Thursday 3 April 2014

Whole Wheat Tortellini Filled with Butternut Squash, Ricotta and Sage

I took on two new challenges last week and tried to incorporate them into one stunning dish. Unfortunately the results were not what I had hoped for. I had never made whole wheat pasta from scratch and I had never made tortellini before. The whole idea sprouted from a trip I made to a bakery in my neighbourhood. I saw that they were selling whole wheat pastry flour in these sewn up paper bags. I got to talking with the staff there and they had advised that it was an organic product that they received from a Mennonite community. Pastry flour (as well as Italian '00' flour) is fantastic for making fresh pasta with because it has less protein and gluten than all-purpose flour making it more cooperative to knead and work with. I hadn't made fresh pasta in a long time so I took this as a sign to make fresh whole wheat pasta.

I don't recall where I got the idea to make tortellini, but once I did my mind immediately sprang at roasted butternut squash, ricotta, Parmigiano Reggiano, garlic and sage for the filling. The more I thought about it the more excited and confident I became. I was feeling all kinds of positive energy around this spectacular dish. Don't get me wrong, the end result was edible and to some degree passable, but I just did not nail this one at all. I don't have a pasta machine. Every time I've made pasta from scratch I've used a standard rolling pin or a bottle of wine. The thinnest that I was able to roll out this dough was not quite thin enough. This in turn made my tortellini abut twice the size as they should have been (so they technically became tortelloni). I didn't add any breadcrumbs or anything of real, solid substance. In other words, my filling was very soft. This did not make my tortellini/tortelloni impossible to make, but did create an added challenge to my very first attempt. The softness of the filling made them harder to roll up perfectly. The squares of pasta that I wasn't using I kept under a damp cloth to prevent them from drying up but even that wasn't enough. Some of them cracked while I was rolling them and had to be discarded. It was like I tried to run before I learned how to walk. I have so little experience with regular flour let alone experimenting with whole wheat flour and knowing what measures to take and expect. At the end of the day, it was a learning experience which in the long run is more useful than a successful outcome. Now I have a better idea of what to do next time. When I try to do this again I will use regular pastry flour and do a meat and breadcrumb stuffing which will cooperate better with my amateur fingers. If I had a restaurant, I would not have served this dish to a customer, but on the other hand, this was my very first attempt at a considerable challenge. Though it was not perfect, for a first attempt, I don't think I have anything to be ashamed about.

There's a few things I have to go over in this post so let's start with how to roll a tortellini/tortelloni. You can do this with a square or circle of fresh pasta. The square is slightly easier so I went that route and that's what I'll show you here. You have to work quick and it's a two hand job. Seeing as how I made these by myself and had no one to take photos for me, I didn't get to take any photos of the actual process so I had to reenact the process with paper and felt markers. lol! You want your squares of pasta to be about the size of an office sticky note (3" x 3"). I eyeballed it and made mine slightly bigger than that (which resulted in unintended, larger tortelloni). 

How to roll Tortellini/Tortelloni By Hand

Start with a square of your fresh pasta dough.


Apply a bit of eggwash (a beaten egg with a small splash of water) to two adjacent sides of the square.

Place about 1/2 tsp of your filling in the middle of the square. A piping bag works best for this step.

Fold the corner without the eggwash over to the corner with the egg wash to create a triangle and envelope the filling. The eggwash will help the pasta stick to itself. 

Gently press around the filling so that no pockets of air are trapped around it and work your fingers out the edge. This will also help to seal the edges so your tortellini/tortelloni does not rupture when poaching. Slightly roll the pasta once to encapsulate the filling.

You may have to roll it a second time to reduce the excess corner of pasta shown here at the top. 

The two arms of pasta sticking out at the side need to be brought inward and pinched together. It helps to fold the "arms" of pasta around your finger to create the perfect shape. You may have to tweak the end result slightly as you wish but that is basically how you roll tortellini or tortelloni.

I hope that was clear and useful, guys. I would be happy to answer any specific questions or concerns you might have about the process if you post a comment/question below. Some of you may be wondering how the tell the difference between tortellini and tortelloni. To best answer that, I have to speak in grams. One tortellini should equal 2 grams in weight where tortellini will be 4-5 grams in total. The paper example in the photo to scale with my right hand is proper tortellini sized. The pasta in my end dish are tortelloni sized.

In the early days of the blog I shared a recipe/technique on how to make pasta from scratch with regular pastry flour. When making whole wheat pasta you need to use about half whole wheat flour and half regular flour. If you use all whole wheat the dough will be too stubborn to work with. Trust me on this one. I doubled my original recipe for fresh pasta, and used one part regular pastry flour and one part whole wheat pastry flour.

So I added 1.5 cups of whole wheat pastry flour, 1.5 cups of regular pastry flour, 4 large eggs, 6-8 tbsp extra virgin olive oil and a very generous pinch of salt. Mix the dry ingredients together and create a well in the center. Fill the well with the eggs and olive oil.


You don't have to use a large bowl for this step but I find it helps. With a fork, beat the eggs into the oil (you could do this part before adding them to the flour, totally up to you) then start to gradually incorporate the walls of the flour into the liquid while beating with the fork. This won't take long to form a basic dough. Once combined enough to work with your hands dump onto a lightly floured work space (if you're using a bowl) and knead with the palms of your hands incorporate all of the ingredients.

Knead the dough for six to eight minutes or until its ingredients are well combined and it is springy to the touch. To knead, use the weight of your palms to fold the dough into itself over and over. If at any time appears too dry, add a little more olive oil. If at any time it appears too wet, add a little flour. It will appear much smoother and be slightly springy after kneading. Be careful as not to overknead it or else your pasta dough will be too stiff.

Lightly oil the surface of the dough to keep it from drying out and place in a large bowl with a lid or damp cloth over it. Leave the bowl in a draft free spot for 30 minutes. This will allow the dough to relax and become manageable again. Cut the dough into quarters. 

If you are using a pasta machine, form the relaxed dough quarters into roughly rectangular shapes before rolling it through your machine at the thickest setting 2 or 3 times. Roll the dough through the machine twice at each thickness setting until you have achieved a thin enough dough. If you are rolling this out by hand, like I did, lightly flour your work surface. It must be because of the whole wheat fibre. I rolled it out to as thin as I could get it without it tearing and it was not thin enough. In fact it was at least twice as thick. Using a machine, I imagine, would make it easier to get it at the right thickness. Ideally you'd want about 3/4 mm.

Cut out 3"x3" squares with a pastry cutter (or a knife if you're clever). You only want to construct a few tortellini at a time so any squares not being used should be kept on a plate under a very damp cloth to keep them from drying out. If you used a pasta machine you may want to very lightly flour each of the squares to keep them from sticking to each other under the cloth. 


I did manage to take this one shot of the filling placed on my first six squares (which are terribly irregular in size). Follow the rolling instructions demonstrated above and good luck.

For my filling, I sliced a butternut squash in half and removed the seeds and membrane. Then lightly covered in olive oil and seasoned with salt and pepper. I preheated my oven to 400F/205C and let the butternut squash roast for about four minutes. In the last 12 minutes of cooking, I added five peeled garlic cloves lightly tossed in olive oil, salt, pepper and a pinch of chili flakes tightly sealed in a parcel of tin foil. This will steam and caramelize the garlic making it soft and sweet. The sugars in the squash will caramelize and intensify in flavour creating a nutty aroma as it roasts in the dry heat of the oven. 


When the butternut squash was cool enough to handle, I scooped out the flesh and placed in a bowl. Then I added the garlic cloves and mashed them in with a fork. Then I stirred in a 454 gram container of ricotta, about 1/2 cup of fresh grated Parmigiano Reggiano and a tbsp or so of finely chopped fresh sage. Then as a binder, I added an egg but made sure that the squash still wasn't hot enough to scramble it. After a bit of seasoning that was it. So by that description and the photo below you can get a clear idea of how soft and delicate the filling was. Again, it is absolutely possible to make stuffed pasta with a filling of this texture. Although denser fillings such as meat and breadcrumbs would have been an easier option for my first time making this. 


Because the filling was so soft, it was harder to keep uniform while rolling it with the oversized pasta. There were just too many technical flaws and therefore my tortellini turned tortelloni didn't turn out so hot. You know what, I tried something new and it was a good learning experience. I know a lot of new perspectives now how to make a more successful version in the future. But for now, I'll have to think back on these ugly creatures:

I shared this little misadventure on my facebook and I did get some comforting feedback that this was an acceptable result for a first try. I guess we're always the hardest on ourselves. It makes for a pretty good laugh now though. This was not what I was hoping the end result I was aiming for but we can't win every time, now can we? Next time I make whole wheat pasta I'll stick with a simpler noodle like fettuccine or tagliatelle. Next time I try tortellini I'll probably use regular pastry flour and use a denser filling like meat, mushrooms or maybe a combination of those two. Leave a comment if you have some pointers on how to make my next attempt more successful. 


Well, what can I say? I gave it my best. Would I recommend trying this at home? Absolutely. Just don't replicate the parts that I screwed up on. lol. It will be fun to try to make these again and look back on this post and laugh. Can't be perfect at everything on your first try.

Sorry that there hasn't been much on the blog in the last week. I have been cooking and taking photos so I have enough to share in the near future. More to unfold soon. I hope you enjoyed this post although it wasn't a successful recipe. Feel free to leave me a few words of encouragement in the comments section below and wish me luck next time.

No seriously, it's all good. lol


No comments:

Post a Comment