- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Among my claims to food skills is the ability to make tortellini from scratch.

My instructor, Giuliano

Bugialli, an upholder of authentic Italian tradition, captured my full attention as he shaped plump bundles of pasta dough and cheese filling into voluptuous circles during a cooking class in Florence, Italy, years ago.

I wonder what he’d think if he saw my refrigerator full of prepared ready-to-cook tortellini. It’s still another blow to the cause of cooking from scratch. Although I feel like a traitor to authenticity, I like the boost tortellini products give to my weeknight cooking.

Starting with a package of tortellini, it’s easy to prepare a robust dinner for two in less than 30 minutes. What’s more, food companies produce enough variations on fillings and dough to make tortellini a dish I can repeat without getting bored.

If, like me, you often serve tortellini, you may be looking for more sauce recipes to accompany the pasta. Either a tomato- or cream-based sauce is an excellent accompaniment to the navel-shaped pillows. During this time of the year, when tomatoes don’t taste their best, I usually opt for a cream sauce.

The following rich and spicy sauce is a wonderful accompaniment to cheese-filled tortellini. For a quick dish, mix the jalapeno cream sauce with cooked tortellini and serve. If you’re not in a rush, turn the tortellini and sauce into a baking dish, top with bread cubes and bake.

Neither version of tortellini with jalapeno cream sauce has any claims to authentic Italian cooking, but I’m grateful for the inspiration.

Tortellini with jalapeno cream sauce

JALAPENO CREAM SAUCE:

1 tablespoon butter

1 jalapeno chili, cored, seeded and minced (see note)

1 tablespoon flour

1 cup milk, heated

3/4 cup half-and-half, heated

½ cup taco-flavored shredded Mexican cheese (or taco-flavored shredded cheddar cheese)

1/4 teaspoon crushed dried oregano

1/4 teaspoon salt or to taste

1/4 teaspoon pepper or to taste

1/4 cup chopped scallions, green parts only

TORTELLINI:

Salt water

1 9-ounce package refrigerated cheese-filled tortellini, preferably spinach tortellini

Butter

½ cup bread cubes in ½-inch dice

To make jalapeno cream sauce, melt the butter in a medium saucepan. Add the chili and cook over medium-high heat for 1 minute or until chili is tender. Stir in flour. Gradually stir in milk.

Gradually stir in half-and-half. Cook over low-medium heat, stirring frequently, until slightly thickened, about 5 minutes.

Add the cheese, half at a time, stirring constantly. Stir in the oregano, salt, pepper and scallions. Keep warm over the lowest heat or cover and set aside off the heat while making the tortellini.

To make the tortellini, bring a large pot of salted water to the boil. Add tortellini and cook until tender, about 8 to 12 minutes, depending on the brand.

The tortellini will be plump and float. Drain well. Return the tortellini to the pot. Stir in the jalapeno cream sauce.

Spoon the mixture into a generously buttered 2-quart baking dish. Sprinkle on the bread cubes. Bake in a preheated 350-degree oven for 20 minutes or until the sauce is bubbly. Serve hot. Makes 2 servings.

Note: If the jalapeno chili is mild-tasting, add about 1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes to the sauce with the oregano and other seasonings.

Bev Bennett is the author of “30-Minute Meals for Dummies,” (John Wiley & Sons).

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