Squash Tortelli

The history of the squash tortelli begins in Northern Italy, more precisely in Mantova, during the Renaissance, probably with the contribution of a Jewish cook. Originally a dish of the peasants, due to its ingredients which don’t include meat (which was too expensive at the time), the squash tortelli became a must have on the table of the rich and were soon established as a tradition for the dinner of 24th December, when Catholics are not allowed to eat meat. Many versions of this sort of tortelli are reported: during the centuries, the Italian cuisine developed a lot of different recipes, especially the city of Cremona, which changed the original recipe by removing the squash and adding other stuff in order to have some really sweet tortelli. The following is the recipe I found in the kitchen diary of my family. My personal touch is in the balance of the super traditional ingredients. 

Serves 6

  • 400 gr plain flour
  • 4 free range eggs
  • 1,5 kg peeled and deseeded squash
  • 75 gr Mostarda di Cremona (not to be confused with mustard: it is a sort of slightly spicy apple jam, probably available in Italian grocery shops or certainly on line)
  • 100 gr Amaretti biscuits, crumbled
  • 150 gr good Italian parmesan, grated
  • 1 spoon chopped parsley
  • a pinch of cinnamon
  • a pinch of nutmeg, grated
  • 100 gr butter, melted
  • 5-6 sage leaves

The day ahead prepare the filling: cut the squash into thick slices and place on a tray lined with parchment paper. Brush with a few drops of extravirgin olive oil and bake in the oven for 30 minutes at 180°C until tender and golden.

Use a pestel and mortar to reduce the Amaretti to a crumble.

Let the squash cool at room temperature and whizz with a food processor until creamy. Add the Mostarda, Amaretti, parmesan, cinnamon, nutmeg, parsley and season with salt and pepper to taste. Let it rest in the fridge for 24 hours before using.

Place the eggs, flour and a half of an egg shell amount of water into a food processor or a kneading machine. Knead for 5-7 minutes until you obtain a smooth lump. Wrap with cling film and let it rest in the fridge for one hour.

If you want to make the dough the traditional way, by hand, place the flour on a large board, make a well in the centre and crack the eggs into it. Beat the eggs with a fork and incorporate the flour little by little scraping the side, until the eggs and flour are thoroughly combined. Knead the dough working with the back of your wrists for at least 10 minutes, working with a regular rhythm until you obtain a smooth and uniform lump of dough. Also in this case, wrap the dough with cling film and let it rest in the fridge for one hour.

Now fetch the dough from the fridge and knead it by hand for an additional 5 minutes working with the back of your wrists and adding a small quantity of flour if needed. Dust the board with some flour (not a lot or your dough will become dry), press the dough out flat with your fingertips and roll using a rolling pin until very thin.  Cut into squares of 4/5 cm and place around half a teaspoon of the filling in the centre. At this point brush the sides with a bit of water, so that the tortelli will be more stiffly closed.

Fold the filled squares in a shape of a triangle, pressing with your fingertips along the sides. Pinch one end of the triangle, then using the other two fingers wrap the opposite end around your first index finger, then press the two ends together, and voilà your tortello is ready.

While closing the tortelli, place on a clean tea cloth dusted with flour, then boil in hot salted water for 4-5 minutes. Drain well, season with the butter, previously melted in a little pan with the sage, and serve immediately.

Spelt couscous with vegetables and Jerusalem artichokes

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Delicate yet flavourful, this cous cous can be prepared a day in advance, making a handy and delicious dish. It is perfect served with some fried fish on the side.

Serves 10

  • 800 gr (net weight) squash, peeled and diced
  • 2 large Jerusalem artichockes, peeled and diced
  • 1 bunch fresh parsley
  • 40 gr butter
  • 4 large zucchinis
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 800 gr cherry tomatoes
  • extravirgin olive oil
  • 500 gr spelt couscous

Place the diced squash and Jerusalem artichokes in a bowl, pour in melted butter, chopped parsley, a good grating of black pepper, and mix thoroughly. Set aside for 1 hour. Prepare the zucchinis, by thinly chopping them and placing them in a bowl with crushed and chopped garlic, 2 tbsp oil and black pepper. Set aside for 40 minutes.

Wash and halve the cherry tomatoes and lay on a baking tray lined with parchment paper. Take care that the sliced part of the tomatos lay on top. Bake at 160°C fan oven for 30 miutes, then season with 2/3 tbsp olive oil, salt and pepper, and put back in the oven. Bake at 140°C fan oven for around 20 minutes, or until they look golden around the edges.

Now bake the squash and zucchini. Place separately on two different baking trays lined with baking paper. Bake at 160° fan oven for 20 minutes,  stirring only once: you should have small, semi dehydrated and lightly crispy dices.

Place all the vegetables in a large bowl, adding a drizzle of olive oil and some salt if necessary.

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Prepare your cous cous according to instructions, leaving to cool at room temperature. Delicately break apart and fluff the cooked cous cous with a fork before incorporating the vegetables. Add a little more oil and place the mix in a well oiled baking tin. Gently press the cous cous in order to eliminate air bubbles, then cover with aluminum foil so that the cous cous will maintain the ideal grade of humidity.  Before serving, bake at 140° for 20 minutes, then unmeld and decorate to taste.

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