February 13 – Tortellini Day
You can go to any Italian restaurant in New York (and there are a lot–Yelp lists over 2600 on their site, and those are only the ones with reviews!) and get yourself a big plate of pasta with your choice of sauce. You can even head to the dreaded garden of olives smack dab in the middle of Times Square, brave the inexplicable hordes of tourists, and sit yourself down to a decent pasta meal. But one thing I’ve learned when doing research for this blog is, Italians are serious when it comes to tortellini.
Although there are many versions of stuffed pasta in Italian cuisine, the tortellini has become the most inventive, inspiring chefs to create wraps and stuffings of varied and unique ingredients that surprise, please, and keep the diners coming back for more. It is traditionally meant to be stuffed with a combination of meat and cheese, usually prosciutto and ricotta, and served within a soup or broth, like a Chinese wonton, but nowadays is more commonly found swimming in delicious sauce, either red, white, or otherwise. In the centuries since its creation, tortellini has definitely made a transformation in its composition and the way in which it is enjoyed, and the chefs in New York have definitely embraced that evolution and taken it to a new level.
Everyone and their cable-obsessed mother knows who Mario Batali is. The Food Network veteran has become a household name–if not recognizable by his portly silhouette and bright orange Crocs–and has opened numerous high-class restaurants in New York and the world. One of the first of which is Babbo, an award-winning new spin on traditional Italian cuisine. While there are a few different tortellini dishes on the primi menu (the traditional Italian “first” course, instead of a soup or salad, is pasta), the goat cheese tortellini stands out. And when it’s paired with dried orange and fennel, it brings about a mixture of fresh, artisan flavors you won’t ever get from store-bought ricotta and red sauce. And the fact that Babbo serves it as a true, appetizing primi means you have enough room for all the rest of the foods in a wonderful, full Italian meal–and you don’t feel like your stomach has turned into a tortellini bomb set to explode from one more breadstick. (Put me in front of a never-ending pasta bowl and this is me, totally guilty.)
110 Waverly Pl (between Mac Dougal St & W Washington Sq)
“This casual, two-story, Roman-style trattoria with soft yellow walls and a wood accented bar area serves simple yet sophisticated dishes that use ingredients in surprising ways. Goat-cheese tortellini is paired with dried orange and wild fennel pollen, and linguine with clams and pancetta is spiced with hot chilies.”–Executive Travel Magazine
Some reviews from Yelp.com:
“For our primi, my friend and I each got the goat cheese tortellini. It was recommended in a review, and we were pleased. The pasta looked more like a ravioli, but had the folds of a tortellini. It was perfectly al dente, and the goat cheese was creamy and rich. Dried orange and wild pollen fennel accompanied it and provided a fresh contrast to the butter and cheese…a delightful start.”–Christy S.
“As a primi, we decided to get the goat cheese tortelloni. This might’ve been the highlight of the meal. The handmade tortelloni was unbelievable- firm yet not too al dente, which I’m pretty picky about. The cheese was tangy and delicious. Plus, the dried orange and fennel pollen gave it an extra level of flavor, especially the orange.”–James S.
Another famous chef–though not often seen on your TV screen–is Michael White, carving a name for himself in New York City with Osteria Morini. The high-end osteria serves Northen Italian cuisine, which is a little richer than typical Italian food and doesn’t rely so heavily on tomato and basil-based dishes. Like all self-respecting authentic Italian restaurants, Osteria Morini makes all homemade pasta, and their tortellini is no different: stuffed with veal and mortadella cheese, you won’t be able to find anything like this pasta in Trader Joe’s. And unlike the light orange and fennel flavors complementing Babbo’s tortellini, this dish sits in a heavy, rich duck liver sauce, allowing you to taste and savor each bite. With a primi like this, it’s evident that Osteria Morini does not hold back on richness or flavor.
218 Lafayette St (between Kenmare St & Spring St)
“The ragus at are great, but the pastas with cream-based sauces are the real show-stoppers at Osteria Mornini. And this is perhaps the best one: delicate pasta triangles stuffed with veal and mortadella, bathed in a rich duck liver sauce. Not for the faint of heart.”–Eater.com
“Stuffed with a classic allspice and nutmeg-spiked veal and mortadella stuffing, the star here is the pasta. Rich and bright yellow with egg yolks, it retains a satisfying chewiness that’s often missing from stuffed pastas. The duck liver cream sauce is assertive without being overtly livery. This was our favorite pasta course.”Serious Eats
Some reviews from Yelp.com:
“I am so picky about pasta and my husbands fresh tortellini with a duck liver cream sauce was incredible. It struck that balance between light and rich with the right amount of sauce and the pasta was eggy and fresh with a perfect toothsome bite.”–Vanessa P.
Finally, you can have your fine Italian cheeses, you can make duck liver cream sauces run through the streets, but nothing says decadent like lobster. Hearth restaurant in the East Village makes a signature lobster dish served with lobster-stuffed tortellini. If they could figure out any additional ways to stuff lobster into this dish, they would have. But it comes out tasting light yet decadent, and, like the name of the restaurant suggests, comforting and warm. It’s expensive and certainly high-end, but it feels like home.
403 E 12th St (between 1st Ave & Avenue A)
Some reviews from Yelp.com:
“The tasting began with a fabulous poached lobster with lobster tortellini – this was by far my favorite dish – what a way to start. The lobster was tender and cooked to perfection, while the tortellini was like nothing I’ve ever put in my mouth!! The pasta was thin and delicate, not unlike a wonton skin, and the filling was heavenly.”–Joan H.
Do you know of a restaurant that pushes the tortellini envelope and would like to rave about it yourself? Let us know about it in the comments!