Cream Sauced pasta… it’s one of those dishes that will either rock your world or make you feel like you need to take a bottle of Tums or a glass of Brioschi because it was so heavy and fatty. I’m going to work with you here and give you a simple way to make a cream sauce that pairs best with a fresh pasta, either one that you’ve made yourself or one from a good pasta store or brand. Tortellini goes great with a cream sauce, but I think Tortelloni, which is Tortellini’s slightly bigger cousin, is an even better choice. You can find both of these
pasta in your fresh pasta section or in the dried. These filled pastas are one of the glories of the region in Northern Italy known as EMILIA-ROMAGNA. It is said they were invented there. This was not a pasta I grew up on, it was something that was seen in Restaurants or catering halls. Then one day it became popular in the Italian-American kitchen. It’s fillings of ground meats like veal, beef, pork, or Prosciutto mixed with nutmeg, ricotta, parmigiano, black pepper turn a plate of it into a whole meal. Just have a salad or sauteed greens on the side and your meal is done.
On a trip to Florence, which is in Tuscany but where most restaurants serve a tortelloni, usually filled with spinach and the other usual suspects, I marveled at a Panna (Italian for heavy cream, and theirs is definitely incomprable) sauce on a spinach and cheese tortelloni dish my wife had ordered. Cream is heavy, no getting around that, but this was markedly different…maybe even a little light, or lighter than the usual. I asked the waiter to ask the chef and the chef was kind enough to tell me that it’s simply a reduced cream flavored with a hint of sage, then the al dente Tortelloni is tossed into a pan with the slightest bit of melted butter…grated parmigiano-reggiano added, then enough of the reduced cream to gently coat (NOT SMOTHER) the tortelloni, mix, and then let it sit for about five minutes before serving. It’s been my go-to for fresh pasta in cream sauce ever since. What a difference!
The nasty new habit of some pasta being packed in 12 oz bags is awfully annoying, especially if you are cooking for more than 3 people. However, tonight I cooked for 3, so the 12 oz bag was fine.
This was the brand I used, Giovanni Rana, Tortelloni filled with Prosciutto and Ricotta. Sounds good right? They were fantastic. Before you start cooking the pasta water, begin with 1/4 cup ORGANIC heavy cream…ok…have I fallen off the wagon and started using Organic food only? No, although they are wonderful. I have found a taste difference in Organic and regular U.S. heavy creams when making this dish. Italian “Panna” if found here in the states is perfect, but the closest I’ve tasted here is when I use the organic creams. Fork up the additional 1.00 or so, you’ll be very happy. Add the 1/4 cup to a pot which you will bring just to the boiling point but careful not to let it boil at all..small bubbles will form around the sides, then reduce to medium/low and add ONE fresh sage leaf…see that.? I said one. Sage is a powerful herb which can break a dish if used with a heavy hand. ONE SAGE LEAF…i repeat. and it must be a fresh one. Do not add any salt at this time, we are going to reduce the cream by 1/2 and at that point, it will be salted.
It is important to gently stir the cream frequently. This is a simple recipe that just needs some care… You have a nice protective case for your iPhone right? Take care of this cream with the same thoughfulness! While the cream is reducing cook till al dente 12 oz of Tortelloni or Tortellini of your choice. With the fresh it’s only about a 3-4 minute process..DON’T OVER COOK.
Melt only about 3 tbs of unsalted butter in a wide pan over low/medium heat…drain the pasta well, then gently add it to the pan of butter. Add a pinch of salt, a few grindings of black pepper, and 4 tablespoons of freshly grated PARMIGIANO-REGGIANO (that’s right, my usual world of everything Pecorino does not include this dish, Parmigiano is infintely better for it) and gently mix well. Add a pinch of salt to your reduced cream, taste, adding more salt if you like, but careful…better to gently salt it then after you pour it over the pasta and mix it, taste again. The cheese on the pasta may balance it out. After you’ve poured the sage infused cream over this pasta and it’s all mixed in let it sit for about 5 minutes. Don’t pour that sauce all at once either, you do not want to have pools of cream at the bottom of this dish. Serve, feed 3, double the recipe for 4-6 and hope you have leftovers becuase if you are anything like me, you will be wishing you had it right now at midnight.
Serve each plate with more Parmigiano-Reggiano and black pepper.
By the way, there’s another type of Panna used in Italy and it comes in a little box, it’s called PANNA DELLA CUCINA, a cream for cooking. I picked this up over the weekend in Calandra’s Cheese on Arthur Avenue, the LittleItaly section of the Bronx, NYC.
It’s really hard to find but if you do you barely have to heat it through as it’s very concentrated. It resembles sour cream or creme fraiche but it’s not cultured. No tang or acidity, it’s smooth and milky tasting. If you find them, it’s SO authentic in the recipe since it comes directly from Italy. But Good Luck with that for the most part. I think you’ll be very happy with the Organic cream.
Scratching your head over Rana’s Tortelloni? Don’t fret. Use any good Tortellini brand you like. Are the Tortelloni better? I say yes because they are bigger. Does it have to be Rana’s ? No, but they are available in Supermarkets now. If there is a place that makes their own near you that’s your best bet.