September 19, 2014
A fall pasta from Thomas McNaughton’s Flour + Water: Pasta. “The sweet and savoury filling for the tortelloni — a bigger version of tortellini, closer to a dumpling — is traditionally made with pumpkin, nutmeg, and Parmigiano-Reggiano. Our twist: toasted pumpkin seeds in the sauce, to give a little crunch and nuttiness. And brown butter sauce to coat the pasta. Pumpkin is the most classic option, but butternut squash will work well if you can’t find a fancypants heirloom pumpkin.”
Tortelloni (Rav Dough)
- To start, place flour on a dry, clean work surface, forming a mound about 8-10″ in diameter at its base. Sprinkle the salt in the middle of the mound. Using the bottom of a measuring cup, create a well 4-5″ wide, with at least a 1/2″ of flour on the bottom of the well.
- Slowly and carefully add the wet ingredients (eggs and olive oil) into the well, treating the flour as a bowl. Using a fork, gently beat the eggs without touching the flour walls or scraping through the bottom of the work surface.
- Then, still stirring, begin to slowly incorporate the flour “walls” into the egg mixture, gradually working your way toward the outer edges of the flour, but disturbing the base as little as possible. If the eggs breach the sides too soon, quickly scoop them back in and reform the wall. Once the dough starts to take on a thickened, paste-like quality (slurry), slowly incorporate the flour on the bottom into the mixture.
- When the slurry starts to move as a solid mass, remove as much as possible from the fork. With a bench scraper (or spatula), slide under the mass of dough and flip it and turn it onto itself to clear any wet dough from the work surface.
- At this point, with your hands, start folding and forming the dough into a single mass. The goal is to incorporate all the flour. When it starts to resemble a crumbly pie dough, spritz it from time to time with water from a spray bottle, which helps to “glue” any loose flour to the dry dough ball.
- When the dough forms a stiff, solid mass, scrape away any debris (dried clumps of flour) from the work surface that, if incorporated in the dough, will create dry spots in the final product.
- Kneading is an essential step in the dough-making process: it realigns the protein structure of the dough so that it develops properly during the resting stage that follows.
- Kneading is simple: Drive the heel of your dominant hand into the dough. Push down and release, and then use your other hand to pick up and rotate the dough on itself 45°. Drive the heel of your hand back in the dough, rotate and repeat for 10 to 15 minutes. This is how Italian grandmas get their fat wrists.
- Pasta is easy to under-knead but virtually impossible to over-knead (unlike bread, where each type has its sweet spot or ideal kneading time). That said, even though the dough cannot be over-kneaded, it can spend too much time on the work table- and as a direct result, start to dehydrate and in turn, be more difficult to form into its final shape. For best results, I think a 10-15 minute range is a solid guideline. When the dough is ready, it will stop changing appearance and texture. The dough will be firm but bouncy to the touch and have a smooth, silky surface, almost like Play-Doh. Tightly wrap the dough in plastic wrap.
- At this stage, the flour particles continue to absorb moisture, which further develops the gluten structure that allows pasta dough to stand up to rolling and shaping.
- If you plan to use the dough immediately, let it rest for at least 30 minutes, wrapped in plastic, at room temperature prior to rolling it out (the next step). If resting for more than 6 hours, put the dough in the refrigerator. It’s best to use fresh dough within 24 hours. Under proper refrigeration, the dough will hold for 2 days, but I try to avoid letting it rest that long, simply because the eggs yolks will oxidize and discolour the dough. It won’t affect the flavor or the texture, but the dough will develop a slightly off colour and a grayish-greenish hue.
- Resting is the point in the process when the elasticity of pasta dough forms, thanks to the formation of gluten strands as the wheat fully absorbs the liquid in the dough. My rule of thumb is that dough should rest for at least 30 minutes in plastic wrap at room temperature. After 30 minutes, either roll it out immediately or put it in the fridge.
Rolling Out the Dough
- Rolling is the last phase of the mixing process. Rolling out pasta by machine-whether it’s a hand-crank model or an electric one-should be a delicate, almost Zen-like art. You can only roll out dough that has rested for at least 30 minutes at room temperature. If it has rested for longer in the fridge, give the dough enough time to come back to room temperature. The fat content of pasta dough is so high that it will solidify when cold, so it needs to come back to room temperature to be easier to roll.
- The process for rolling sheets of pasta dough is the same whether you have a hand-cranked machine or an electric one, like we have in the restaurant.
- To start, slice off a section of the ball of dough, immediately re-wrapping the unused portion in plastic wrap. Place the piece of dough on the work surface and, with a rolling pin, flatten it enough that it will fit into the widest setting of the pasta machine. You do not want to stress the dough or the machine.
- It’s crucial to remember that whenever the pasta dough is not in plastic wrap or under a damp towel, you’re in a race against time. The minute you expose the pasta to air, it starts to dehydrate. This creates a dry outer skin that you do not want to incorporate into the finished dough; the goal is to create a dough of uniform consistency.
- Our dough is purposely very dry. We do not add any raw flour in the rolling process. Adding extra flour sticks to the dough and when cooked, that splotch turns into a gooey mass, a slick barrier to sauce. We want a perfect mass of dough and use very little, if any, raw flour on the outside. Added flour dulls the seasoning and flavours of both the dough and the finished dish.
- Begin rolling the dough through the machine, starting with the widest setting. Guide it quickly through the slot once. Then decrease the thickness setting by one, and repeat. Decrease the thickness setting by one more, and roll the dough through quickly one more time, Once the dough has gone through three times, once on each of the first three settings, it should have doubled in length.
- Lay the dough on a flat surface. The dough’s hydration level at this point is so low that you’ll probably see some streaks; that’s normal, which is the reason for the next crucial step: laminating the dough.
- Using a rolling pin as a makeshift ruler, measure the width of your pasta machine’s slot, minus the thickness of two fingers. This measurement represents the ideal width of the pasta sheet, with about a finger’s length on each side, so there’s plenty of room in the machine. Take that rolling pin measurement to the end of the pasta sheet and make a gentle indentation in the dough representing the measurement’s length. Make that mark the crease and fold the pasta over. Repeat for the rest of the pasta sheet, keeping that same initial measurement. For best results, you want a minimum of four layers. Secure the layers of the pasta together with the rolling pin, rolling it flat enough that it can fit in the machine. Put the dough back in the machine, but with a 90 degree turn of the sheet. In other words, what was the “bottom” edge of the pasta is now going through the machine first.
- This time around, it’s important to roll out the dough two to three times on each setting, at a steady, smooth pace. We’ve created this gluten network — a web of elasticity — so if you roll it too fast, it will snap back to its earlier thickness, thereby lengthening the time you’re going through each number.
- The more slowly you crank the pasta dough, the more compression time the dough has; it’s important to stay consistent in the speed in order to keep a consistent thickness. You should be able to see and feel the resistance as the dough passes through the rollers. On the first time at each level, the dough will compress. It’s time to move onto the next level when the dough slips through without any trouble. The first few thickness settings (the biggest widths) usually require three passes; once you’re into thinner territory, there’s less pasta dough compressing, so it goes more quickly and two passes get the job done.
- When handling the sheet of dough — especially as it gets longer — always keep it taut and flat. Never grab or flop or twist the pasta. The sheet should rest on the inside edges of your index fingers with your fingers erect and pointed out. The hands don’t grab or stretch the dough; instead, they act as paddles, guiding the sheet of dough through into the machine. Handling the dough with your fingers pointed straight out alleviates any pressure to the dough, which stretches and warps it.
- Use the right hand to feed the machine and use the left hand to crank. Once the pasta dough is halfway through, switch hands, pulling out with the left hand. If you have trouble doing it alone as the dough gets longer and thinner, find a friend to help juggle the dough, or roll out a smaller, more wieldy batch.
- Dust 2 baking sheets with semolina flour and set aside.
- To make the pasta, using a pasta machine, roll out the dough until the sheet is just translucent (see above). Cut a 2-foot section of the dough sheet and cover the rest of the dough with plastic wrap.
- Using a straight wheel cutter or sharp knife and a ruler, cut the dough into 2-3/4″ squares. Using a piping bag or spoon, place 2 tsp of filling into the middle of each square. Fold the pasta in half so the opposite corners meet, forming a triangle. Use a spritz of water from a spray bottle to help seal it if necessary. Gently press out the air around the filling by running your fingers from the tip of the triangle downward. With your thumbs along the base of the triangle and your index fingers halfway down each side of the triangle, gently pinch your index fingers and thumbs together and rotate your left index finger to fit under the base of the triangle. Wrap the corners around your left index and middle fingers and pinch them together to seal. You should have a small gap between the filling and the pinched dough, like a ring.
- Working quickly, place the tortelloni on the prepared baking sheets, spaced apart, until ready to cook. Don’t let the tortelloni touch each other or they may stick together. Repeat until you run out of dough or filling. You should have 30 to 40 pieces.
- Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Heat a sauté pan over medium heat and add the butter. Once the butter has melted and the foam has subsided, cook, stirring constantly, until the butter becomes a light tan colour. Smell the butter; it should have a nutty aroma. Remove from the heat and set aside.
- To make the filling, cut the pumpkin in half, drizzle olive oil over it, and season liberally with kosher salt. Place the pumpkin, cut side down, on the prepared baking sheet. Roast the pumpkin until fully tender when pierced with a knife, 45-60 minutes. The pumpkin should be soft to the touch but not mushy or deflated.
- Scoop out the flesh of the pumpkin and discard the rind. Add the warm pumpkin to the jar of a blender along with the brown butter, cinnamon, nutmeg and vinegar. Purée until smooth and season with salt. The purée should have a nice balance of sweetness and acidity. If the pumpkin lacks sweetness and depth of flavour, add 1 tbsp of honey to balance the flavour. Spoon the purée into a bowl and fold in the Parmigiano-Reggiano. You should have about 3-1/2 cups of filling. Cool in a refrigerator, covered.
- To finish, bring a large pot of water to a boil.
- In a small bowl, combine the pumpkin seeds with the olive oil and a pinch of salt. Evenly distribute the seeds on a baking sheet and roast in a preheated 350°F oven until golden brown, about 11 minutes. Remove to a plate and set aside.
- Drop the pasta into the boiling water.
- Heat a 12″ sauté pan over high heat. Add 1/4 cup of the pasta water and the butter and bring to a simmer. Once the pasta is cooked 80 percent through, until almost al dente, about 2-3 minutes, add it to the pan along with the sage and swirl until the sauce coats the back of a spoon. Reserve the pasta water. If needed, add a few more tbsp of pasta water to keep a saucy consistency and continue cooking until the pasta is tender, about 90 seconds. Season with salt.
- To serve, divide the pasta and sauce between four plates. Finish with freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and toasted pumpkin seeds.
Reprinted with permission from Thomas McNaughton & Paolo Lucchesi’s Flour + Water: Pasta (2014 Ten Speed Press).