Monday, January 11, 2010

Tortellini in Cream Sauce

One of St. Louis’ great neighborhoods is called The Hill – it’s kind of a little Italy. Nestled between the cute little homes are lots of Italian restaurants, several great Italian grocery stores, bakeries, and even an Italian deli. One of St. Louis’ favorite restaurants, Cunetto House of Pasta, is on The Hill.  Amongst many other delicious entrees, they have an outstanding tortellini and cream sauce dish: tortellini, mushrooms, peas, and prosciutto enveloped in a velvety cream, butter, and parmesan sauce. It is quite good. If I lived closer, I’d eat supper there all the time.

Since it is at least a 45 minute drive to get to The Hill, I have my own version of tortellini and cream sauce that I can make at home. It is surprisingly quick and easy – so easy it can easily be made on a weeknight. My version isn’t an exact copy of their dish, but it tastes good enough that the difference doesn’t matter to me. It is not exactly health food, but it is One Good Cream Sauce, worth ignoring the calories and eating it every once in awhile.  To help with portion control, the recipe I’ve posted here makes enough for a smallish main dish.

There are several keys to success with this recipe: One – have everything ready to go before you start to make the sauce. (You can prepare everything while your pasta water is coming to a boil.) You don’t want to be scrambling to grate cheese while your butter overheats. Two – don’t omit the nutmeg – its just a pinch – and please use freshly grated nutmeg!  Three – when you select your cheese, please don't use the powdery stuff in the green container.  This is a dish where real Parmigiano Reggiano makes a difference.

Tortellini in Cream Sauce
Serves 4 as a smallish main course

1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese (I use the medium sized holes on my box grater)
2 ounces prosciutto
3 Tbsp unsalted butter
1-1/4 cups heavy cream (unwhipped heavy whipping cream, not coffee creamer)
freshly grated nutmeg
freshly ground black pepper
4 cups frozen packaged fully-cooked tortellini
1-1/2 cups frozen peas

Fill a large saucepan or small stockpot with water, bring it to a boil. (This will be your pasta water.) While the water is coming to a boil, prep the rest of your ingredients:

Grate the Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, set it aside. Finely chop the prosciutto, set it aside. Locate your butter, measure the cream, and get the nutmeg and pepper out so you’re ready to go.

Once your pasta water is boiling, stir in the frozen tortellini. Watch the pot closely; as soon as the tortellini begin to boil (and it wont take long – just a couple of minutes), add the frozen peas.

Again, watch the pot closely; as soon as the pasta mixture begins to boil, remove it from the heat, drain it, and set it aside.

Add the butter to the empty pot – melt it over medium heat. Add the nutmeg and the black pepper; stir the butter mixture a few times until the spices have heated and are aromatic. Stir in the prosciutto; heat it through. Stir in the cream and heat it through, stirring constantly. Add the grated cheese, then return the cooked pasta to the pot. Gently stir the pasta to melt the cheese and coat the pasta evenly. Serve hot. The longer the sauce sits, the thicker the sauce will get.

A note for vegetarians: The sauce is nearly vegetarian – except the prosciutto. If you omit the meat, you might want to add a little bit of salt to the sauce. (The prosciutto is very salty; you’ll need to make up for its absence.)

A note for those who don’t want to use cream: You can cut back on the fat slightly by substituting half-and-half for the heavy cream. The sauce won’t be quite as thick and will not taste quite as good, but you might feel its worth the reduction in calories and fat.

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