Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Tortelloni Tre Sorellas

Sweet corn, cranberry beans, and butternut squash, or, rather more simply, corn beans and squash: the "three sisters" revisited.

If you are following this blog, this afternoon I went to the Florence farmer's market to find some vegetables to accompany my wad of pasta dough. As usual, I set out with no particular agenda or recipe in mind. Shopping for a recipe can be a tedious affair, but shopping for produce that dazzles the eye and speaks to the belly is something else entirely. And so it was today. By the time I reached the market (one hundred yards from my doorstep), I'd long forgotten about my pasta. No worry. I gathered up the produce that spoke to me and took it home. I would worry about the recipe later.

Perhaps I was crossing route nine when I remembered the "three sisters."

"Three sisters" refers to the trio of vegetables that the indigenous Americans of the east ate, cooked, and of course, planted. Centuries later, I had all three inside a giant paper bag, and because there are few things I disdain more than allowing beautiful crops to spoil, I had to start thinking. I'd promised to combine my farmer's market score with my fresh pasta dough, but how? I came up with Tortelloni tre Sorellas in brodo, A.K.A. Three Sisters Tortelloni in broth. I started by roasting the first butternut squash of the season.

When selecting a butternut squash, I look for one with a lot of neck and a small bell. My reasoning is very simple. It's very easy to get the squash meat out of the neck, and very difficult to get it out of the bell. Depending on how "mature" your squash is, most of the bell will be a stringy seed cavity, and for my dollar, not worth the time it takes to extract the little bit of squash meat from the walls of that cavity.

Preparing the neck is easy. Cut off the bell and set it aside (don't pitch it immediately). Then you are left with a cylinder of squash neck. Set that cylinder on end, and, saving as much meat as possible, cut off the inedible skin. You will be left with a hulking brick of hard squash. Cut it into cubes and roast it. Along with some ricotta and Parmesan cheeses, it will become the filling for your tortelloni.

Next we have the beans. I picked some gorgeous, streaky cranberry beans, and some slender green beans or haricot verts, both of which I blanched in a pot of water, salty as the sea. These would accompany my tortelloni.

Finally, we need the corn. In this recipe, the corn serves two purposes: the sweet kernels get roasted, and the cobs become the foundation of the broth for the tortelloni.

Pictured to the left are the basic components of the tortelloni filling. You've got some shredded Parmesan cheese; you've got your roasted (in butter, with sage) butternut squash; you've got some ricotta cheese. I also added chipotle powder for kick, and some egg for congealing.

OK, this recipe is already starting to get somewhat complicated. Let me try to cut to the chase, and tell you what's involved.

The filling:

One butternut squash, cleaned, cubed, roasted
A healthy amount of butter to aid the roasting
Some sage, fresh or dried, to go with it
Some beaten egg (half an egg approximately)
A quarter cup of grated Parmesan cheese
And, of course, salt and pepper to taste
(A trick, season and taste your filling before you introduce the egg)

The broth:

One small onion
The cobs of two ears of corn
One rib of celery
(bring all of this to a boil, simmer and reduce)
A teeny bit of leftover marinara sauce
(you could use tomato juice or jarred spaghetti sauce)

The beans:

You could easily dispense with the green beans and only use the cranberry beans, and to be honest, if you can't find cranberry beans, lima beans, or any other meaty shelling bean will do. You just want something big to stand up to your tortelloni.

Two big handfuls of beans, in their pods, or one heap of shelled beans (as seen here), blanched

The corn:

At least two ears of sweet corn, kernels removed and roasted (I roasted the kernels in the same pan I roasted my squash in, of course)

Good. We are getting closer. Once all your vegetables are blanched (and roasted) and ready to go, set them aside at room temperature. Don't worry about them. They will warm up immediately in the hot broth.

Ah the broth.
I combined some of my corn stock with my left-over marinara sauce, blended it up and passed it through a fine sieve or chinois. Then I returned it to a pot, simmered it, and seasoned it. THE SLIGHTLY ACIDIC TOMATO BROTH IS CRUCIAL!!! It cuts through the rich, corny, cheesy, buttery flavors. You don't need to pass your broth through such a fine sieve, but you do need it.

OK, now we've got almost everything in place. We only need to finish off our tortelloni and bring it all together. Because this is such a long process, I recommend making your tortelloni first, partially cooking them (saving the water) and cooling them. Then, when everything is in place, bang them into the boiling water again to finish them.

Oh, man, this is getting far too complicated! Are you still with me? I hope so, because this dish was too delicious. On the other hand, perhaps your reading eyes need a break. I never actually managed to get a good photograph of the finished meal. Hilarious! I spent so much time preparing it, and I don't have the pictures to show. Nonetheless, I do have this video, and glory be, you might actually be able to see how gorgeous this dish actually is. Lastly, if you are unfamiliar with making fresh pasta dough, and/or forming tortelloni, check out my archives: "dough tutorial" and"I say big hats." I have thoroughly documented these processes. Ciao!

p.s. Mom, this one got away from me! Too complicated to blog about simply. Oh well. Love you.


Liz said...

Be still my beating heart! Sounds just *fantastic*.

Jono Tosch said...

Tastiest nosh I've made in a long time, that's for sure. The blog is really pushing me to up the ante. Now I've got another huge load of produce on my hands (all free from a wildflower farm employee garden). A melon you can smell from across the room! Thanks for your kinds words.