Nonna always welcomed everyone. She drew the line when a family dog ate her pasta
Updated November 22, 2023 at 5:41 AM ET
All Things We're Cooking is an NPR series that features family recipes from you, our readers and listeners, and the special stories behind them. Throughout the holiday season, we will share some of your kitchen gems that were popular with our audiences last year. This story was originally published on Dec. 18, 2022.
Too many cooks in the kitchen can be frustrating. But when it comes to making cappelletti, it's an all-hands-on-deck affair for the Hamiltons.
Jim Hamilton and his sister Susan Hamilton Griffin live in Kansas, about an hour apart. Every Thanksgiving when they get together with the rest of the family, the focus turns from a traditional turkey meal to the handmade pasta stuffed with beef, chicken and cheese that their great-grandparents brought over from Gubbio, Italy.
Their great-grandfather came to the U.S. looking for work and found a job as a coal miner in Pittsburg, Kan. Their great-grandparents had four children. The second oldest would become their grandmother – Julia Morettini Hamilton, who made the tortellini-like pasta for them growing up.
"My grandmother would spend hours and hours making these pasta," Hamilton said. "They're meticulously folded, and you have to stuff each one with the mixture ... then fold it in very carefully."
Each dumpling takes at least 30 seconds to construct, and his grandmother would make "literally a thousand of these," Hamilton said. The sheer amount of pasta was too much for the kitchen, so "Nonna Julia" would lay the pasta on the bed in another room to let them dry.
One Easter, while most everyone was patiently waiting to eat, someone else was already digging in.
Hamilton's Uncle Bill joined the festivities with Barron, his Doberman, tagging along.
"My uncle's Doberman found where these cappelletti were, and so he ate about half of the cappelletti," Hamilton said.
"Nonna went after the dog with her rolling pin through the circular halls of her airplane house, while yelling Italian words my childhood ears shouldn't hear!"
Barron was much faster and would lap her and then start nipping at her heels, Hamilton recalled. This would get Nonna's attention, and she would whip around and start chasing Barron again in the opposite direction.
"This went on until Nonna gave up in exhaustion, with extended family cheering her on with uproarious laughter and applause as the lucky dog escaped," Hamilton said.
Today, when the family gets together for Thanksgiving, they extend the holiday and make Friday or Saturday the pasta-making day. The crew starts at about 2 in the afternoon with wine, family stories being passed around and a toast to their grandmother.
By the time they're done, "everybody's got flour all over them," the table is covered with cappelletti, and Nonna's tradition lives on.
"She was always a person who welcomed everyone," Hamilton said. "There was never a closed door. Everyone was always welcome around the family table."
"I think we honor her hard work and her giving nature, trusting nature of everybody," he said. "And I think that's the thing we remember the most about the dish."
- Pasta maker
- Food processor or meat grinder
- 8 ounces sirloin or round steak
- 8 ounces chicken breast
- 8 ounces Parmigiano Reggiano, parmesan or romano cheese
- garlic salt
- onion salt
- butter for sauteing
Directions to make the filling
Saute beef and chicken, liberally seasoned with garlic salt and onion salt, in butter. After cooking them, run the meats through a hand meat grinder or chop finely in a food processor, keeping each meat in a separate bowl. Coarsely grind the cheese to match the size of the meat granules. This should make roughly a cup of each of the three elements for the filling. Measure equal parts of each ingredient and mix them together. The mixture should be moist enough to loosely stick together, but not too moist.
Pasta dough ingredients (makes one batch)
- 1 3/4 cup flour
- 3 whole eggs
- 1 teaspoon salt
Directions to make the pasta dough
Place all ingredients in Cuisinart or another food processor with a metal blade. Pulse until ingredients are combined and form a ball. Wrap in plastic wrap and let rest for at least 30 minutes. Prepare three batches.
Chicken-tomato sauce ingredients
- 1 whole chicken leg, thigh, and breast (save bony pieces for stock)
- 1 whole onion chopped
- 1 clove garlic finely chopped
- 24 ounces tomato paste (Roma tomato paste preferred)
- 48 ounces of chicken stock
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon ground rosemary (optional)
Directions to make the chicken-tomato sauce
In a large saucepan, saute onion and garlic until translucent. Add chicken parts and lightly brown. Add all other ingredients. Simmer for 30 minutes after the sauce comes to a boil. Let the sauce sit to rest. Cooking too long may make the sauce become bitter. (Note: An old hen or rooster is best for the intense chicken flavor of both the stock and the sauce.)
Directions to prepare the cappelletti
Pass the pasta dough through a pasta maker several times. With each pass, make the dough thinner by adjusting the rollers to closer approximation until they reach the finest setting. The pasta will gradually widen as it is rolled thinner.
Any triangular ends of the pasta may be folded inward to make the ends square before the next pass. And if the pasta becomes too wide for the rollers, it may be folded in half lengthwise and run through again to lengthen it further.
This is best done with two people to handle the ribbon of pasta as it leaves the rollers, and another to crank. When rolling is complete (the ribbon will be between 2 1/2 feet and 4 feet long and as wide as the roller), place the pasta ribbon on a long flat surface dusted with flour to prevent sticking. Cut in half lengthwise down the middle of the ribbon with a sharp knife, and then into equal-sized squares which may vary slightly in size based upon the width of the bisected pasta ribbon.
Dress the squares with a roughly 1/2-teaspoon-sized loose ball of the filling placed in the middle of each square. Fold the square into a triangle over the stuffing, and seal the two edges by pressing the dough together along the open edges of the newly formed triangle.
If the dough doesn't stick together well, the edges may be moistened with a finger dipped in water before pressing together. Bring together the two corners of the triangle along the folded edge (the only side not pressed together) behind the folded side and press together at the corners to form the little hat. Place the folded cappelletti on a large flat surface covered with tea towels or a sheet to dry slightly before cooking.
At mealtime, place the raw cappelletti in batches of 20-30 into a large pot of boiling chicken stock for 6-12 minutes or so, until cooked. (Overcooking may cause the cappelletti to come apart.) Remove the pasta with a strainer and place in large bowls for serving family style.
Dish the cappelletti into individual plates and cover with generous ladles of tomato sauce. Sprinkle with grated cheese, as desired, or serve al brodo in the chicken broth as a soup with dumplings.
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