Cappelletti are a type of stuffed fresh pasta originating from the northern Italian region of Emilia-Romagna, particularly around the towns of Modena and Bologna. They date back at least to the Middle Ages when they were a luxury food for aristocrats' tables. The name means “little hats,” which is what their rounded shape resembles.
They are similar to, and often confused with, tortellini, another Northern Italian stuffed pasta. Both are generally made with a meat-and-cheese filling (though sometimes it's only cheese, for "lean" days) and typically served in chicken broth, often on New Year's Day or as part of a grand Christmas feast or other special celebration. These days they are a typical Christmas dish throughout Central Italy.
The difference lies in the size (tortellini tend to be smaller, about marble-sized, while cappelletti are usually somewhat larger) and in the folding (see this photo for a comparison); a cappelletto (on the left in the photo) resembles a stylish, peaked hat with a round, upturned (sometimes scalloped) brim while the tortellino (on the right) looks more like a Chinese wonton dumpling (there are many different styles of wonton dumpling shape as well, but one of the most common is known as the "flower bud" and it's exactly the same shape as a tortellino, although much larger). Cappelletti are also quite similar in shape to the Russian dumplings called pelmeni, though those are larger and have different fillings.
Cappelletti can be made either out of circles or squares of dough, which changes their shape slightly, but the folding process is the same.
As previously mentioned, they are most traditionally served in a meat broth, but they can also be served in a meat sauce, in gently heated heavy cream, with a simple walnut sauce, or simply tossed in browned butter with fresh sage.
- 1/2 breast of chicken or capon (or 4 ounces of lean pork, sautéed in butter and finely minced)
- 1 cup fresh ricotta cheese
- 1/2 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (freshly grated)
- 1 whole egg (plus 1 yolk)
- 1 pinch nutmeg (freshly grated)
- Optional: 1 pinch lemon zest
- 1 pinch fine sea salt
- 1 pinch black pepper (freshly ground)
To make the filling:
Combine all of the ingredients to form a fine paste (use a food processor, blender or handheld immersion blender). If the ricotta is very soft, leave out the egg white and use just 2 yolks instead. If, on the other hand, the mixture is too stiff, add an extra egg yolk. Taste the mixture and adjust the seasoning, as necessary.
For the pasta:
For the pasta, follow the instructions for home-made pasta, using 2 1/4 cups of flour and 3 eggs, or purchase several sheets of premade fresh egg pasta.
To make the cappelletti:
Roll out a thin sheet of pasta on a well-floured surface. Then use a round cookie cutter (you could also use a round or square raviolo stamp or a fluted-edge rolling pasta cutter) to cut out 2-inch diameter circles of dough. (Note: Cappelletti can be made either out of circles or squares of dough, which changes their shape slightly, but the folding process is the same.)
Place 1 level teaspoon of the stuffing in the middle of each circle. Using your fingertip or a pastry brush, moisten the edges of the circle with a little water so they will seal. Fold the circles in half over the filling to form half moons, pressing down with your fingers to seal the edge.
Then pull the two corners towards each other, overlap one over the other, and press down on the tips to help them adhere together.
This recipe will make 4-5 dozen cappelletti.
If serving in broth: Gently boil the cappelletti in broth until they are done, 3-5 minutes (the pasta should be al dente). For each serving, 10-15 cappelletti in a brimming bowl of broth should be sufficient.
If serving as a pasta dish: Gently boil in water 3-5 minutes, until pasta is al dente.