Tortellini is a classic Italian pasta dish. Its popularity has expanded to many countries. With its expansion is the increase in the number of ways to cook tortellini. Here, you will learn the basic different ways to cook tortellini
Let’s begin with the traditional way of making tortellini, which is from scratch. Different people have their unique ways of making tortellini. The differences between those ways can range from subtle to stark. But the basic principles they follow are the same.
When making tortellini from scratch, you start by making the pasta dough. There are many ways to make pasta dough, but below is a basic recipe.
- 3 cups (400 g) of all-purpose flour
- 4 large eggs, or about 1 cup (250 g)
- Some extra flour for dusting
You can make the dough on the table, bowl, or food processor. If you’ll make the dough on the table, place the flour on a pile, then make a well at the center. Crack the eggs into the well and mix with a fork.
As you mix, gently and gradually incorporate the flour with the eggs, starting with the walls of the well. Gentle and gradual are key so the eggs don’t spill out. Eventually, the consistency of the egg mixture will become thicker and less liquid.
When the egg mixture is no longer runny, then you can incorporate the rest of the flour with your hands. Once the flour is mixed, begin kneading the dough.
Continue kneading for about 5 minutes until you get a smooth pasta dough. Wrap the dough in plastic, and let it rest for at least an hour at room temperature.
If you think you might make a mess if you try to make the dough directly on the table, then try it on a bowl or food processor.
No need to make a well with the flour with either method. Simply crack the eggs into the flour and begin mixing or processing. Once the egg-flour mixture gets thicker, then you can proceed to knead with your hands.
The Broth (Or Brodo)
The pasta of tortellini can be served with a sauce or with a broth, which is brodo in Italian. Below is a recipe for a meat broth, but you can make one purely from vegetables. The recipe can make about 7 liters of broth. You can store the excess for other meals.
- 3 lbs of (1.36 kg) of chuck roast (or any beef cut of your choice)
- 2 lbs of (0.9 kg) chicken thighs (or just a whole chicken)
- Cooking oil
- 2 large wholes carrot
- 2 large stalks of celery
- 1 large white onion
- 1 tsp of black peppercorn
- 1 bay leaf
In a stockpot, add enough cooking oil to sear the beef on all sides. Cook on medium heat until you get a nice browning. Roughly chop the vegetables and chicken. Add them to the pot along with the black peppercorn and bay leaf. Add enough water to submerge everything.
Turn the heat to medium-high. Don’t allow the pot to boil. Once the pot is starting to simmer, reduce the heat to low. You’ll know when to reduce the heat when you see a few tiny bubbles start to gently break the surface. Let the pot be for about 2 hours.
During this step, you will notice that foam or froth will appear on the surface. This foam is called scum, and it is mostly made of proteins from the meat. Cooks choose to skim the scum off.
The reason is aesthetics. Clearer broths are more presentable. The scum is also the reason you don’t want to boil the liquid. The bubbles from boiling will break the scum apart and spread it throughout the liquid. You will then end up with a cloudy broth.
Scum is safe to consume and it is also flavorless. Skimming it off is purely for visual appeal. However, if you don’t mind having a “scummy” broth on your tortellini, then you don’t have to skim it off.
As the broth cooks, you can begin making the filling. The filling for tortellini can be anything. The usual filling is meat or cheese. Below is a recipe for a meat filling (with some cheese).
- 7 oz (200 g) of pork loin chops
- 7 oz (200 g) of prosciutto
- 7 oz (200 g) of mortadella
- 1 1/2 cups (150 g) of parmesan cheese
- Grated or ground nutmeg to taste
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1 tbs Cooking Oil
- 1 tbs butter
- 2 eggs
- Food Processor
Dice the pork loin chops into small cubes. Heat the butter and enough cooking oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the pork loin chops into the skillet and cook until you get good even browning. Set aside the loin chops and let them cool for a bit.
In the food processor, add the prosciutto, mortadella, and loin chops. Process until you get a fine crumble. Then add the eggs, parmesan, nutmeg, and pepper. Process again until everything is homogenized.
If you want some texture in your filling, don’t let the mixture become a paste. Just process until everything is evenly mixed. Taste to see how much salt the mixture still needs
Now it’s time to combine the filling and the dough.
- Pasta roller or rolling pin
Get your dough and divide into 4 or 5 even pieces. Get one piece and cover the rest to prevent drying. Initially fatten the piece with your hand. Continue flattening the piece using a pasta roller or rolling pin. Dust either equipment with some flour to prevent the dough from sticking.
With a pasta roller, start with the widest setting and gradually keep going narrower. You want the dough to be as thin as possible without risking it getting ripped by the filling.
The dough should be thin, but it shouldn’t look translucent. You can do the same with a rolling pin, but it will take more effort and a bit more skill. Getting the dough thin is key because when you cook it, it will puff up.
Once you have the dough flat, cut out 1.5-inch (4-cm) by 1.5-inch squares (4-cm) squares. You can use a pizza cutter or just a knife. To conserve any excess dough, you can combine them and flatten them again.
Do the above steps with the other dough pieces.
Roll the filling into balls that are a little larger than marbles. Place a ball of filling on the center of each square. When the filling is in place, it’s time to fold the dough. You can slightly wet the edges of the dough with water so they stick together as you crimp them.
Get one corner of the dough and fold it onto the opposite corner, creating a triangle. Gently pinch the corners and edges to secure them. Take that same point and fold it over the bulge of the filling.
Now get the other two corners of the triangle. Wrap those two corners around your index finger on the opposite side of the filling. Gently pinch those corners together to seal. Repeat the above process until you finish all the filling and/or dough.
Once your pasta is done, you can immediately proceed with cooking or you can store them in the fridge.
Get some of your broth and bring it to a boil. Add salt to your liking. When it’s boiling, add all your pasta. If the pasta is fresh, you only need to cook them for 1 or 2 minutes. One way to tell if the pasta is done is if they begin to float. Once done, fish out the tortellini, place it in a bowl, and add some of the broth.
Another way to serve tortellini is by replacing the broth with a sauce. If you’re making tortellini from scratch, all the above steps still apply except for the broth part. You cook the pasta in salted boiling water. Then you add the cooked pasta with a sauce that you’ll make. Below is a recipe for a creamy butter sauce.
- 3 tbsp of unsalted butter
- 1 large shallot
- 4 cloves of garlic
- 3 tbsp of all-purpose flour
- 1 cup of non-fat milk
- 1 cup of heavy cream
- 1/2 cup of freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- Salt and pepper to taste
Finely chop the shallot and garlic cloves. Melt the butter in a large pan under medium heat. When the butter is melted, add the shallot and cloves. Sauté until the mixture become fragrant, which takes about 30 to 60 seconds.
Add the flour and cook for about 2 minutes until it starts to bubble and get a golden color. Add the non-fat milk and cream and cook while constantly stirring. Once everything starts to bubble, lower the heat to low and add the Parmesan cheese. Continue to cook while stirring until the cheese melts and everything is smooth.
If you want your sauce to be thicker, you can decrease the non-fat milk and increase the heavy cream in equal parts. Also, feel free to add other kinds of cheese, like pecorino. Add salt and pepper to taste. You may also add fresh or dried herbs like oregano and parsley.
3 Ways to Cook Store-bought Tortellini
If you don’t want to make tortellini from scratch, there are easier ways to prepare it. You can use store-bought tortellini and ingredients.
Cooking With Water or Broth
With store-bought tortellini, the pasta, along with the filing, are already prepared. All you have to do is cook them. You can cook the tortellini in salted water or in broth. You don’t even have to make the broth from scratch. You can also use store-bought broth.
There are three kinds of store-bought tortellini: refrigerated, frozen, and dried. The main difference in preparing each kind is the cooking time. The refrigerated tortellini typically cooks for 2 to 3 minutes.
The frozen tortellini cooks for 3 to 5 minutes. The dried tortellini cooks for 10 to 20 minutes. The dried tortellini has a bigger range for its cooking time. Thus, it may be a good idea to keep an eye on it once it reaches the 10-minute mark.
With the refrigerated and frozen tortellini, make sure the water or broth is boiling when you add the pasta. Since the pasta is cold, the temperature of the liquid will go down. Once you add the pasta, reduce the heat to get to a simmer. With the dried tortellini, it’s better to reduce the heat to a simmer before adding the pasta.
Cooking in Microwave
You can also cook store-bought tortellini in a microwave. This way is convenient if you’re preparing it for yourself or just lazy. You put the tortellini in a microwavable bowl.
Then add the liquid in which to cook it, like water, broth, or a sauce. You microwave everything on high for a minute or two, then stir, and microwave again. Repeat these steps until the tortellini is cooked.
Cooking In a Pan
So far you’ve read about cooking tortellini in deep containers like a pot or a bowl, but you can also cook it in a pan. Below is a tortellini recipe with a pan.
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 onion
- 4 cloves of garlic
- 1 lb of ground meat of choice
- 2 cups of tomato-based pasta sauce
- 14 oz of diced tomatoes
- 2 cups of chicken broth
- 1/2 cup of half and half
- 3 cups of spinach
- Black pepper
- Parmesan cheese
Finely chop the onion and garlic. In your pan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook until the pan is aromatic.
Push the onion and garlic to the sides of the pan, then add the ground meat to the center. Once the meat is half-cooked, mix in the onion and garlic until the meat browns.
Add the pasta sauce, diced tomatoes, broth, and half/half. Mix and heat everything until it simmers. Once it starts simmering, add the tortellini. Stir to make sure the pasta is completely covered. Cover and simmer for 5 to 8 minutes or until the pasta is soft.
Once the pasta is cooked, removed the pan from the heat. Gently add in the spinach and mix until all the leaves wilt. Add black paper to taste. Serve with freshly shredded parmesan cheese.
Pans For Tortellini (And Any Pasta)
When cooking tortellini, or any pasta, on a pan, you can’t just use any pan. The pan needs to be big enough to contain the pasta and the pasta liquid or sauce. But the first thing to consider is the material of the pan.
Many cooks who make pasta swear by aluminum pans. Aluminum is lightweight, so it’s easy to toss the pasta. It also heats up or cools down fast.
As for its shape and size, the pan has to be wide and deep enough to carry both the pasta and liquid/sauce. But it shouldn’t be so deep that it feels like you’re stirring or tossing a pot.
Given those details, I believe that the Winco Aluminum Stir Fry Pan fits ticks all the boxes. As the name suggests, the pan is 11 inches (28 cm) in diameter. It is also 3.75 inches (9.5 cm) deep.
This pan is marketed as a stir fry pan, but it has the specs that are great for tortellini or any pasta. The bottom is smooth, so this pan can work on a glass-top electric stove. It can also go into the oven.
Just remove the silicone handle grip beforehand.
However, since this pan is made of aluminum, I don’t recommend it for long cooking times with acidic foods like tomato bases. Aluminum can react with acids. This pan is specifically for finishing pasta in its sauce.
The things mentioned here on how to cook tortellini are just the tip of the iceberg. There are many other ways to cook tortellini, like frying and baking. But what you read here can serve as a good foundation for your tortellini adventures.