This dish is a sweet pie crust filled with layers of tortellini pasta, ragu Bolognese, tiny meatballs and cinnamon cream – and that’s not the whole of it! This lavish piece of the past is a well-known feasting food in Emilia-Romagna, especially in Bologna and Romagna. What sets this “pie” apart from others lining the royal banquet tables of old (other than not having any blackbirds flying out of the pie) is the cinnamon-scented custard under the top crust that accents the meaty flavors of the pie’s meaty filling. The key components of this dish can be made in advance so the pie can be quickly assembled and put in the oven to cook.
Renaissance Tortellini Pie with Ragu Bolognese
- Large pot
- Food processor
- Medium saucepan
- Mesh strainer
- Whisk, wooden spoon, rolling pin
- Large bowl
- Large saute pan
- Slotted spoon
- Baking sheet lined with triple layer of paper towels
- 10½ or 11-inch springform pan
- 3½ cups Unbleached all-purpose flour (14 oz)
- 1 cup Cake flour (4 oz)
- ¼ tsp Salt
- ¾ cup Sugar (5 oz)
- ½ tsp Baking powder
- 1 tsp Grated lemon zest
- 11 tbsp Unsalted butter (5½ oz), chilled, cut into chunks
- 3 large Egg yolks
- 5 tbsp Dry white wine
- 4 large Egg yolks
- 5 tbsp Sugar
- 3 tbsp All-purpose unbleached flour
- 1 pinch Salt
- 2 cups Whole milk
- 2 tbsp Unsalted butter
- 1 tsp Ground cinnamon
- 3 oz Italian Parmigiano-Reggiano Cheese, cut into chunks
- 7 tbsp Italian parsley
- 1 clove Garlic, peeled
- 1 medium Onion, coarsely chopped
- 10 oz Chicken thigh, boneless and skinless, cut into chunks
- 6 oz Pancetta, chopped
- 10 oz Ground beef
- 1 tbsp Tomato paste
- ¼ cup Unseasoned dried bread crumbs
- 1 large Egg, beaten
- ¼ tsp Salt
- ¼ tsp Ground pepper
- 4 tbsp Vegetable oil
- ½ cup Water, approximately
- Butter (for greasing pan)
- Sweet pastry
- 2½ lbs Italian meat-filled tortellini (fresh or dried, not frozen)
- 8 quarts Chicken stock
- 2 RECIPES Ragu alla Bolognese (recipe doubled)
- 1½ cup Freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
- 2 large Eggs, beaten
- Tiny meatballs
- Cinnamon custard
- Grapes on stems for garnish
Make Pastry Dough
- Combine dry ingredients and lemon zest in a food processor. Blend 10 seconds. Add chilled butter chunks and pulse until mixture looks like course meal. In a small bowl, beat together egg yolks and wine. Add to processor and pulse until dough begins to collect in clumps. (if dough seems dry, add a tbsp or 2 of the wine and pulse 2 seconds). Pour dough onto a counter, gather into a ball, tightly wrap in plastic wrap, and chill an hour or more in the refrigerator. Bring out 30 minutes before rolling it out.
Make Cinnamon Custard
- Heat a bowl of the milk to scalding in a microwave. In a large saucepan, whisk together egg yolks and sugar until light in color. Beat in flour and salt. Whisk in the hot milk and whisk until it becomes a smooth custard. Set saucepan with custard over medium heat. Stir constantly with a wooden spoon until the custard begins to bubble, about 3 minutes. Keep stirring another 5 minutes at a slow bubble. The custard is done it is thick enough to coat a spatula and not slip off easily. Pour custard through a strainer into a container with lid. Stir in the butter and cinnamon, and let cool. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.
- Preparing – Grate cheese in a food processor. Add parsley, garlic, and onion. Pulse a few times to mince but not puree. Add chopped chicken and pancetta and pulse until quite fine. Add ground beef and process 2 seconds. Pour everything into a bowl and blend in the tomato paste, bread crumbs, egg, salt, and pepper. Roll into 1-inch balls.
- Cooking – Line a baking sheet with a triple layer of paper towels. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Fry half of the meatballs on all sides until they become dark and crispy, about 7-8 minutes. Transfer cooked meatballs with a slotted spoon to the paper towel lined baking pan. Repeat with remaining meatballs. Once cooled, move meatballs to a large bowl. Pour fat from pan and add water to skillet. Bring to a boil and scape bits from bottom. Boil down to about 4 tbsps. Pour over meatballs. Cool, cover, and refrigerate.
Assemble and Bake
- Pastry – One hour before baking, grease springform pan with butter. On a floured surface, roll out ⅔ of the dough to form a ⅛-inch-thick round. Fit it into the springform pan, covering sides and bottom. Roll remaining ⅓ of the dough to an ⅛-inch thick square. Trim to form a 13-inch round. Cover a cookie sheet with foil and lift the round onto it. Add scraps and refrigerate along with springform pan. Chill both for about 30 minutes.
- Tortellini – Bring pot with stock to a fierce boil. Drop in tortellini and cook until al dente (tender with a little resistance), about 3 to 8 minutes. Drain and place in a large bowl. Warm ⅔ ragu alla Bolognese in the microwave and add to the tortellini. Gently fold in half the grated parmesan cheese and ⅔ of the beaten egg.
- Assemble – Move oven grate to the lower third of the oven and preheat oven to 400°F (205°C). Heat covered bowl with meatballs in a microwave for 2 minutes. Remove pastry doughs from the refrigerator. Line the bottom and sides of a well-buttered springform pan with the larger round of crust. Lay half the meatballs over the bottom of the crust sprinkle 1 tbsp cheese over the meatballs. Spread ½ the tortellini/ragu mixture over the meatballs, pressing them down gently with the back of a spoon. Repeat sequence for a second identical layer with the remaining meatballs then tortellini/raju mixture. Dust with the remaining cheese and then pour warmed cinnamon custard over everything.
Top and Decorate
- Brush the crust edges overhanging the pan with beaten egg. Lay round top over and seal by pinching the two pieces together. Form a thick rim by crimping the edges towards the center. Brush the entire surface with more beaten egg. Cut a one-inch diameter steam hole into the center of the pie.Roll out remaining dough. Cut out 4-inch long "bay leaves" and either arrange into a starburst around the hole or around the pie's rim.
Bake Pie and Serve
- Place pie on a baking pan and cook in a 400°F (205°C) oven and bake for 40 minutes. Lower heat to 350°F (175°C) and bake another 40 minutes. Turn off heat and leave pie in oven with door open halfway for another 10 to 20 minutes.Unmold pie by placing springform pan on 3 cans, releasing the sides, and letting it drop to the counter. Slide pie, with-or-without pan's bottom, onto a large tray or platter. Garnish with grape branches. Slice the pie at the table after the applause dies down.
- Good quality imported meat-filled tortellini and tiny meatballs may be used.
- The pastry dough may be made 2 days ahead and refrigerated or frozen for up-to 3 months.
- Custard can be made and refrigerated, covered, for 3-4 days.
- Meatballs may be made a day ahead and refrigerated, unless using purchased frozen ones.
- The Raju Bolognese can be made up-to a week in advance and refrigerated or a month or two in advance and frozen. Skim fat from top before warming.
- Although some of the deeper flavors will get muffled a bit when using purchased meatballs and tortellini, the unique flavor combinations and dramatic presentation makes any version an amazing centerpiece to any celebration meal.