Venus and Jupiter walk into a bar…
There are a few popular legends surrounding the creation of tortellini – three to be exact. But my favourite by far is the one that involves a boozy encounter between Venus and Jupiter and a perverted inn-keeper. I’ll spare you the details, but it’s a fun jaunt through medieval lore via the Interweb. At the very least, it can be a fun story to share with the in-laws at dinner, especially if you sass-up the specifics. If you’re feeling shy, you can rely on this week’s space news to introduce the topic.
While I can’t confirm the true origins of tortellini, I can tell you this: it is not amongst my Nonna’s tried-and-true recipes. In fact, I had never come close to seeing homemade tortellini until I went to Bologna to visit family in 2001, when they were served to me in a soup. (Please note that I’ve just used the words “homemade”, “tortellini” and “Bologna” in the same sentence. Mm hm). The filling was made with two types of meat sourced from the family farm, fresh Parmigiano-Reggiano (Parma being just down the road and all) and herbs grown from the garden. The pasta was made in casa, hand-rolled by a Bolognese mamma; the broth was homemade too – with stock made from the farm’s chickens, no less.
Oh and this was just the starter.
Like any good romantic fling, this one stayed suspended in the pillowy nostalgia of a short-lived, cross-continental escapade. I was happy to look back on it fondly as a moment that could never be replicated, presumably explaining why I’d never attempted making tortellini in the confines of my apartment’s depressingly small kitchenette. There was definitely a fear of making sub-par specimens and, ultimately, popping the rose-coloured bubble of my Bolognese food fling.
There had always been, however, a little dumpling that my mom used to make – something that my Nonna refers to as “Chinese tortellini”. Basically, a gingery meat mixture tucked into a wonton wrapper, served in broth. This has nothing to do with the Bolognese version – god forbid we compare them. But laid out on a counter-top, looking a bit Georgia O’Keefe-y, they bare a striking resemblance to their Italian cousin, tortellini. The filling is Cantonese-inspired, yet it isn’t exactly the kind of wonton you’d find at Sunday’s Dim Sum. But they belong to neither country, resting somewhere in between two worlds, in a kind of Sinotalese grey area that can’t, and probably shouldn’t, be categorized.
Chinese tortellini (adapted from mom’s recipe) – Makes about 80 dumplings
- 1 lb ground pork
- 1 egg
- 1/2 cup water chestnuts (drained)
- 4 green onions
- 1/2 teaspoon finely minced fresh ginger
- 1 1/2 tablespoons light soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
- 1/4 cup of fresh cilantro
In a food processor, finely chop the water chestnuts, shallots, ginger and cilantro. Add the ginger, soy sauce and sesame oil to blend. Add the pork and egg. Pulse to incorporate the ingredients.
Place a teaspoon of the pork mixture on the center of each wonton wrapper, brushing some water along the edges. Fold dough to make a triangle. Press the edges to seal the filling inside the dough, being careful to eliminate air pockets. Gently criss-cross the two tip of the longest edge of the triangle to make a tortellini shape.
Place on cookie sheets and freeze. Transfer to freezer bags. When ready to use, cook for about 5 minutes in boiling water, drain, then transfer to hot broth and cook for a few more minutes until filling is cooked through. Add veggies and seasonings as you see fit.