This is my grandmother, Dora [Barbaresi] Donroe, beaming with what must be her first child, Margaret Ann, in 1942. The U.S. had been at war with Japan and Germany since the bombing of Pearl Harbor the year before.
Cappellettis are among the top three all-time favorite family recipes, along with crescia and passatellis. Pronounced “cop-LETS” in the dialect Nonni spoke, these are meat-filled tortellini shaped like little hats (that’s what the name means in Italian) and served in chicken soup.
Nonni still makes these filled pastas by the thousands, despite the rheumatoid arthritis that has permanently bent her fingers. She freezes them in big bags and sends them home with me (if I play my cards right) or my dad (if I don’t) along with containers of homemade soup. Her youngest son, Eddie, now in his fifties, has a standing order for shipments of cappellettis and crescia to be sent to him from Connecticut to Washington State several times a year. Although the prognosis for pork traveling through the U.S. postal system is grim at best, he still lives to tell a happy tale.
I recently revised this recipe (12/10) to make half the filling and double the pasta so you end up with about the right amount of each. That recipe can be found here.
For the filling:
3 Tbsp. oil
2 lb. ground lean pork
½ cup breadcrumbs
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese (or more)
Pinch of nutmeg
Salt and black pepper to taste
For the dough:
2 cups flour
1 egg (sometimes 2)
Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat. Brown pork until cooked through. Remove pan from heat and mix in breadcrumbs, cheese, eggs, nutmeg, salt, and pepper. Mixture should be thick enough to hold together. If too wet, add more breadcrumbs and/or cheese. Let cool while making dough.
In a large bowl, add flour and make a well in the middle. Crack egg in the center and stir with a fork, gradually scraping in the flour from the perimeter to incorporate. When it gets too thick to stir, turn out onto flour board and knead, adding more flour if necessary. Roll into a cylinder and cut into 2-inch pieces. Put in a lightly oiled bowl and cover to keep from drying out.
Set up pasta machine with rollers open to the widest setting. Run one piece of pasta through the machine. Decrease the number by one and run the pasta through again. Continue decreasing the space between rollers until the pasta is so thin, you can almost see your fingers through it.
Working quickly, place rolled-out pasta on lightly floured surface and cut into 1½-inch squares using a sharp knife. Place one teaspoon of filling in the center of a square and fold into a triangle, corner to corner, pressing on the edges to seal. Bring the two pointy corners toward each other, overlapping slightly, and press to join. They should sit flat like the little hats they are. Lay them in a single layer on a rimmed cookie sheet and cover while filling the rest of the pasta squares. Repeat until all the pasta is used, freezing the pans of completed cappellettis as soon as they are filled. Once the pasta has frozen, you can transfer them to plastic freezer bags. Any remaining filling can be stored in the freezer for future use.
To serve, bring homemade chicken soup to a boil. Add frozen cappellettis (don’t defrost them), stirring occasionally. Let soup come back up to a boil, then turn down heat to a gentle simmer. Cook until al dente (fully cooked but still firm) about 7 minutes.
Dora [Barbaresi] Donroe
New Haven, Connecticut
Nonni's freshly made cappellettis. Photo by Trish Barker.
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