PASTA, FOR DINNER
Elevating cheese tortellini: finally a dish that (kids! adults! vegetarians! omnivores!) everyone can agree on.
I’m back with a quick recipe for weeknights, that will serve you through until summer. I don't always focus on dinner here—in the newslettr and my own home. Those who know me know I LOVE making/cooking/eating breakfast—and lunches, treats, and entertaining recipes are also my sweet spot. But come spring, I’m extra willing to embrace dinner with care—thanks to a bursting garden and ample options at the Farmer’s Market or CSA.
More and more lately, I pull out my very first book—The Newlywed Cookbook. I get more notes from readers about this book than all of them combined—it is loaded with classics like roast chicken, not-your-mama’s brownies, cast-iron-skillet steak, a fool-proof cornbread that is still the only one I ever make—plus the 1,000 Layer Chocolate Chip Cookies that landed me on the Martha Stewart Show (episode 138!).
I got a lot of things in my first book right (it has sold over 250,000 copies and is still in print), so lately, instead of thinking about what I’d do differently now, I lean into appreciating the innate love of and curiosity for cooking and feeding others that peppered every page.
When I wrote this book, I was a newlywed and had time for things like making homemade gnocchi—which is never the wrong answer. It was the first pasta I learned to make from scratch, and the recipe in my book is easy; If you have the time, make it. In my current life, cheese tortellini fills the same elevated comfort-food bucket in about a quarter of the time.
My kids (ok, everyone in my house) love cheese tortellini and it lasts forever in the fridge, so I almost always have some around. Like every human, I get lazy and occasionally serve tortellini with jarred (Rao’s or Thrive Market) marinara or coated in butter and salt—the mac-and-cheese of my adult life. But it shines when treated like any other short pasta—especially like gnocchi—the way a restaurant chef would: with whatever is fresh and in season in the market now.
Inspired by my first book, I gave this week’s tortellini the newlywed treatment: with sauteed aromatics—garlic, shallot, and scallion (yes, double up here!), plus green beans, small and bite-sized. Add in cooked tortellini, butter, and oil, and saute until a bit crispy. This needs flaky Maldon or fleur de sel (sea salt), and plenty of fresh herbs for the finish. Make it with thyme and parsley (the thyme + butter combo works magic on most pasta, meat, or fish); basil and dill would work, too.
Serve the whole thing warm with toasted bread. Olive ciabatta is a house favorite. If friends were coming, I’d pull out a few styles of tinned fish (we love Tonnino jarred tuna and everything from Lata, out of Spain), marinated artichokes, plump green olives, and other antipasti. This is easy-breezy elevated—the way things should feel right now, with summer nearing and so many adventures to plan.
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TORTELLINI WITH SCALLION, SHALLOTS, AND SPRING VEGETABLES
This is a moment to celebrate whatever spring/summer veg is calling to you at the market—beans, snap peas, asparagus, or even buttery caramelized radish. The vegetables are elevated with a slow sweating of aromatics first—garlic, scallion, and shallot (but small onions or ramps will work, too). But to really make this outstanding, the salt and herb finish are not to be skipped.
Fine sea salt (for seasoning the water)
12 oz (340 g) cheese tortellini (or other short, chunky pasta)
4 tablespoons high-quality extra virgin olive oil, plus for drizzling
4 cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
1 large shallot, peeled and thinly sliced
4 scallions, trimmed and thinly sliced
4 handfuls (or cups) of green beans, snap peas, English peas, or asparagus, trimmed and cut into bite-sized pieces
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
Flaky sea salt (such as Maldon)
Freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup freshly chopped thyme and parsley (or sub dill or basil, or a combination)
freshly grated Parmesan, for sprinkling, if desired
Fill a medium pot with fresh, salted water (I use fine sea salt, but kosher or iodized works, too); bring to a boil.
Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat and fry the garlic, shallots, and scallions, stirring occasionally until golden brown and mostly soft, with some crisp edges, 4 to 6 minutes. Add the trimmed vegetables to the pan and continue cooking until crisp-tender and bright green, 2 to 4 minutes, depending on the size.
Meanwhile, drop the tortellini into the boiling water and cook according to the package directions (time will vary based on brand and style). Drain, reserving 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking liquid.
Add the drained pasta to the vegetables, along with the butter; continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the ravioli crisps lightly, the butter is melted, and every noodle is coated in flavor. Add in the pasta water, 1 to 2 tablespoons at a time, as needed to create a saucy finish. Remove from the heat, sprinkle with Maldon, pepper, and herb; toss to coat. Serve warm, with grated Parmesan, if desired.
I’m missing the Old World, a feeling you might be picking up on in these images. I bought these lovely antique plates on a trip to Portugal last year—the one thing I allowed myself to bring back, packed between spring sweaters with a wish and a prayer. If you’re feeling a pull across the pond, too—here are some stories you might enjoy and some more dreamy pasta for your plate.
CORZETTI STAMPATI, and old and regal pasta from genoa from