Why It Works
- A mix of mushrooms gives the filling a more complex flavor.
- Cooking down the mushrooms until very dry and thick makes the tortellini easier to stuff and ensures they keep their shape while cooking.
I've always had a thing for tortellini. I like that they look like plump little rings for even littler fingers. I like that they were supposedly inspired by Luciana Borgias' bellybutton. And I like that they're perfectly designed for catching brothy sauces in their folds. I even like that at fancy supermarkets they come in so many flavors. What I don't like is how, once you get them home and cook them up, they taste almost exclusively of dough. I don't know about you, but I have yet to meet storebought tortellini—fresh, frozen, or dried—that I wanted more than, say, its ravioli counterpart. Which is why I especially like that I can make them myself.
If you're new to making fresh pasta, I've written a pretty thorough guide that you can reference when it comes to dough basics. But in short, all you'll need to get started is all-purpose flour, eggs, and salt. Plus, of course, your tortellini filling. It's not the most challenging of dishes to make, but I'm not gonna lie: In the world of labor-intensive foods, tortellini definitely fall into the realm of time-consuming, repetitive tasks. To make a meal for two will take you around half an hour of piping and folding.
But it's time well-spent, I promise! They're delicate, flavorful showstoppers that also lend themselves well to cooking with a partner or group of friends. Make it a social event and the time will fly.
Traditionally, tortellini are filled with minced and browned veal or pork loin, typically mixed with prosciutto and Parmesan cheese. The petite, plump pasta is served in a simple, sticky beef broth—a soupy winter dish known as tortellini en brodo. But this technique will work with any filling, from ricotta and Parmesan with a dash of nutmeg to butternut squash purée, and beyond. Here's how to get it done.
The very first step should be making your pasta dough and swaddling it tightly in plastic wrap. That way the dough can rest and hydrate while you prepare the filling. As for filling? While you're welcome to go with a classic meat-and-cheese mixture, I decided to stuff my tortellini with a savory mushroom-and-Parmesan filling and serve them in a brown butter sauce.
No matter what ingredients you use to stuff your pasta, it should be the texture of a dry paste—anything looser will make your tortellini prone to leakage and explosion when it comes time to cook them. This means cooking down any moist filling gently until all of its excess moisture is evaporated.
Shaping tortellini may seem daunting but it's really pretty simple, provided you have the right tools. Is it possible to make tortellini without a cookie cutter? Sure. Would I ever in a million years want to? Absolutely not. So before moving forward, make sure you have a round cookie cutter, ring mold, or biscuit cutter on hand. Don't have one? Try a small metal can, like a tomato paste can—my recipe is designed to work with a two-inch circle, but the same principles apply no matter what size you use. If you want to make enormous tortellini (or ridiculously tiny ones), be my guest.
You'll also want to have your filling cooled and ready. For each two-inch circle of dough we'll be working with, you'll want half a teaspoon of filling; if you're comfortable eyeing the amount, use a pastry bag (or a ziplock bag with one corner snipped off) since it's a little faster and neater. Otherwise, just grab a measuring spoon and keep it handy.
Finally, you'll want a pastry brush and a small bowl of water to seal the dough further down the line. Some people use egg whites instead of water, and if you have extra lying around, that's fine; it's just not necessary.
Once all your tools are within easy reach, it's time to start rolling that dough. To keep it from drying out, work with just a quarter of your dough at a time, keeping the rest under plastic or a kitchen towel. Roll it out to just thinner than 1/16 of an inch—usually the second-to-last setting on your pasta machine. Then, lay the dough out on a large, flat surface lightly dusted with flour (semolina flour is ideal, since it won't make your dough gummy if it gets moistened, but all-purpose is perfectly fine).
Working so that there's little-to-no space between the perimeter of each circle, you should be able to get roughly 30 circles from each quarter-batch of dough. You'll want to give the cookie cutter a little twist to make sure it cuts through all the way—there's nothing more annoying than having to go back and re-cut each circle. When they're all stamped, lift the excess dough up and cover all but a couple of circles with a kitchen towel to keep them from drying out.
As you become more confident and comfortable with the process, you can increase your efficiency by placing ten or so dollops of filling at a time, brushing all 10 disks with water, and then folding them one by one.
If you stopped shaping after just folding each circle in half, you'd have a very small mezzaluna.
You can take a fork and press it like so, for some pretty detailing. Keep that skill in your back pocket for a less labor-intensive meal than tortellini. Using a three- or four-inch cookie cutter will make it an even easier dish.
But, if you carefully bring together the corners of the semi-circle and tuck one corner behind the other, voilà! Tortellini complete.
Either freeze for later use, or drop them into salted boiling water for four to five minutes and serve with a drizzle of olive oil or a ladleful of brown butter, with some Parmesan cheese to top.
Yeah, you'll be feeling pretty good about yourself right about now.
5 ounces shiitake mushrooms, cleaned and trimmed
5 ounces cremini mushrooms, cleaned and trimmed
5 ounces oyster mushrooms, cleaned and trimmed
2 1/2 tablespoons butter
2 small shallots, finely minced (about 1/4 cup)
3 medium cloves garlic, minced (about 1 tablespoon)
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves, minced
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup dry red wine
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
3/4 ounces grated Parmesan cheese (approximately 1/2 cup loosely packed) plus more for serving
1 recipe classic fresh egg pasta dough
A few tablespoons olive oil or brown butter for serving
Place mushrooms in the work bowl of a food processor. Pulse until chopped into pieces no larger than 1/4 inch, 8 to 10 short pulses.
Melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add mushrooms and cook until softened, 3 to 5 minutes. Add shallots, garlic, and thyme and season with salt and pepper. Reduce heat to medium-low and continue cooking, stirring frequently, until mixture is dry and starting to brown, 15 to 20 minutes.
Add red wine and Worcesterhire sauce. Increase heat to high and cook, stirring, until no visible liquid remains, approximately 1 minute. Remove from heat and stir in Parmesan cheese. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Transfer mixture to a food processor or blender and process until smooth. Transfer to a plate and spread into a thin layer. Transfer to refrigerator to cool completely.
Meanwhile, divide dough into 4 even sections. Working one section at a time, with remaining sections tightly wrapped in plastic, roll dough through machine until sheet is just under 1/16 of an inch thick (typically second-to-last setting).
Lay dough out on a lightly floured surface. Use cookie cutter to cut circles as close together as possible, twisting each time to cut all the way through. Each sheet of dough should yield roughly 30 disks. Remove excess dough and cover with a kitchen towel to keep moist. (Excess dough can be re-kneaded and rolled again for a higher yield.)
Using a pastry bag, ziplock bag, or measuring spoon, add 1/2 teaspoon of filling to the center of the first disk. Lightly moisten edges of disk with pastry brush dipped in water.
Fold disk over into a semi-circle and, working from one edge and carefully pressing out any extra air, create a seal around the filling. If the dough feels like it's sticking to the surface below, you're using too much water.
Pick up both corners of semi-circle and bring them toward each other, working slowly to prevent dough from splitting.
Tuck one corner behind the other and press together. Place finished tortellini on parchment paper dusted with semolina or flour. Repeat with remaining dough. Tortellini can be frozen and transferred to a zipper-lock freezer bag for up to 2 weeks at this point.
Cook tortellini in salted boiling water until tender, approximately 4 minutes. Drain, reserving 1 cup of pasta cooking water. Return to pot, add olive oil or brown butter along with a splash of pasta water and cook over high heat, tossing constantly until sauce emulsifies and coats the tortellini, adding more pasta water as necessary. Serve immediately, sprinkled with grated Parmesan.
|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Servings: 4 to 6|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 17g||22%|
|Saturated Fat 6g||31%|
|Total Carbohydrate 48g||17%|
|Dietary Fiber 2g||5%|
|Total Sugars 2g|
|Vitamin C 1mg||7%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|