We started off with a lot of promise, the wine group and I. Led by Culinary Program director Stefano at one of the loveliest places on earth, Villa Ferraia in Tuscany, our spirited members fearlessly tackled eggplant parmesan, foccacia, malfatti, ribollita, Sylvia’s amazing torta di cioccolato and many more authentic Tuscan dishes during our weeklong stay.
Barbara, Helen and yours truly making tagliatelle verdi during our morning wine degustazione!
But our greatest challenge was tortelloni. Tortelloni are the larger version of tortellini. It was smart of Stefano not to ask us to make tiny tortellini – you’ll see why! Here Teague, Jeff and Helen are adding the leek and pumpkin stuffing before folding each piece and shaping it into a circle with a flip - later to be sautéed with butter and sage leaves and then topped with grated parmesan. Truly delicious!
Some of the tortelloni were so dainty and cute. The shape, as the story goes, was inspired by Lucrezia Borgia’s sensual navel!
Here’s the first batch sitting pretty by the window. Not bad.
But by the time we were done…UGH! What a mess…tasty yes, but miserably inconsistent in size and shape!
Astounded, our patient tutor Stefano holds up the biggest one! It’s an Amazon’s navel, for goodness sake!
We realize that we’ll never be able to duplicate what the Italian mamas do on a daily basis, so we reach for the next best thing, fresh stuffed tortellini in the refrigerator section of the grocery store. They’re perfectly shaped (by nothing other than a machine), relatively inexpensive and tasty, and they add flavor and texture to this hearty soup introduced to me by my wine buddies Jeff and Doris…and it doesn’t hurt to include some spicy sausage either!
Cheese tortellini soup with cannellini beans, kielbasa, and kale, slightly adapted from Bon Appétit, February 2002
Yield: Makes 6 servings
2 tablespoons olive oil
12 ounces fully cooked, smoked kielbasa (sausage), thinly sliced (I used Chappell Hill jalapeño sausage)
1 onion, chopped
1 cup chopped fresh fennel bulb (about ½ large bulb. You could use the other half in a fresh salad)
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme
½ - 1 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
10 cups canned low-salt beef broth (chicken broth is good too)
4 cups chopped kale (1/2 bunch)
1 15-ounce can cannellini (white kidney beans), rinsed and drained
1 9-ounce package fresh cheese tortellini
1 cup grated Parmesan, Asiago or Gruyère cheese
garlic bread, toasted (optional)
Heat olive oil in a heavy large pot over medium-high heat. Add sausage, onion, fennel, garlic, thyme and red pepper and sauté until the vegetables are soft and the sausage is brown, about 12 minutes. Add broth and bring to a boil. Stir in kale and cannelloni beans. Reduce the heat to low and simmer until the kale is wilted, about 4 minutes. You can make the soup ahead up to this point. Cool and refrigerate until you are ready to serve it. Heat the soup before continuing with the next step.
Add tortellini to hot soup. Simmer until pasta is just tender but still has some bite (al dente), about 5 - 8 minutes. Ladle soup into bowls. Top with grated cheese of your choice and serve with toasted garlic bread.