Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Sautéed Tortellini Salad

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 Salad

1 bag small tortellini, any flavor
olive oil
1 onion, sliced (next time I'd probably add a 2nd small onion)
~<1/4 c pancetta, sopressata, bacon, etc., diced small
carrots, julienned
frozen peas
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/4-1/2 teaspoon fennel powder
parmesan cheese
red pepper flakes
black pepper

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.
When 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.

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.


Pam said...

I LOVE pan-fried pasta! I'll definitely have to give this a try!

Vicki said...

Hey Pam - Please do! But don't leave out the no-longer-secret ingredient :)

Pam said...

Don't worry - I love fennel!

Bob said...

That sounds mad good, I've never had tortellini salad before. I'm not a fennel fan either, Italian sausage is the only thing I like it in and only if there isn't too much. But I'll try almost anything once. ;)

Vicki said...

Hi Bob - Try this. You'll like it. You don't even taste the fennel, but it's not the same if it's missing :)

melissa said...

Honestly that does sounds really good. I have a package of fennel seeds I can use and I would probably toss in Italian sausage as well.

Isn't it funny, the husband thing? It's like "just trust me, already!" :)

Betts said...

I didn't know you could fry pasta!

Vicki said...

Hey Melissa - Problem is, sometimes I do make stuff that sucks :)

Hi Betts - Yes you can, and it's delicious!

[eatingclub] vancouver || js said...

You've convinced me: I have to try ground fennel now!

Desco said...

Dad's wrong. I did use the ground fennel, although I probably didn't add enough, but it's the "obligatory pork" that I had to leave out. (girlfriend's a vegetarian--booo) I really think it's a combination of the pork fat, fennel, and parmesan that gives it the characteristic flavor from our childhood.

The trick is to find the right amount of ground fennel so you can't taste it but it does seriously influence the dish. Since then we've adapted the recipe, using shelled edamame instead of peas, and it comes out really good...

...god I miss pork...

Vicki said...

Hey JS - It's worth trying, at least in this recipe.

Hey Desco - Edamame? Interesting. And I think I nailed it with the fennel quantity, but I didn't measure how much I used, so I'll probably screw it up next time :)