Last week I received an email from Foodbuzz about a recipe contest using Barilla Tortellini. My favorite pasta is Barilla so I was excited to give it ago. I also knew exactly what I wanted to create, No Machine Pesto over Tortellini. It’s a recipe I’ve made once before for my husband and he really liked it.
The recipe was inspired by my husbands love for this dish. He has shared the story of his favorite meal in Italy, pesto tortellini, since the first day I met him. I asked him to write the story up to share with all of you.
It was the final night of our marathon 31-day trek from London to Rome. Our passports were full of stamps, our cameras full of memories, and our backpacks full of dirty clothes and souvenirs.
The manager of last night’s hostel had given us directions to Fiumicino Airport, and after a day of trekking through piazzas, dashing up the Spanish Steps, and marvelling at the Colosseum, we found ourselves with a couple hours to burn before we needed to jump on the train to catch our midnight flight to the States.
I don’t remember the name of the little restaurant we ducked into that evening, but I remember the smell and the way the flickering light of candles threw shadows against the stucco walls and ceiling.
Growing up, pasta meant spaghetti and tomato sauce from a can. If my parents were feeling extravagant, they’d buy the sauce in a bottle and maybe add some Cabernet to it.
So though I didn’t consider it as risky as ordering paella in Valencia or escargot in Paris, tortellini with pesto was an entirely new experience.
I still remember my dismay as the bowl of hand-formed pasta was placed in front of me. The pasta was uniformly beige, not the riot of color promised by American commercials for “exotic” pasta. The bowl was also on the small side. But worst of all, the pesto was a single, tiny sphere of green in the very center of the plate.
At home, I applied sauce to my pasta by the quart. By that measure, this tablespoon of herbs would barely suffice to cover a single piece of tortellini.
Nonetheless I counted myself as lucky compared to my friend, who had excitedly identified marinara sauce on the menu only to have her dish arrive covered with shrimp, squid, mussels, and some other, less-identifiable “fruit of the sea”. She was later told that a rough English translation of “marinara” is “sailor-style”.
So I set about spreading the pesto as best I could across the contents of the bowl, disheartened until I took my first bite.
The pesto was incredibly rich and almost sharp in flavor — the mix of garlic and basil and toasted pine nuts as revelatory in smell as they were in taste. The pasta itself had a texture I’ve never been able to replicate at home, and the flavor of the filling was huge despite the tiny amount tucked into each piece of pasta.
I held the memory of that taste all the way home and can still almost taste it know, years later. If we win a trip to Italy, my wife is going to have to consign herself to at least one evening in Rome — as I attempt to retrace my steps and find that small, candle-lit room and the most amazing Italian meal I’ve ever had.