Many months ago, as he often does, my 13-year old son casually asked me if his tortellini dinner was homemade. I’m not sure if his inquiries are meant to inspire me to make something from scratch the next time or more of an attempt to prove that not everything I serve is homemade. More likely it’s just an innocent, non-loaded question. But I take him seriously every time he asks and when I get caught the guilt sets in. I’m haunted, my conscience asking me how I could serve my children anything but something homemade. Maybe I should have resisted the temptation to buy those cute little pastas in the prepared food section. With one little query from my son though, I now have the nagging little desire to make tortellini from scratch.
So who do I call? Lou of course, my cooking Ghostbuster. Anytime I’m up for a challenge or an adventure, I’ll think of Lou first. But a few months back, when I texted Lou and asked him to make homemade tortellini, he asked me if I was crazy. Why would I want to make these tiny labor intensive morsels, something that elderly Italian widows make to occupy their lonely days?
For those of you who haven’t read about Lou, he’s a master home chef. He cures his own prosciutto, bakes artisan bread, creates unbelievably sinful demi-glace, and makes homemade pasta. His list of culinary accomplishments is endless and each and every time I cook with Lou I am humbled. As it turns out, Lou had never made tortellini before (probably because he knew what a pain they would be). Yes, I knew Lou would eventually be up for the challenge. So I waited, putting my tortellini making need on the back burner.
And then, about a week ago, Lou must have sensed that I had just bought a big Costco batch of four cheese ravioli and was feeding it to my kids for dinner and leftovers again and again. I think my son was actually on his third tortellini dinner when Lou’s e-mail arrived. “Ready yet?” he prodded with an attached how-to video on making tortellini from scratch. Though I knew my kids were tired of tortellini, I eagerly replied “Yes!” This might be my only chance! They could sit and wait in the freezer until my kids were willing to eat them again.
Lou makes things easy when we cook together and this time was no exception. The dough was pre-made and vacuum sealed. He also had the veal filling assembled, with meat he had ground himself from osso buco and a touch of his homemade demi-glace as a secret flavor enhancer. I was in charge of the non-meat filling and getting the fresh ricotta and parmesan cheese. His kitchen was ready, with the pasta press hooked up, dough resting and cylinder waiting. He even had a book opened to a page diagramming how to fold and crimp tortellini. After a test run, he said my pinky would be perfect– just like the Italian widows– to form tortellini but his was too big.
So he made the ribbons of pasta while I cut circles and began filling, folding and twisting handmade tortellini. We weren’t moving fast but we were having fun; trying something for the first time. And we knew could very well be the last. Maybe it was the knowledge that it wasn’t likely to happen again that made it so enjoyable. But after an hour’s work and little more than a half a cookie sheet filled, we called Christina, our expert crimping friend, and asked her for some help. She came right away, maybe with curiosity or in good friendship or to get a taste! Soon like a genie appears from a bottle, Christina was in Lou’s kitchen, in full tortellini making mode. We teased her that they looked a little wonton like but after she threatened to leave we backed off. Lou brought some water to a boil for a tortellini sampling. We knew that would keep her for a while longer.
We tasted and agreed how delicious they were. As we noted the yield, we knew our time together was more for the experience and not something that would become part of our repertoires. We offered some to Christina when she left, but she politely declined, realizing whatever amount she’d be given wouldn’t be enough to feed even one person in her family and she’d be taking away from our supply. She left empty-handed but with the promise of a tortellini lunch the next week. What better use for our pasta than to enjoy them together.