Thursday, December 17, 2015

A Cappelletti Christmas

It is warm and spring like outside, but when I open the side door and step into the kitchen, suddenly it is Christmas.

Flour dust covers the table, one end of which supports a well-used pasta stretcher. Stretched pasta, waiting to be cut, hangs from old broom handles suspended between the backs of two kitchen chairs.

There’s a maple cutting board on the table where lengths of pasta are cut into small squares. And off to one side, the most certain sign that Christmas is almost here: plump little pasta pieces that have been shaped into the form of tiny hats.

At our house these little hats – cappelletti – are as much a part of Christmas as a decorated evergreen, or stockings hung by the chimney with care.

Cappelletti are small pieces of pasta filled with meat and are cooked in a hearty chicken broth. They are a traditional Christmas Day dish in many Italian households.

My introduction to cappelletti was in my future mother-in-law’s house in Sault Ste. Marie’s Little Italy many years ago. It was love at first sight, and there has not been a Christmas without cappelletti since.

Cappelletti are said to have been created first in the Emilia-Romagna region of northern Italy. The hat shape, some references say, originated from the pointed hats that Spanish soldiers wore when they invaded Italy in the seventeenth century.

These pasta delicacies can be bought, but in our house they are always made from scratch, totally by hand. They are a labour of love.

I always watch Christmas cappelletti production with great interest, but never become actively involved. A kitchen is the last place anyone wants me messing about.

I watch as a ball of homemade pasta is cut into small chunks. Each chunk is fed into the pasta stretcher to produce a long narrow strip that is laid out and cut with a knife into pieces roughly 1 ¼ by 1 ¼ inches.

A little fingertip dab of meat filling is placed on each piece of pasta. The filling  consists of ground chicken, nutmeg, ground lemon rind, an egg and Romano cheese. You can use ground turkey, veal, or pork, or a mixture of all. Never go light on the lemon!

Then comes the hard part. The pasta is folded over to have two corners touch and form a triangle. The seams are pressed together. Then the bottom left and bottom right points of the triangle are brought together and through some upward manipulation with the thumbs and pointer fingers are folded into a little hat.

No one should take this as a recipe. I’m just an observer trying to do a little reporting here. If you want a real recipe instead of a description, check with Google.

My wife Diane will make as many of 2,000 of these little hats for the Christmas season. When the entire family is here we will eat as many as 800 at Christmas dinner. Takeaway sacks and New Year’s dinner take care of the rest.

That sounds like a lot, but our cappelletti are small. Three or four fit on a soup spoon.

The only downside to cappelletti is you want to eat too many, leaving little room for the Christmas turkey. But hey, you can have turkey any day.


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