally I wouldn’t do that. I would just let it rest at room temperature – but since I was going to roll out the pasta the next day, the fridge made more sense. And roll it out I did too … 24 hours later.
It was getting on for 7 p.m., or Wine o’Clock as I call it. I asked my husband to put some music on after he kindly grated some parmigiano … he picked something from long ago that he knew had a special meaning for us, and eventually felt inspired himself to play some music. He got out his sax and accompanied the songs.
It was truly a really nice atmosphere. Listening to music, playing to music, nice converstion and a sip of wine. Now that’s the way to cook! I have always been convinced that people’s moods and ‘energies’ go into their food preparation.
So … the mood was good. So good that I decided to cut corners and prepared these cappelletti in a no-no-no that’s-not-the-way-to-prepare them way –and aesthetics be damned. Take a look and laugh will you, laugh with me and not at me !
I actually got out my tape measure and made slits 4 cm apart, horizontally.
I then measured 4cm vertically, and used a plain ol’ paring knife to cut the rolled out pasta into 4cm squares (well … roughly 4cm, and roughly ‘squares’ too – sometimes they looked more like rectangles). Yes, yes, I know. I could have used a cutter … but I couldn’t for the life of me remember where my cutters were exactly, and at that point I didn’t really care.
Once I had cut out all my squares … I proceeded to make long sausage shapes out of the filling. And that was pretty ‘fiddly’, let me tell you. It helped when I wet my fingers. And as you can see, there is one little rolled up ball of filling in the centre of a pasta square.
I was getting good at this! I picked up speed after a while …
And now to shape the cappelletti. Fold the pasta square in half, and make a triangular shape. Careful not to place too much stuffing inside it.
Get the left ‘ear’ and the right ‘ear’ to meet in the middle, press hard … and Bob’s your uncle! It doesn’t look very good, and that’s cos I put too much stuffing inside this cappelletto.
There … these look better.
I could see that there were plenty of cappelletti … so I stopped making any more.
Just to give you an idea: I had used about one quarter of the entire filling mix! So as you can see, a little goes a very long way with this recipe. The amounts I gave you are enough to feed 8 very hungry people or 10 normally hungry dinner guests.
This is a photo attempting to show the cappelletti simmering in the brodo. Very steamy as you can see. Time to eat. The cappelletti don’t take long to cook: about 5 minutes. Serve in a bowl and shower more grated parmigiano over them.
Very much worth making, I promise you. They can be made in advance and can be frozen.
I am dedicating this post to my newphew Oliver. He so young and already such a great talent in the kitchen. Who knows, he might be inspired to make cappelletti one of these days? Here is a previous post where you can read all about how to make the brodo: