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Filled pasta all-dressed

For a fast meal option, start with prepared tortellini, ravioli or agnolotti and serve with tasty homemade sauce

When I'm in search of a simple, fairly quick meal idea, a filled-pasta dish often comes to mind. As you'll see by today's recipes, there are many tasty options.

My first recipe is like macaroni and cheese, except I've replaced the elbow-shaped pasta with fresh tortellini, sold at most supermarkets. Tortellini is pasta stuffed and pinched and formed into ring shapes. After the tortellini are cooked, they're placed in a casserole or individual-serving baking dishes, topped with a cheese-rich sauce and baked.

You can use individual serving dishes if you're only feeding one or two and don't need the four servings the recipe yields. Once the tortellini are in the single-serving dishes and topped with sauce, you can bake the ones you need and leave the others unbaked to cool to room temperature. When they're cooled, you can wrap, date and freeze the dishes until you're ready to thaw and bake them on another day.

My second filled-pasta dish sees fresh ravioli topped with puttanesca sauce, a flavourful tomatoey mixture flecked with capers, anchovies, chilies, garlic and olives. The Dictionary of Italian Food and Drink says foods served "alla puttanesca," such as my ravioli, are also known as "harlot-style."

Why? Well, puttanesca is a derivation of the Italian word puttana, which means prostitute. The story goes that prostitutes would make this quick and fairly inexpensive sauce, which is great spooned over pasta, as a quick meal, while at the same time attracting clients with its wonderful aroma.

Like my tortellini recipe, the ravioli yields four servings. If you are feeding fewer than that, toss the unused cooked ravioli with a tiny bit of olive oil to prevent it from sticking together as it cools. Now place that ravioli in a freezer-friendly dish, topped with leftover put-tanesca sauce. Once all is cooled to room temperature, you can wrap, date and freeze the ravioli until you're ready to thaw and reheat it in the microwave on another day.

My last filled-pasta recipe is a brothy one that sees hot, cooked agnolotti, half-moon-shaped-filled pasta, set into shallow servings bowls. Also going into the bowl are slices of Italian sausage, pieces of feta cheese and wilted, drained baby spinach. Once that's done, you ladle in hot chicken broth or stock, creating a brothy and hearty meal in a bowl, particularly when served with some good crusty bread. For even more flavour, diners can drizzle, to taste, some good olive oil and balsamic vinegar into their bowls at the table.

Note: If you're not a meat eater, all of today's recipe could be made with cheese-or vegetable-filled pasta. In the agnolotti recipe, you could replace the chicken broth or stock with vegetable stock or broth. You could also replace the sausage with another ingredient, such as a small red bell pepper, cubed. Simmer the cubes of pepper until tender in the stock or broth then pour over the agnolotti.

Eric Akis is the author of the just-published hardcover book Everyone Can Cook Everything.

His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.


This tortellini and cheese recipe can be baked in individual serving dishes, or one casserole. Serve it with a green or caesar salad.

Preparation time:

20 minutes

Cooking time: 30 to

35 minutes

Makes: 4 servings

1 (350 gram) pkg. cheese or meat-filled fresh tortellini

2 Tbsp butter

2 Tbsp all-purpose flour

2 1/4 cups warm 2% milk (see Note)

1/4 tsp dried oregano

1/4 tsp paprika

? pinch crushed chili flakes (optional)

1 1/2 cups grated aged cheddar

? salt and white pepper to taste

2 Tbsp freshly grated Parmesan cheese

? chopped parsley or thinly sliced green onion, to taste, for garnish (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Bring a large pot of water to boil to cook the pasta.

As the water is coming to a boil, melt the butter in a medium pot set over medium heat. Stir in flour until well combined. Slowly whisk in the milk. Bring mixture to a simmer, whisking frequently so it does not scorch on the bottom. Simmer 1 to 2 minutes, until lightly thickened.

Remove pot from heat

and stir in 2/3 of the cheddar cheese, oregano, paprika and chili flakes, if using. Season the sauce with salt and pepper, cover and set aside.

Boil the tortellini until just tender (check package for cooking time). Drain the tortellini well and place in an 8-inch square casserole, or divide among single-serving baking dishes.

Spoon the cheese sauce over the tortellini. Top tortellini with remaining cheddar cheese and Parmesan cheese. Bake 20 to 25 minutes, until golden and piping hot. If desired, sprinkle servings of the tortellini with parsley or green onion.

Note: The milk could be warmed in the microwave.


Fresh ravioli enhanced with a lively, tomatoey, olive-, caper-, and anchovy-flecked puttanesca sauce.

Preparation time:

15 minutes

Cooking time: About

15 minutes

Makes: 4 servings

1 (350 gram) pkg. meat-or cheese-filled fresh ravioli 2 Tbsp olive oil 2 large garlic cloves, minced 4 anchovies, minced 1/2 tsp dried oregano

? pinch of crushed chili flakes

1/4 cup red wine

1 1/2 cups tomato sauce

1/4 cup coarsely chopped pitted black olives

1 Tbsp drained capers, drained well

1/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh parsley

? freshly grated parmesan cheese for sprinkling

Bring a large pot of water to boil to cook the pasta. As the water is coming to a boil, heat the oil in a skillet set over medium to medium-high heat. Add the garlic, anchovies, oregano and chili flakes and cook until aromatic, about one minute. Mix in the wine, tomato sauce, olives and capers. Bring sauce to a simmer and cook five minutes. Stir in the parsley, and then reserve on low heat.

Boil the ravioli until just tender (check package for cooking time). Drain the ravioli well and then divide among four heated pasta bowls. Divide and top pasta with the puttanesca sauce.

Let diners top the ravioli, to taste, with Parmesan cheese.


Agnolotti, half-moon-shaped-filled pasta, served in broth with sausage, cheese and spinach.

Serve with crusty bread and dinner is ready.

Preparation time: 20 minutes

Cooking time: About 30 minutes

Makes: 4 servings

1 (350 gram) package Squash or other flavour agnolotti

5 cups chicken broth or stock

1/2 (5 oz.) tub or bag baby spinach

2 mild, medium or hot Italian sausages, roasted, and then sliced (see Note)

1/2 cup coarsely crumbed feta cheese

? balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil for drizzling (optional)

Bring a large pot of water to boil to cook the pasta. Add the pasta and cook until just tender (check package for cooking time).

While the pasta cooks, set the stock in small to medium pot and bring to a slow simmer over medium heat.

When the pasta is cooked,

drain it well and divide it among four warmed, wide, shallow soup or pasta bowls.

Arrange the spinach, cheese and sausage around the pasta. Ladle in the broth or stock and serve.

At the table, let diners drizzle the soup with a little balsamic vinegar and olive oil, if desired

Note: Placed in a small pan, the sausages will take about 20 minutes to roast in a 375 F oven or toaster oven.

They could also be grilled over medium to medium-high heat until cooked through, about 6 to 8 minutes.

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