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Artichoke Coltunasi (or tortellini)

August 13, 2009
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When I was in Peace Corps my absolute most favorite thing to eat was coltunasi (pronounced colt-sue-NAASH).  It’s essentially tortellini, with fillings like potato, ground meat (which is called pelmeni, if you speak Russian) or a soft cow’s cheese, except they usually put onions sauteed in oil and sour cream on top instead of tomato sauce or the like.  My host mom would rarely make coltunasi because she was either busy with her job as a nurse, taking care of the kids, taking care of the animals (which included ducks, chickens, pigs, a cow and nutria), or she was working in the garden, busily ensuring we had potatoes, onions and peppers to eat throughout the rest of the year.  I would offer to help her make the coltunasi, hoping she would realize that if there was an extra pair of hands it would be easier and she’d make them more often.  It didn’t really work; all I ever got to do was seal the edges of the coltunasi and arrange them on a tray before they went into the boiling water.

Needless to say, when she finally got around to making coltunasi I ate them like they were going out of style.  Hot and greasy, covered by a huge spoonful of sour cream straight from the cow…. it was sooooo good.

You may be wondering what all of this seemingly senseless reminiscing has to do with tonight’s dinner.  Let me tell you: I decided to make artichoke ravioli for dinner tonight, except I made them like you would make coltunasi.  Kind of a weak tie-in, I know, but whatever.  If I were to serve these “coltunasi” to a Moldovan, they would probably think I was nuts, but it’s nice to pretend.  I think coltunasi are easier to make than ravioli because there are only 2 edges to seal, plus they look cool.

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I love artichokes, and I blame Trader Joe’s for my current artichoke binge habit.  They sell these bags of frozen artichoke hearts that are practically the best thing ever.  I found a recipe on Epicurious that I decided to try and it turned out really well. From start to finish it took about 1.5 hours to get everything done, which isn’t bad considering that includes making your own pasta, the filling, making the coltunasi/tortellini/ravioli, and making the sauce.  If you don’t want to make pasta, you can buy wonton wrappers in the produce section of the grocery store and use those instead.  Next time I think I’d make a different sauce because it was so flavorful (in a good way) it overpowered the coltunasi.

Artichoke Coltunasi with Tomatoes

(Adapted from Epicurious)

For pasta:

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons water

For filling:

  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • 1 small onion, chopped (1/2 cup)
  • 1 (10-ounce) box frozen artichoke hearts, thawed and patted dry
  • 1 ounce finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (1/2 cup)
  • 1/3 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 3/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 large egg white, lightly beaten with 2 teaspoons water (for egg wash)

For assembly:

  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • 3 medium plum tomatoes, trimmed and cut into 1/4-inch dice (3/4 cup)
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/3 cup heavy cream (I used half and half)
  • 1 ounce finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (1/2 cup)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
Preparation

To make pasta dough in a food processor:
Blend flour, eggs, salt, and water in processor until mixture just begins to form a ball, adding more water, drop by drop, if dough is too dry (dough should be firm and not sticky). Process dough for 15 seconds more to knead it. Transfer to a floured surface and let stand, covered with an inverted bowl, 1 hour to let the gluten relax and make rolling easier.

To make dough by hand:
Mound flour on a work surface, preferably wooden, and make a well in center. Add eggs, salt, and water to well. With a fork, gently beat eggs and water until combined. Gradually stir in enough flour to form a paste, pulling in flour closest to egg mixture and being careful not to make an opening in outer wall of well. Knead remaining flour into mixture with your hands to form a dough, adding more water, drop by drop, if dough is too dry (dough should be firm and not sticky). Knead dough until smooth and elastic, 8 to 10 minutes. Cover with an inverted bowl and let stand 1 hour (to make rolling easier).

Make filling:
Heat butter in a 12-inch heavy skillet over moderately high heat until foam subsides, then sauté onion, stirring occasionally, until golden, about 6 minutes. Add artichoke hearts and sauté, stirring occasionally, until tender, 8 to 10 minutes. Remove from heat and cool slightly.

Transfer all but 3/4 cup artichoke mixture to cleaned bowl of processor (reserve remaining artichoke mixture in skillet), then add cheese, parsley, yolk, lemon juice, salt, pepper, and nutmeg and pulse until mixture is coarsely chopped.

Roll pasta and make ravioli:
Cut pasta dough into 4 pieces, then flatten each piece into a rough rectangle and cover rectangles with an inverted large bowl. Set rollers of pasta machine on widest setting.

Lightly dust 1 rectangle with flour and feed through rollers. (Keep remaining rectangles under bowl.) Fold rectangle in half and feed it, folded end first, through rollers 7 or 8 more times, folding it in half each time and feeding folded end through. Dust with flour if necessary to prevent sticking. Turn dial to next (narrower) setting and feed dough through rollers without folding. Continue to feed dough through rollers once at each setting, without folding, until you reach narrowest setting. Dough will be a smooth sheet (about 24 inches long and 4 inches wide).

Put sheet of dough on a floured work surface and drop 6 (1 1/2-teaspoon) mounds of filling 1 1/2 inches apart in a row down center of one half of sheet. Brush egg wash around each mound, then fold other half of sheet over filling. Press down firmly around each mound, forcing out air. (Air pockets increase the chance that ravioli will break during cooking.) Cut pasta (between mounds) with cutter into 3-inch rounds. Line a large shallow baking pan with a clean kitchen towel (not terry cloth) and dust towel with flour, then arrange ravioli in 1 layer in it. Make more ravioli with remaining pasta dough, 1 sheet at a time, and remaining filling, transferring ravioli to lined pan.

Bring a 6- to 8-quart pot of salted water to a boil. Add ravioli, carefully stirring to separate, and, adjusting heat to keep water at a gentle boil, cook until pasta is just tender, about 6 minutes. Transfer with a slotted spoon to a colander.

While ravioli boils, reheat reserved artichoke mixture in skillet with butter over moderately high heat, then add tomatoes and water and cook, stirring, until tomatoes are softened, about 5 minutes.  Add the cream to sauce and heat until bubbly.

Serve sauce on top of ravioli, and top it off with the parmesan.

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