Tuesday, December 1, 2009


Since I can remember, my mom and her sisters have talked about great-grandma Noni's homemade tortellini. My grandparents would pack the kids in the car and drive from St. Louis to Carlinville, Illinois. My mom tells how she would sit on the countertop while Noni rolled out the pasta dough into paper-thin sheets, cut it into dainty squares, packed them with a pinch of meat and folded it upon itself, forming cute little pockets of stuffed pasta. She would make enough to last for a month of homey tortellini soup, a well-loved dish in my mom's family.

I think to my mom and her sisters (or really anyone who has bought a $1 bushel of spaghetti) making pasta seems as if it belongs to a different era. One of ladies who made an art of stay-at-home-wifehood. They probably stitched clothing for their families, worked out dainty needlepoint, made quilts, baked bread and, for the Italians, made their own stuffed pasta. I am absolutely in awe thinking of what they could do. I can barely feed a thread through a sewing machine.

We were sitting around the breakfast table the day after Thanksgiving, talking about grandmas Ella and Noni. Aunt Jean went on about how Noni would absolutely beat the dough into submission on the countertop. I think it was me who suggested we give pasta-making a try. Jean and Mom said we couldn't do it--rolling the dough would take forever. However, squeezing the dough through a borrowed pasta maker would be a cinch.

It's true, we almost gave up before we started. But pasta maker in hand and Jean on the phone with Aunt Marsha to get a recipe, we were in it with no reason to turn back.

We fiddled with the pasta roller until it bent to our will--or until we bent to it. And it produced, after seven turns through the crank, a sheet of dough so thin you could see through it.

Jean cut the first squares, placed the teeniest dollop of meat in the center, folded the square cross-wise to form a triangle, sealed the meat inside and pinched the acute corners of the triangle together to form the navel. And, elation. The impossible is possible!

We took turns pinching, rolling and stuffing, in between sips of wine.

We fed extra scraps to the dog, who turned out to the love the process just as much as the rest of us.

The typically submission dog stuck her snout up as close to the uncooked pasta as she could get it, even onto to the table.

For Stuffing:
1 pound ground beef
1 pound Italian sausage
1 small onion
2 garlic cloves, minced
salt and pepper
2 tablespoons fresh parsley
1 egg
handful Italian bread crumbs

For Pasta:
6 eggs
6 cups semolina flour
1/2 teaspoon olive oil
Brown the meat with the onion, garlic, salt and pepper, and parsley. Drain off the fat. Mix together with one egg and enough bread crumbs to made the mixture a not-too-sticky mess. Let sit for an hour (we skipped that part).

Meanwhile, pour out the flour into a pile on a countertop. Form a well in the center and break the eggs and pour the olive oil into the well. Slowly and carefully stir the flour into the eggs and oil using a fork. Once the dough is smooth, knead the dough for five minutes, adding more flour if it gets sticky. Form into a ball, cover with a towel and let sit for 10 minutes.

Cut the ball of dough into 1/4-inch thick slices. Feed each slice through a pasta maker, according to its directions. Cut the flat dough using a pizza or pasta cutter into approximately three-inch by three-inch squares. Place a 1/2-teaspoon dollop of meat into the middle up the square. Dab your fingers in a bit of lukewarm water and run them across the edge of the square of pasta. Fold the pasta in half diagonally to form a triangle. Pinch the sides together, forming a seal around the meat. Dab some water on the acute angles of the triangle. Fold the acute corners under the chunk of meat. Repeat. Freeze immediately or serve. To complete cooking the pasta, boil the tortellinis in salted water until they float (takes about 2 minutes). Serve topped with lemon juice, olive oil and parmesan cheese or in a tortellini soup.


Jamie said...

I have always wanted to make my own pasta. I don't have a pasta roller contraption though, and I don't think I could roll it thin enough with just my rolling pin. Wine and pasta making sounds like a lovely time.

Sarah said...

I love the second-to-last picture where you can see the dog lurking in the background.

Jess said...

hahah naughty dog!
I love that you and your family cook together, that's my favorite.

Anonymous said...

We've eaten all of our tortellini and now I need to make some more. Store bought tortellini won't suffice anymore. That is my favorite dog picture.

Lainey Seyler said...

i made the last of mine into a soup.