For Lent this year I considered saying "basta" to pasta in an attempt to eat more vegetables and protein. Thank God I had a change of heart, because it seems like every day I run into another scrumptious macaroni dish. My penchant for stuffed pasta, in combination with my fascination with ring-shaped foods, means I naturally gravitate toward tortellini (and their more buxom cousin tortelloni). Here are five to try in Houston:
5. Tortellini al sugo rosa (Giacomo's Cibo e Vino). There are many things to love about Giacomo's, such as the inventive array of cicchetti and the succulent secondi, but if you do not sample stuffed homemade pasta during your visit, you have missed out. The meat and cheese tortellini can be dressed with three different sauces (parmesan cream, tomato, and tomato cream), all of which robustly flavorful. The sugo rosa (tomato and cream), however, is my favorite for the way it balances garden flavors with decadent dairy.
4. Tortellini with Roasted Red Pepper Pesto (Papa Mio Italian Cafe). Old-school, Italian-American restaurants like Papa Mio can break the rules in terms of culinary propriety and offer things like a create-your-own pasta option rather than forcing diners into more traditional flavor combinations. Their plump meat or spinach and cheese tortellini go from merely satisfying to snazzy with the addition of some red-pepper pesto. If the mild heat overwhelms you, just request some extra grated cheese.
This story continues on the next page. 3. Tortellini di Pollo e Spinaci (Mia Bella Trattoria). You don't have to worry about the meat course if you order Mia Bella's tortellini, hearty whole-wheat noodle rings stuffed with three different cheeses and mixed with spinach and sautéed chicken breast. All components are liberally coated in a tomato basil cream sauce, which makes it sufficiently rich, and you probably should take some home...yet you keep eating until the last noodle is gone.
2. Housemade Tortellini (Trevisio). Haute but humble Trevisio! The label "housemade tortellini" woefully understates the dish's sophisticated symphony of flavors arising from the tortellini stuffed with smoked duck and ricotta, adorned with dried cherries and pistachios and dressed in a white cream sauce. I wish my house made tortellini like that.
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1. Wild Mushroom & Walnut Tortellini (D'Amico's Italian Market Cafe). "Crunch" is not usually a word you want to associate with pasta, except in the case of D'Amico's wild mushroom tortellini. The whimsical addition of walnuts to the interior filling provides a salty, earthy contrast to the sprinkles of creamy ricotta insalata and the piquant white wine lemon butter sauce, as well as creates more complexity in taste texture. Nash D'Amico supposedly sketched out the recipe 30,000 feet above the earth on a flight from California--how's that for a successful lofty ambition?