A few years ago a friend and I made a trip to Italy. We started in Bologna and made a big circle, through Tuscany, and back to Bologna.
We were very fortunate that a friend in the wine business set us up for a visit to a vineyard a little off the beaten path in the Chianti region. Afterwards, we were looking for a place for lunch and driving through the town of Greve-in-Chianti, noticed a small restaurant down a side street--exactly the kind of place I like to find when traveling in Europe.
It was small, and most of the tables were filled with locals. It smelled wonderful. The menu was short but had some very interesting selections. One we saw at another table was a stuffed chicken neck--with the head still attached. We didn't try that.
But one dish I loved was "tortellini in brodo russo." The legend is that the tortellino was inspired by a glimpse of the navel of Venus by an innkeeper who was so enchanted that he modeled a pasta after it. According to tradition, tortellini are served only "in brodo," or in broth. This was in a broth based on Chianti wine, rather than a clear broth, and was wonderful.
I came home and tried to re-create the dish, but had a hard time until I figured out the secret: red onions, which caramelize beautifully and add a depth of flavor and color to the broth.
With the holidays coming up, this would make a lovely first course (as it is served in Italy), or a good weekend supper with just a salad. Be sure you have some crusty bread to soak up the last of the broth.
Tortellini are found in the supermarket with the refrigerated fresh pastas. I used cheese tortellini, as they did, but I think this would be equally good with either chicken or sausage filled ones. Just be sure you use a young and fruity wine for the broth.
TORTELLINI IN BRODO RUSSO
2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 large red onion, cut in half from stem to root ends and thinly sliced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tbsp sugar
2 cups fruity red wine, such as Chianti, sangiovese or beaujolais
6 cups chicken stock
1 package (10-12 ounces) tortellini
Salt and pepper to taste
2 green onions, thinly sliced, for garnish
4 ounce chunk parmigiana reggiano or parmesan cheese
In a Dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium-low heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook, stirring frequently, until the onion is soft and translucent. Sprinkle with the sugar, stir and turn the heat to very low. Continue to cook, stirring often, until the onion is caramelized, about 20 minutes more. Add the red wine and cook until reduced by about half. Add the stock and bring to a boil. Turn down the heat, add the tortellini and simmer until just tender, 7 to 10 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings.
Ladle into flat soup bowls and sprinkle with the green onion. Pass the parmigiana reggiano cheese with a grater for each person to add his own. Serves 6 as a first course, or 4 as a main course.