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Cappelletti In Brodo


porcupine
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This year I was faced with the daunting task of re-creating my mother's tradional Christmas Eve dinner for the greater family. After going through some of her notes, I thought it would be straighforward if rather tedious.

Boy, was I wrong.

Depending on which authority you consult, cappelletti are filled with meat and/or cheese and shaped either from squares or circles. I tend to agree with Marcella Hazan's explanation that squares yield cappelletti and circles yield tortellini, because that's what I remember Mom saying.

But as far as tradition is concerned, what I was after was what Mom made - which is what Mom's Lithuanian mother learned to make from her Italian mother-in-law (who was from Modena). Which is just a long-winded way of saying that I acknowledge the existence of many 'traditional' variations, but I wanted the one I grew up with. Which is a long-winded way of saying "please don't turn this into an argument about what is traditional".

Anyway...

Task number one was to find the right sausage for the filling. Short version: I made fillings (and used those to practice making cappelletti) from six different types of sausage, from grocery store brands to ultra-orthordox Italian [thanks, Anna Blume, for the tip about Vace]. The winner was a combination of mild Italian and - seriously - German bratwurst from Balducci's. Here's the recipe:

Cappelletti Filling

1 lb sausage

1 tablespoon fatback

6 oz butter

2 cups plain bread crumbs (just plain old Pepperidge Farm does nicely)

2 1/2 cups grated Parmesan

1/2 teaspoon each salt and pepper

a good pinch or two of nutmeg

4 eggs

Crumble the sausage and cook over low heat until just cooked through, but don't brown. Allow it to cool.

Melt the butter and fatback together and cook over low heat until nicely browned, then strain.

Put the sausage into a food processor and pulse carefully a few times until fairly finely ground. Since you only use about 1/4 teaspoon of filling per cappelletto, it needs to be fine, but not pasty or mushy.

Mix everything together. You might not need all the egg - the filling should just hold together but not be wet.

Be warned: this is enough filling for about ten eggs-worth of pasta. [Mom actually said that as a unit of measurement, as in "I made eight eggs-worth of pasta today!"] You need about one eggs-worth of cappelletti per person if serving in brodo.

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Having gotten the filling right, I had to get the pasta right - the details of my misadventures are chronicled here .

Here is my final recipe:

Pasta for Cappelletti

Start by putting on some good music with a beat you can work by.

Place three cups of flour in a bowl , add about 1/2 teaspoon salt, then make a well; crack four eggs into this and start mixing with a fork until all the flour is incorporated and you have a shaggy ball that you can work with your hands. Take the ball out and work on a lightly floured (if needed) surface for about ten minutes until you have a nicely elastic smooth mass. [i'm not going to go into all the detail here; it's all over teh intrewebs anyway; consult Marcella Hazan if you prefer books.]

Working with about one fifth the mass at a time, put it through your pasta roller (RTFM!) and roll it to the thinnest setting. Unless you're fast with your fingers, keep half of the thin sheet under a plate while cutting the rest into 1-1/2 inch squares. Pipe about 1/4 teaspoon filling onto each square, fold into a triangle, pressing to seal (you may need to moisten your fingertips), then fold the triangles around your index finger to fold into little hats [again, I refer you to the goddess Hazan for details].

Repeat until exhausted. This will take hours and hours.

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Many authorities write that if you aren't cooking the cappelletti right away, leave them to dry. Mom always said that they burst open upon cooking if you do that, so she would give them a very brief boil, drain well, and spread them on towels to dry. She'd then put these par-cooked pastas into bags or containers and pop them into the freezer. They keep well for several months this way. Don't thaw before cooking - just put the frozen dumplings right into boiling water, or better yet, brodo .

This post has been brought to you by more than thirty hours of seriously kitchen-dirtying monkeying around. :P

But when the family sat down to dinner last Sunday, it was so worth it.

PS - Anna Blume, your turn!

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Thanks for the full and educational report. Actually, the bratwurst makes a lot of sense since it's not unlike mortadella in terms of texture even if it lacks the big splotches of white fat. I've been told the mortadella you get here just isn't as good as the real thing unless you make it yourself.

I already offered long reports at eGullet in The Cooking and Cuisine of Emilia-Romagna which I can't link here since the site is being overhauled for the next few days. But I urge you to go down to the Italian forum soon and look through all the great stuffed pastas others have been making. (I'm Pontormo there and do not document my posts with photos, though others do.)

As I also mentioned here, I cannot recommend Lynne Rossetto Kasper's The Splendid Table (1992) enough. It's a model of research and presentation and gasp, the Ragu alla Contadina surpasses Marcella Hazan's recipe for ragu bolognese that was my standard until now. (Otherwise, I agree with Al Dente regarding essential cookbooks.)

In any respect, tortellini ARE round. They're supposed to resemble Aphrodite/Venus's navel. One version of the legend is that someone spied Praxiteles, I think, carving his Knidian statue of the voluptuous goddess, and was inspired to make these pastas based on all he could see through the keyhole. (Doesn't make sense unless the naked model was standing right in front of the door, but...) If you don't have a form with a handle, they're a pain in the ass to cut out. Cappelletti cut into 1 1/2 in. squares take a little less time.

See my formula for dough in the thread here on Pasta Making. Once you have a dough that pleases you, especially if you have a machine to roll it (I have an old hand-cranked Atlas that I hadn't used for nearly two decades), everything is extremely easy, if time-consuming.

I served the tortellini with butter and cheese alone on Christmas and last night, got around to throwing the cappelletti I froze* into brodo (making broth took 12 hours total), inspired by Porcupine's original query. Wonderful and a great antidote to all those cookies.

*I spread kitchen towel on jelly roll pan. After a while, you turn the filled pasta over as you're working because, sure enough, their fat little bottoms become moist and potentially gummy if you're not careful. There is absolutely no need to parboil the babies. Just make room in freezer, pop in the tray and when they're frozen, pack them as you normally would in plastic containers or bags.

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We made three kinds of ravioli (cappelletti are beyond our fine motor skills!) and ended up serving them with butter on top. I really wanted to try a broth (thanks again, porcupine, for posting your recipe), but realized upon reading it that it was going to be beyond my time and energy abilities.

We did a mushroom filling that is largely a riff on ushka, a traditional Ukrainian mushroom filled dumpling served in borscht on xmas eve. We also did a sweet potato filling that was my mom's riff on a Marcella recipe for a squash filled dumpling. Although most sweet potato recipes go the sweet direction in some way, this is decidedly savory with a generous helping of parmesan. Finally, we used the recipe from marcella's first classic book for a spinach/ricotta filling meant to be used in a dish that is a sheet of pasta, filled with the spinach filling, rolled up, wrapped in cheesecloth, boiled, slice then topped with a red/white sauce mixed together and baked. It's a GREAT dish. Each ravioli was cooked and served as a bit of a separate 'course.' Although a fair amount of work (and almost certainly not traditional), it was a wonderful way to celebrate xmas eve.

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Smokey, another recipe for a time when you have stuffed pasta in the freezer:

1.5-2 lbs. of meaty beef shanks or ribs

4 or so lbs. of turkey wings

Bring to boil in large stockpot (10 quarts, though mine is only 8). Skim icky foam that rises to top in first 10 mins. Some advise turning heat down to low, simmering and waiting a full hour before adding:

Couple of bay leaves

Generous amount of parsley sprigs (at least 4 or 5)

2-3 carrots, peeled, cut into 2-in. slices

1 enormous or 2-3 yellow onions, root-ends removed, quartered. (I peel, others don't to produce richer color)

1 crushed clove garlic

1-2 stalks of celery, also cut into 2-in. pieces

3/4 T Kosher salt

Once it returns to a boil, simmer, and place in slow oven (200 F) when you go to work--or overnight if you'd like--so it has at least 10 hours to go. To keep clear, don't disturb the crud on the top until it's done; I use a sieve with a handle to keep the turkey wings submerged. Taste to season once you've taken out the meat, vegetables & aromatics, and after it's close to room temperature. Skim fat once chilled in the fridge.

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Smokey, your various stuffed pastas sound wonderful! My next project is to make what Mom called "sweet potato dumplings", which are almost identical to the cappellacci described in The Classic Italian Cook Book. Mrs. Hazan wasn't the only one to figure out about sweet potatoes.

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Smokey, your various stuffed pastas sound wonderful! My next project is to make what Mom called "sweet potato dumplings", which are almost identical to the cappellacci described in The Classic Italian Cook Book. Mrs. Hazan wasn't the only one to figure out about sweet potatoes.
Cf. this excellent resource if you're referring to gnocchi: Franci's blog.

N.B. Author hasn't updated it for a while, but note that there is a series of lessons on gnocchi, culminating with an entry on gnocchi made with winter squash. She uses a lighter touch when it comes to proportion of white potato to squash. I've made them with simply the zucca which is probably closer to Hazan's recipe.

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Cf. this excellent resource if you're referring to gnocchi: Franci's blog.

Not referring to gnocchi. All my relatives had the odd habit (to me) of not using their native languages. Maybe it was an assimilation thing. What Mom called sweet potato dumplings are very definitely cappellacci. Matter of fact, none of my relatives call the "little hats" cappelletti - they're "cuplets". :P

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...there is a series of lessons on gnocchi, culminating with an entry on gnocchi made with winter squash...
If there ever was a dish that requires a training seminar in somebody's house (for me at least!) it's gnocchi. I consider myself a reasonable cook and baker. Boy, the one time I tried these (I think I was using Marcella's recipe from the First Classic book) they were like lead balloons, not glorious clouds (I was aiming for Palena, and got something that was more like what you might expect if KFC did gnocchi.) Oy!
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Not referring to gnocchi. All my relatives had the odd habit (to me) of not using their native languages. Maybe it was an assimilation thing. What Mom called sweet potato dumplings are very definitely cappellacci. Matter of fact, none of my relatives call the "little hats" cappelletti - they're "cuplets". :P
I simply wasn't familiar with the word "cappellacci".

And Smokey, do you have access to The Zuni Cafe Cookbook? It has the best photo demonstration I know for making ricotta gnocchi which are extremely easy to make perfectly as long as you spend a little more to buy the fresh ricotta from Blue Ridge Dairy (available at Whole Foods) or another similar source. Results are gritty if you rely on popular supermarket brands.

Once you master that, it might be easier to make potato gnocchi, though the two types are shaped using very different methods. I do recommend looking at Franci's blog (mentioned upthread). If not, I think I saw techniques illustrated in Marcella Hazan's Cucina or a recent book by Lidia Matticchio Bastianich. You need to use russet/Idaho potatoes to keep the gnocchi fluffy.

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