Tortellini with Pancetta, Peas, and Cream
Aside from this dish being a sure-fire way to fill up Willa and Phoebe’s bellies (they know it as “ring pasta” and it often ties as a favorite along with Bucatini all’Amatriciana) , it also stirs up some strong memories for me. As a latchkey kid growing up on Long Island, I would try to help out by cooking dinner every once in a while. Before this sounds like a significant tooting of horn, let me clarify: I boiled some frozen tortellini. The exact recipe was cooking the tortellini in four cups of water with four chicken bouillon cubes. Mmmmm, salt.
After a while I graduated to making the Tortellini Alfredo recipe from the back of the frozen tortellini package. It wasn’t quite the real deal: there was the copious amounts of butter and Parmesan cheese required for Alfredo Sauce, but it also included egg yolk and heavy cream (as if it wasn’t caloric enough). Mastering the recipe instilled some pride in 12-year-old-me, and is something I think of as an early sign of what would later become my first profession out of college.
Over the years this recipe has morphed into a combination of several things. First was that recipe from the back of the tortellini package, followed by the discovery of the “Tortellini alla Panna” dish at my favorite Italian restaurant from my youth, which included peas and prosciutto. As I got older, a lust for a bacon-fied version of Alfredo, the classic Carbonara sauce, took over. And finally, the countless gallons of white-wine cream sauces cooked over the years in restaurants became its own inspiration. Lately I’ve tried to tone it all down by making a “lighter” version of the sauce, but I won’t mislead: this is still comfort food through and through. If you think the peas are for much more than color and small burst of sweetness in each bite, then you have fallen completely for the deception.
- 1 lb. cheese tortellini*
- 1 Tbsp. olive oil (optional)
- 4 oz. pancetta, medium dice (if buying from a deli counter, ask for four or five 1/8" slices and cut into cubes)
- 1 shallot, minced
- 1/4 c. dry white wine
- 1 c. heavy cream
- 1 c. petite green peas (I use frozen)
- Salt & fresh ground black pepper, to taste
- 1/2 c. grated Parmesan cheese
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil, and add a good amount of salt.
- Place a large sauté pan over medium heat. If you have particularly lean pancetta, add the olive oil; otherwise, cook the pancetta until all the fat is rendered and it's crispy. Remove the pancetta with a slotted spoon and reserve. Add the shallots and continue cooking and stirring for 3 to 4 minutes. Add the wine and scrape any brown bits from the bottom and sides of the pan as it cooks off. Add the heavy cream and stir.
- Drop your tortellini into the pot after adding the cream. They usually need to cook around 10 minutes from when they start to float. Stir the pot every so often, making sure the tortellini aren't clumping together.
- While the tortellini are cooking, allow the sauce to come to a simmer and carefully let it reduce, stirring occasionally, until thick. Don't cook the sauce too much or too rapidly, otherwise the cream will break. Once the sauce has thickened you can remove the pan from heat. Add the peas, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Stir the reserved pancetta back into the sauce.
- Before removing the tortellini from the water, reserve a few ladles of water to add into the sauce when it's finished. Or if your timing is right, you can add a two ladles of water to the sauce right now. (This is where the "lighter" version of this sauce comes into play.) Drain the tortellini into a colander, then add the tortellini into the sauce to coat. Add 1/4 c. of the Parmesan cheese to the pan and stir until combined. Serve the tortellini in bowls and top each portion with the remaining parmesan cheese.
- * I buy the tortellini fresh-frozen from an Italian specialty store, but any cheese tortellini will do. The girls appreciate the tri-color tortellini, though we have had eras where one would only eat the green ones and the other would only eat the red ones.
- You can definitely substitute many other bacon-like things for this recipe: good-old American bacon, prosciutto, and speck, to name a few.