Smokin' Duck

Tortellini was first written about by a 15th-century personal chef to a patriarch in Aquileia, an ancient urban center in the far northeast corner of Italy. The once vivacious village of traders and artisans was located on fertile land that produced abundant wheat, the main ingredient in pasta. The tradition continues at Michelangelo's (307 Westheimer, 713-524-1085), which serves the sumptuous tortellini di Anetra ($18.95), a combination of duck, cheese, fruit and, of course, airy fists of handmade tortellini. First, the chef smokes a duck with orange juice, rosemary, thyme, garlic, fresh pepper and olive oil until tender. After stripping the meat from the bones, he combines it with cooked spinach and encases the mixture in the pasta. When the rose petal-bedecked dish comes to the table, the tortellini has been liberally baptized with a taste bud-popping Gorgonzola sauce and dabbed with a fresh raspberry reduction. If this entrée were Italian opera, you'd buy tickets to the next performance on your way out from the first.

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