Things go in and out of fashion in all facets of human life. Music, Clothing, Styles, FOOD, etc. Some dishes have a white hot flash in the pan #hashtagged Social Media celebrity status life for a few months, years, decades while others are looked back on with a scratch of the head or maybe a sentimental hug. Where do I place this dish that was one of the most popular ItalianAmerican restaurant dishes in the late 70’s-early 80’s? TORTELLINI DELLA NONNA. That era boasted a sauce called DELLA NONNA, which in true Italian fashion can point to 1000 things at the same time. None of which are even closely related but the name is a term of endearment given by a cook to a dish when it evokes feelings of one’s Nonna, or Grandmother. The French term many dishes “Gran Mere” in the same way. Something your Grandmother made, or close to it, however in my case, My Grandmothers were both in Italy (one in Avellino and one in Sicily). There was no cream saucy pasta being made in their kitchens. That was restaurant food or the food of Central and Northern Italy. To them, those regions were the same as saying “Austria, Norway, or the North Pole”. Even the use of Tortellini was unheard of in my family’s kitchens. This was a pasta introduced to the ItalianAmericans of southern Italian ancestry via the American Italian restaurant. Without those “Northern Italian” restaurants introducing these foods and dishes from Italy’s Central and Northern regions unless we travelled there, we’d be unaware of the complete treasures of the full Italian landscape. So much food, So little time!! During those years I mentioned one could order these dishes and recipes would be posted in magazines and in cookbooks or written down on a napkin by a cook in a restaurant to diners interested in making the dish at home. I’m not sure when or how my wife Debi got this recipe. Did I give it to her? I can’t take credit for that. She’s not sure but maybe one day we’ll both remember. She loved the dish, although prefers it with Cappellini. Me? I prefer it with Tortellini. I feel it just married best with that. She enjoys Cappellini with everything. After 42 years with her I’m not going to change her pasta eating habits no matter how hard I’ve tried. There she is, our little Della Nonna Sauce maker with our two daughters. So consider this recipe a compromise, like any good marriage. Her sauce with my pasta choice. I hope you love her recipe for Della Nonna Sauce as much as I love her….and her sauce.
Time: about 1 hour Serves: 4
1 lb. Cheese or Cheese and Spinach Tortellini
2 1/2 TBS. UNSALTED BUTTER
8 OZ. PROSCIUTTO COTTO (COOKED SLICING HAM), DICED SMALL
1 LARGE FINELY DICED SHALLOT
1/8 CUP VERMOUTH
1 1/2 CUPS HEAVY CREAM, ORGANIC WOULD BE OPTIMAL
1 CUP FROZEN PEAS
3 FRESH BASIL LEAVES
KOSHER SALT, FRESH GROUND BLACK PEPPER
3/4 CUP GRATED PARMIGIANO-REGGIANO OR ASIAGO, GRATE IT FINELY
EXTRA PARMIGIANO/ASIAGO FOR TOPPING
1 LB. TORTELLINI OR TORTELLONI FILLED WITH SPINACH AND RICOTTA OR PROSCIUTTO, COOK TILL AL DENTE.
Start with melting the butter in a wide high sided heavy pan/skillet. Add the shallots and season with some salt and pepper. Do not let them brown, takes about 2 minutes. Now add the ham and cook for about 3 minutes, moving the meat around in the pan. Add the wine and let this cook for 5 minutes. Now add the heavy cream and gently stir until all is mixed. Add a few basil leaves and the peas.
Let this simmer for 20 minutes stirring frequently. The sauce “transitions” from a loose liquid into a thicker liquid. KEEP STIRRING!! Now add the tortellini and coat well. Add the grated Parmigiano and blend it into the pasta. Taste. If it needs more seasoning, add more cheese, or more salt (never both) and a nice grinding of the pepper. Blend. How does that look????? And it tastes even better. Now here’s my style of saucing this pasta, there will not be a pool of sauce in the bottom of the bowl. I make this like these pastas are made in Italy. With a wonderful coating of the sauce on the pasta, not enough for the pasta to go swimming. If you like more “sauce” in your bowl, increase the Heavy cream to 2 full cups. So if you want my wife to cook for you, this is basically her recipe with a few of my notes thrown in. Make no mistake, I’m the daily cook in the house, she had zero interest in cooking. Which is another reason why we are together for so long, the kitchen is mine. LOL. When she does decide to cook I enjoy my plate of Tortellini and she enjoys her Angel Hair. All the ingredients in this dish work well together, like any good marriage. Happy Cooking.