Tortelli hail from Tuscany and neighboring towns in Emilia Romagna, and are rustic, simple home-cooking at its finest.
Larger than ravioli, they are traditionally stuffed with garlicy potatoes, herbs, and sometimes a hint of tomato, and topped with “sugo di carne” (meat sauce). In my plant-based version, however, I looked to young shiitake mushrooms to enhance my “sugo sensa carne” and added porcini to the stuffing. All I can say is, ‘buoni!!’
To help manage your time, the sugo, filling, and dough can all be made in advance.
Prep time 90 minutes Cook time 5 minutes for the tortelli, a low and slow 3-hour simmer for the sugo Makes about 45 three-inch tortelli
A manual or electric pasta rolling machine
A pizza wheel
A food processor
A digital scale
Stainless bench scraper
A potato ricer
An extra-large cutting board or working surface on which to lay out the long strips of dough for stuffing
A large cutting board or stone surface to lay out the rolled dough sheets
A large skimmer
Sugo sensa Carne
1 large red onion, medium dice
4 ounces baby shiitake mushrooms (caps and stems), chopped finely
2 stalks celery, small dice
2 medium carrots, small dice
Water, veggie broth or dry vermouth as needed 4 cloves garlic, finely minced
Handful of fresh sage leaves, chopped
1 medium or small leek, medium dice
A 28-ounce can or jar of whole Marzano tomatoes (pulp and sauce)
A few grinds of black pepper
Red (aka) miso paste* to taste, in lieu of salt
220 grams atta (whole durum wheat flour, available online or in Indian groceries)
50 grams besan (chana dal flour, available online or in Indian groceries)
¼ teaspoon ground turmeric
220 grams silken tofu, well drained
4 medium-large russet potatoes, boiled and riced
Small handful Italian parsley leaves, finely minced ½ head roasted garlic, cloves peeled, finely minced
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary or nepitella or thyme leaves, finely minced
2 Tablespoons nutritional yeast
1- 1 1/2 teaspoons dried porcini powder from sliced dehydrated porcini mushrooms
1 teaspoon tomato paste
Grinds of black pepper
2 teaspoons of shiro (white) miso powder* (or paste), or to taste
*Miso is a good salt alternative that helps to lower heart rate and does not raise blood pressure (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5313421/#:~:text=Miso%2C%20which%20is%20made%20from,%2C%20including%20salt%2Dsensitive%20hypertension).
Make the Sugo
Pulse the baby shiitakes in a food processor to finely chop. In a saucepan dry sauté the onions, carrots, celery, and shiitakes over a medium low flame until they release their liquids and soften.
If the mix dries, add a splash of water or veggie broth, or dry vermouth.
Add the garlic, leek, and sage and cook for a minute or two. Then add the tomatoes, breaking them up with a wooden spoon.
Cover, continue to cook on a low simmer for 3 hours (more if you like). The flavor will intensify and only improve. The color will deepen to a dark red. Turn off flame and season with pepper, and aka (red) miso as an alternative to salt if you like.
Make the Pasta Dough
Combine the flours and turmeric in a food processor. Pulse to blend. Drain the silken tofu well and add. Run for 1-2 minutes or until a ball of dough gathers in the food processor bowl.
Knead the dough on a board for 10 minutes, using a bench scraper to scrape up any dough that adheres to the board as you go. If the dough is sticky, add a teaspoon or so of flour but go slowly. If it is too stiff to easily knead, add 1-2 teaspoons of water. When you are done kneading, the dough should be very smooth and as soft as an earlobe. Shape into a ball, cover well with plastic wrap and rest the dough for at least 30 minutes. If you make a few hours in advance, double wrap in plastic wrap and then a zip-lock bag.
Prepare the Filling
Remove the loose outer papery skins of the garlic head and roast it intact for 30 minutes in a 400°F/204°C oven. Cool and peel four large cloves. (Reserve the remaining garlic for other dishes.)
To make the porcini powder, grind several dried slices of porcini in a coffee or spice grinder.
Boil the potatoes in a large pot of water until a fork penetrates with a little resistance. While still hot, rice them into a mixing bowl.
Using a mezzaluna or chef knife, finely mince the fresh herbs with the roasted garlic cloves. Add the mix to the bowl, together with the tomato paste.
Stir in the black pepper, nutritional yeast, and porcini powder. Now stir in the shiro miso powder or paste. Taste and adjust the seasonings as you like.
Make the Tortelli
Using the bench scraper, divide the dough in 4 even pieces (you can use the scale for accuracy). Take one piece and keep the others well wrapped in plastic to prevent drying.
Flatten the dough with your hands slightly, sprinkle with atta flour only if it feels too moist or sticky. Mill it on the widest (lowest) setting. Fold in half and repeat numerous times until it becomes uniform and smooth. Laminating the dough by repeated folding and rolling increases its suppleness and refines its texture. This can take from 5-10 passes through the rollers. Mill the dough to extend to the full width of the rollers to get the widest sheets (and therefore, the biggest tortelli) possible.
Put through the rollers now through the finer settings: Pass the dough once through setting #2, then #3 and for tortelli, continue through setting #5. With each progressive setting, the dough will flatten and lengthen considerably. As it becomes unmanageably long, cut it in half and work each piece at a time, keeping the other covered with plastic wrap to prevent drying.
Dust your cutting board with atta flour and transfer the first piece of dough. Distribute your filling in heaping teaspoonfuls, spaced about an inch apart. You should have sufficient width to create two rows of tortelli. Now mill the second sheet and when it is ready, place it carefully and exactly over the first sheet.
Dust the surface of the top sheet with atta flour. Press down gently to seal the dough around the filling, gently expelling the air out the sides. Start by pressing down the middle “aisle”, separating the two rows of filling. If you work slowly you can avoid creases or wrinkles. The dough is so fine and moist, simple pressure from your fingers will suffice to seal your tortelli. Make sure you expel all the air possible around each mound and press firmly to seal each tortello on each side.
Use a pizza wheel or chef knife to cut between each mound and create your 3” square tortelli. Transfer them to a lightly floured large board. Repeat until all your dough is milled and tortelli filled.
Cook the Tortelli
Heat a large pot of water to a low, gentle boil. Add the tortelli. As they cook, they will rise to the top. Fresh pasta cooks very quickly so test frequently for doneness, which may take just a few minutes. Do not overcook. Drain with a large flat skimmer and plate immediately.
Top with your sugo sensa carne and a dusting of nutritional yeast and enjoy every bite!