The View from My Kitchen Island: Pasta on My Mind

In 1982, after two years of making pre-dawn 140-plus-mile-round-trip shopping forays from rural Loudoun County, Virginia to the wholesale food vendors in Washington DC and surrounds, my chief purveyor cut me a deal. If I placed all my orders through him, he would make the rounds twice a week and pick-up all the fresh foods and specialty items I could not get from the local orchards, trout farms, and truck gardens.

Tuesday and Friday afternoons became our deliveries of abundance: 3 lb wheels of hand-shaped Vermont White Cheddar, 10 lb tubs of cleanly filleted Sole, briny and fresh, 9 lb cans of imported Roland mustard, 40 lbs of the freshest chicken packed in ice, ready to be skinned, or boned, or sliced, or marinated, veal legs awaiting dismantling, ropes of the best Italian sausage redolent of fennel seed from Mangialardos Italian Market, tortillas still warm from the press and griddle, and fresh pasta in all shapes and sizes, stuffed and unstuffed, cut from steel dies imported from Italy, fragrant with fresh herbs, yellow with egg yolks. No other restaurants in the area served fresh pasta at that time.

Our signature pasta special became a regular feature, remaining on the menu for the next four years: Tortellini Alla Panna. The first pasta company went out of business, but our intrepid vendor, Rodney, found another source: Yankee Noodle Dandy. A new start-up that I would later learn employed my husband, David, just a few years out of culinary school. David and I met when he came as the date of a dear friend (for whom I would later work) on the last Sunday brunch on the last day that we owned The Purcellville Inn.

Yankee Noodle Dandy did not survive long after we sold our restaurant. They made a business decision to launch a line of fresh pasta into grocery stores, an idea poorly marketed by the company and poorly promoted on the sellers’ end. Home cooks did not know how to store it, cook it, serve it. It was an idea before its time. With limited shelf-life, semi-truck-loads of wasted products drove the company bankrupt.

And that brought my now-husband full circle into my life: he showed up at a corporate Christmas party my-before-mentioned friend contracted to cater. I was the executive chef of her company, Festival Catering. David arrived as a contract worker, his tuxedo bag slung over his shoulder, a bow-tie tucked loosely under his collar.

Yes, we offered what is known in the catering world as the ubiquitous “Fresh Pasta Station,” a cook-to-order feature at the event. And, yes, we served tortellini.

Last night, following a week of delicious, but labor-intensive meal preparations, I decided on a simple pasta and salad dinner. The freezer released a bag of frozen cheese-stuffed tortelloni, and we revisited what remains a favorite dish with a few added tweaks. Check out the attached recipe and let me know how you like it. I added some No-Recipe Recipe suggestions and look forward to hearing about your variations.

I should mention that I do not write this blog for self-promotion or product promotion purposes. But I suggest particular foodstuffs or brands that we enjoy. I receive no economic benefit.

That said, I do want to give a shout out to a friend who also enjoys cooking: Suzannah Gail Collins. A few years ago, she shipped us an unexpected gift box full of wonderfulness from Katz Farms in Napa Valley, California. We have become big fans. In this recipe and the last one I posted, I mentioned using their excellent Zinfandel Wine Vinegar. You won’t be unhappy if you order any of their bottles of vinegar.

Tortelloni Alla Panna with Shrimp


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s