About a decade and a half ago, I had lunch at a small but rather bespoke establishment run by chef Gene Gonzalez along Tomas Morato in Quezon City (what we know as QC’s Restaurant Row these days). Since the restaurant specialized in Italian cuisine, my luncheon companions – both of whom were hard-core foodies – opted for a number of dishes I would describe as “textbook Italian” – which is to say that these were common choices: lasagne, osso buco (only with beef, veal being a rarity in this part of the world), and bistecca Fiorentina. I pored over the menu and saw something I’d only seen in the pages of Grains, Pasta, and Pulses – one of the books in my mother’s collection of cookbooks from the Time-Life series The Good Cook: tortellini.
Tortellini, to those of you who have not had the opportunity to experience pasta beyond spaghetti, macaroni, and those flat sheets used for lasagne, are stuffed pasta rings. Legend has it that the shape of this particular pasta was divinely inspired: the dish was allegedly invented by a lovestruck cook who was stunned by the sight of Aphrodite’s heavenly navel.
To describe them would be to say that these are along the lines of the dumplings used for pancit Molo, only with a thicker dough. Inside, these dumplings are stuffed with savory fillings, usually combinations of ricotta cheese and herbs or minced pancetta or prosciutto. Once boiled till just tender, these may be simply tossed with butter and grated Pecorino or Parmigiano or with pesto (rosso or verdi works fine) or even a chunky ragu Bolognese.
In this part of the world, you will either have to make your own tortellini – a fairly masochistic, multi-stage process that involves making and rolling out your own pasta, whipping up your filling of choice, cutting and stuffing the pasta, and par-boiling the lot till tender – or hunt these rare treats down over at such bespoke establishments as Santi’s or, in my case, The Market. Lucky for me, The Market had Pagani tortellini con prosciutto crudo on sale with two bags going for the price of one. And so…
Just boil these up in salted water for sixteen to eighteen minutes, drain, and toss them with the contents of a whole bottle of sun-dried tomato pesto. Pagani’s tortellini are deliciously chewy on the outside and unctuously rich on the inside: the creamy cheese goes beautifully with the smoky-savory prosciutto. It gives the whole “ham-and-cheese” theme a scrumptiously different spin and the tomato pesto adds a tartness that balances out the dish.
Would I buy these again, even as an occasional delight, a change of pace? Yes, definitely.