Sunday, June 5, 2011

Barilla Tortellini Contest


Barilla is giving away a trip to Italy!

The challenge was to create an appetizer, main dish, and dessert centered around Barilla tortellini and tortelloni pasta.

Keeping the theme Italian while attempting to display the versatility of filled pasta was a challenge, but the prize is worth the effort. 

Follow me into my kitchen and through my tour of tortellini and tortelloni…and who knows, I might be blogging from Italy soon!  Wish me luck!

TORTELLINI CAESAR BOATS

Appetizers are a funny thing.  An appetizer is the first bite you put into your mouth, the introduction to the rest of the meal, the course that is supposed to awaken your appetite. 

That’s a lot of pressure for such a little course. 

So what I often do, to alleviate the anxiety of starting the meal correctly, is work backwards—creating the appetizer last, harmonizing its flavors and textures with the rest of the dishes. 

For my tortellini inspired meal, I knew I needed a light, crunchy appetizer, both creamy and tangy, to compliment the velvety beef stew that follows. 

Hearts of romaine topped with Caesar dressed tortellini, finished with a dollop of garlic infused pomodoro fresco, seemed like the perfect starting bite.  The Caesar dressing envelops the soft tortellini, soaking into the pasta to create a sharp creamy bite.  Place a spoonful of tortellini on a leaf of crisp romaine, top it with sweet, garlicky tomatoes and these Tortellini Caesar Boats will have everyone revved up for what’s to come. 

Not to mention it’s finger food, so encourage your guests to pick one up and socialize—it’s the Italian way!


ITALIAN BEEF STEW with RICOTTA and SPINACH TORTELLONI

For my main course, I knew almost immediately that I would make a beef stew, inspired by a gorgeous beef stew I had in Florence with my daughter.  It was rich with red wine and savory herbs, topped with the ubiquitous ribbons of sweet Italian basil and nutty parmesan cheese. 

What I’ve discovered, from many years of stew tasting and cooking, is that as important as it is to have good ingredients, it’s the preparation that makes a successful stew.

An essential step in stew preparation is to brown your beef thoroughly in order to bring out the deep, meaty flavors that will in turn flavor your gravy.  Another important step is to sauté the aromatics (onions, celery, red bell pepper and garlic) to draw out the individual flavors of each ingredient which are woken up as they soften, adding a distinct layer of flavor to the dish.  And then there is the art of adding just the right amount of liquid so that the stew gravy is both fully flavored with the right ratio of sauce. 

I am cooking up an Italian Beef Stew with Ricotta and Spinach Tortelloni in place of the traditional potato.  I wish I had thought of this sooner because it is a perfect and luxurious replacement.  Hearty pieces of fork tender beef together with delicate ricotta and spinach tortelloni floating in a robust gravy was such a superb combination that this might become my newest go-to stew recipe. 

As I said before, once you learn the basics of making a great stew, selecting the ingredients and playing with them is the easy part!  I may never use a potato again!

TORTELLINI FRUIT CRUNCH

I wanted my dessert to be fresh and light; a simple finish to a rich and hearty meal.  In Italy, they often end their meals with a plate of assorted cheeses and a bowl of fresh fruit.  Using the same flavor profiles, I decided to pair the three cheese tortellini with mandarin oranges and fresh strawberries, tossed together with a lightly sweetened sour cream. 
                                           
I wanted the tortellini to have a gentle sweetness but didn’t want to coat them in sugar or honey, so I decided to use the light syrup from the canned mandarin oranges—a perfectly functional ingredient that is usually tossed out—to echo the sweetness of the fruit (and the Italian sentiment that nothing should be wasted!).  I cooked the pasta to al dente and allowed the hot tortellini to soak up the orange juices, leaving them flavorful yet still slightly firm. 

To bring it all together, I decided on a mixture of brown sugar and sour cream—one of my favorite toppings for fruit.  The tartness of the sour cream really brings out the natural sweetness of almost any fruit, but strawberries and oranges are especially well suited. 

And lastly, because every good dessert needs a little crunch, I topped my tortellini and fruit parfait with a sprinkling of candied almonds that I made quickly in a sauté pan. 

When you eat this dessert, be sure to make yourself a perfect bite!  Gather all the components on a spoon to really get the creamy, orange laced cheese, the fresh fruit, the tart sour cream, and the crunchy candied almonds!

Buon Appetito!

RECIPES

TORTELLINI CAESAR BOATS

1          8 oz. pk.          Barilla three cheese tortellini
2          bunches          baby hearts of romaine or Belgian endive leaves (about 16 leaves)

POMODORO FRESCA
3          med                 tomatoes, peeled and seeded, cut into small dice (about 2 ½ cups)
8          leaves              fresh basil, sliced into long thin strips
1          clove               garlic, minced
1          Tbsp.               olive oil
½         tsp.                  kosher salt
Pinch                           black pepper

Dice the tomatoes and place them in a bowl.  Add the rest of the ingredients and toss to mix. 

CAESAR DRESSING
1          clove               garlic, minced
1          tsp.                  anchovy paste
2          tsp.                  lemon juice
1          tsp.                  Worcestershire
1          Tbsp.               red wine vinegar
½         cup                  olive oil
½         cup                  mayonnaise
¼         tsp.                  kosher salt
1/8       tsp.                  black pepper
¼         cup                  parmesan cheese, grated

Place the garlic, anchovy paste, lemon juice, Worcestershire, red wine vinegar, salt and pepper in a bowl.  Whisk to mix.  Add olive oil and mayonnaise.  Whisk well until smooth.
TO ASSEMBLE:
Cook tortellini, drain and rinse with cold tap water and let drain till dry.   Toss cooked tortellini with the Caesar dressing.

Place lettuce leaves on a plate putting about 4 – 6 tortellini on each leaf.  Top each with a touch of pomodoro fresca.  Dress the plate with additional pomodoro fresca so your guest can add more if they please.  Garnish with fresh basil.

ITALIAN BEEF STEW with RICOTA & SPINACH TORTELLONI

1          8 oz. pk.          Barilla Ricotta & Spinach Tortelloni
3          pounds            chuck, cut into bite size pieces
FOR THE MEAT
2          Tbsp.               flour
1          clove               garlic minced
½         tsp.                  kosher salt
¼         tsp.                  black pepper
2          Tbsp.               olive oil
FOR THE GRAVY
1          large                onion, chopped small
3          stalks               celery, chopped small
1          med.                red bell pepper, chopped small
1          clove               garlic, minced
1          cup                  red wine
1          14 oz. can       Italian stewed tomatoes
1          14 oz. can       chicken broth
¼         tsp.                  dried thyme (or ½ tsp. fresh)
¼         tsp.                  dried oregano (or ½ tsp. fresh)
1          whole               bay leaf
1          tsp.                  kosher salt
¼         tsp.                  black pepper
2          large                carrots, sliced into circles
FOR THE GARNISH
10 -12 leaves              fresh basil, sliced very thin
¼ - ½ cup                  grated parmesan cheese

Cut the chuck into bite size pieces and place in a large bowl.  In a separate bowl mix the flour, garlic, ½ tsp. kosher salt and black pepper.  Sprinkle the flour mixture over the meat and mix to coat meat evenly.  The meat should absorb all the flour.

Heat a heavy bottom pot over med high heat and add 2 Tbsp. olive oil.  Brown meat on all sides and remove from the pot.  Add the onions and celery to the pot and cook until soft, scraping up the bits that the meat left stuck to the bottom of the pan.

When the onions are soft add the meat back to the pot and add the wine.  Cook meat in the wine for about 3 – 4 min.  Add the stewed tomatoes, chicken broth, thyme, oregano, bay leaf, 1 tsp. kosher salt, ¼ tsp. black pepper and bring to a boil; stirring occasionally; lower heat to med low, cover and cook meat for 1 hour or until tender; stirring occasionally.  Remove the cover and bring the heat back up to a med high and add the carrots and cook for 15 min. or until the carrots are soft.  Add the tortelloni and cook for another 10 minutes or until the tortelloin are al dente.  Garnish with parmesan cheese and fresh basil.


TORTELLINI FRUIT CRUNCH

1          8oz. pk.           Barilla Three Cheese Tortellini
1          11oz. can        mandarin oranges in light syrup
1          pound              fresh strawberries, sliced
FOR THE SAUCE/DRIZZLE
1          cup                  sour cream
2          Tbsp.               brown sugar, packed
FOR THE CRUNCHY ALMOND TOPPING
1          cup                  almonds, chopped very fine
½         cup                  white sugar
¼         cup                  brown sugar, packed

Chop the almonds fine in a food processor or with a knife.  Mix nuts with ½ cup of white sugar and ¼ cup of brown sugar.  Heat a non stick sauté pan over med low heat and mix nut and sugar mixture until they get caramelized and toasty for about 20 minutes; stirring frequently so it won’t burn.  This takes the most time and attention but worth the effort because the almond crunch is an important step to finish this dessert.  So be patient.  After the nuts have been toasted and you see that the sugar is starting to melt and get gooey at the bottom of the pan.  Mix it one last time and spread it out on a foil sheet to cool.  This will keep well in an air tight container for several days.

Cook the tortellini in 3 – 4 quarts of boiling water for 9 - 10 minutes and drain.

Place tortellini’s in a bowl and pour liquid from the mandarin oranges over the hot pasta; toss with the liquid until most of the liquid is absorbed.  Add the mandarin orange segments to the tortellini and chill until cool.

Slice the strawberries and toss with the tortellini and oranges (add the strawberries just before serving so they won’t bleed on to the tortellini.  Place in a serving dish and drizzle with the sour cream sauce (for a lighter version) or add sour cream sauce directly to the bowl and toss together.

Sprinkle with the crunchy almond topping and serve.

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