Sunday, May 30, 2010

On the Feeding of Guests!

Last night my son and ex were to dinner, along with two sister missionaries, making it six to feed. I'd been promising the AG a reprise of Tortellini alla Panna, so here it is; intro, story, and all.

A long time ago I used to work in Frankfurt, West Germany, in an office just down the street from the Bourse (stock exchange), so it was common to see young men in the street with the most garishly-coloured jackets (from the exchange floor, where each company had its own colour). There was a tiny Italian restaurant - almost exclusively stand-up and spread over, I think, three floors - literally stuffed into a street corner near the Bourse. It was very popular with the brokers and you'd often find the place packed with them, standing on the steps between floors and drinking glasses of wine or beer while waiting for their meals to be cooked - few people actually got to eat there; it wasa almost all take-out ("essen zu mitnehmen") food.

This is a dish that I first found there and have loved ever since, as it is really simple to make, has a surprisingly immediate flavour, and is almost impossible to destroy!

Tortelline alla Panna
The ingredients are:
  • 1 lb of Tortellini of whatever style and content you desire. Frozen, dried, chilled, or fresh - there are lots of types to choose from with lots of different fillings, and you can get them in red and green as well as white, which makes a nice change.
  • 2 rashers of bacon, chopped finely
  • 1/4 of a medium white onion, chopped
  • 1/4 of a stick of butter
  • 1 teaspoon chopped garlic
  • 1 large handful of chopped mushrooms
  • 1 large handful of frozen peas
  • 2 large pinches each of Basil and Thyme
  • 3-4 slices of cooked ham, chopped finely into squares about 1/8 inch on a side.
  • Half a pint of either chicken stock or white wine - some people don't like cooking with alcohol, but the alcohol will be long gone before anyone eats this!
  • Half a pint of full milk or heavy whipping cream (cream is better, of course!)
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
Now to make it:
  • Read the instructions for cooking the Tortellini carefully: the people who make it usually have a very good idea of how long it will take to cook it! You can make the sauce mix and keep it hanging around for a long time as the tortellini cook. So, I'm not going to address timing - that's up to you! I'm concentrating on the sauce.
  • Melt the butter gently in a medium pot (preferably with a lid), drop in the onions, bacon, and garlic and let fry until the onions are getting soft; this may take between 5 and 10 minutes.
  • Next, add the mushrooms, cover, and let the mushrooms absorb butter and flavour - probably about 10 minutes.
  • Now add the herbs, the chopped ham, and then the wine or stick. Stir well, cover and leave bubble away for another five minutes or so. Stir a few times during this time to make sure it's not getting too hot and burning.
  • At this point you can add the peas (they'll thaw happily) and stop cooking the stock, set it aside, and cook the tortellini.
  • For tortellini you have to remember that, despite their shapes, they do actually swell by about a factor of two - even the fresh ones. So you really need quite a big pot for a pound - I had to use two pots last night and do some panicked redistribution half-way through!
  • When you cook them, get the water good and boiling before dropping them in, and don't forget to put salt in the water and also some olive oil to stop them sticking together.
  • When you consider that the tortellini are almost cooked, put some gentle heat back under the sauce and add your milk (or cream!).
  • Drain the tortellini, return them to their pot over very low heat, and pour over them the sauce mix. Stir well to mix the sauce and paste well, and serve.
Stuffed Cantaloupe
This is a recipe from one from my mother's cookery book. It's actually three books all bound into one, and the one I was using was Good Housekeeping's Picture Cookery from the 1953 edition, copyright The National Magazine Co., Ltd. I had been looking through it for a recipe for possibly making a trifle, but wasn't that enamoured with any that I found. In that same section (Fruit Salads and Trifles) I came across Fruit-filled Melon (page 132 if you're looking!), which looked rather good, as I'd seen that the local Produce Junction had an offer on melons, so off I went, hot-foot in search of a large cantaloupe and lots of little fruit to fill it with.

I chose the largest melon that they had, which wasn't really large enough, and some strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries. I got all this home, beheaded the melon about a third down, and then eviscerated all the innards to the trash! Then I cut out almost all the remaining orange flesh, chopping it into bits. I left some at the bottom to ensure that I didn't go completely through the bottom, and filled it up with some melon but mainly berries. I poured about a quarter of a pint of cream over the content, popped the "lid" back on, and put it into the freezer (I was about two hours from serving time, and all the fruit and berries were warm).

I mixed most of the melon flesh, the rest of the berries, and the content of a jar of mandarin oranges into a fruit salad mix, which was consigned to the fridge to cool. The remaining pieces of melon were made into smoothies, using some ice cream, cream, and orange juice and the not-so-tender ministrations of what must be the ultimate smoothie machine, The Magic Bullet Blender.

So, everyone came, was introduced, and we sat down to eat. The main course was tortellini, of course - two pounds of tortellini expands to fill a huge bowl! Everyone who cam enjoyed it, and the SMs went with boxes of "thirds"! Dessert was greeted with some curiosity when the unadorned, apparently untouched, melon was brought out, but as soon as the lid was off everyone was surprised and eager to eat! All went well, thanks in no small measure to the efforts of my AG in making the apartment neat and presentable.


Rys said...

I am so glad I hadn't fully explored your blog before I served you my humble pasta salad (which was just pasta and frozen veggies marinated in Italian dressing)!!

Michael Irwin said...

And there was anything wrong with your salad? We both enjoyed it (the AG likes broccoli and I like olives, so we swapped ) and would definitely visit Joe's Restaurant again!