My parents have made this tortellini salad for as long as I can remember. Cooked tortellini, crisped up in a skillet with some veggies, the obligatory pork, and topped with parmesan cheese. Yum.
My brother recently made this dish for the first time, and said it just didn't turn out the same - my father told him he didn't use the secret ingredient - ground fennel! I immediately shuddered when I heard that's what made the salad taste so good. I hate fennel. With a passion. It was (I thought) banned from my house. I hate fennel so much that I don't eat Italian sausage too often, because of those horrible little seeds that crazy people like to put in their sausages. Ick.
But...apparently when fennel is ground to a powder, it's completely different. I raided my spices, and found a little baggie of fennel seeds. How the heck did they get there? I swear I didn't buy them. I ground some up. Yeah, it smelled like licorice. I almost didn't put the powder in the salad. But I persevered, trusting in the wisdom of my parents, and the fact that I had eaten it before, fennel and all, and loved it.
I've given the quantities that I used - if there's no number by the ingredient, just add to taste.
Sautéed Tortellini SaladWhen I told Hubby I was going to make this dish, he didn't sound too enthusiastic. As a matter of fact, after dinner he told me that when I first explained the dish, he thought it "didn't sound good at all" and that while I was cooking, he was already making plans to get something out.
1 bag small tortellini, any flavor
1 onion, sliced (next time I'd probably add a 2nd small onion)
~<1/4 c pancetta, sopressata, bacon, etc., diced small
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/4-1/2 teaspoon fennel powder
red pepper flakes
Cook the tortellini according to package directions, but subtract a couple minutes from the boiling time.
Caramelize the onions, along with the chopped cured pork, in some olive oil mixed with butter, until the onions are brown and silky. Or not that brown, if you prefer them that way.
Raise the heat, and add the garlic, carrots and cooked tortellini. Mix it up, then let it sit undisturbed for a bit to get some crusty parts on the pasta. Sprinkle with the fennel, some parmesan, a lot of black pepper, and some red pepper flakes if you wish. Toss it around, then let sit some more. Keep doing this until the carrots are cooked and the pasta has yummy brown spots, about 5-10 minutes.
You can add a little pasta water to thicken the "sauce" if desired - the water, combined with the parmesan, gives a lovely coating to the pasta. You can also add some additional olive oil or butter.
Throw in the peas at the last minute, and let heat through. Serve with more parmesan & pepper flakes.
But...the man needs to learn to just shut up and eat what I cook him, because after his first bite, he couldn't stop raving about it. He even packed the leftovers and took them to work for lunch the next day. (That rarely happens.) And he did the dishes.