I spent a great many of my formative years living in Europe. Though I was still too young to truly appreciate everything I experienced, there were a few things that stayed with me. Because I was so impressionable, I think my adult life has been most influenced by the various cuisines I was able to sample.
Our childhood memories are often our fondest. I can’t seem to remember with any clarity walking through Westminster Abbey, seeing the Mona Lisa or gazing at the Cysteine Chapel, I do remember some things- the top of the Eiffel Tower, chipping away at the Berlin Wall, the Holland Cheese Mills and the food.
Many of my memories have been lost to age, but I still remember our tour of Rome. I hadn’t quite reached my teenage years at the time. After our visit to the Coliseum, we decided lunch was in order. We chose a small restaurant with a patio view of the Coliseum. I have always had a love for noodles and cheese, so I settled on a tortellini salad dish. Of all the memories of my childhood and all the different foods I tried, that dish has stayed with me the most. The flavors, the colors, the fragrance, it is all as clear to me now as it was then. I have tried many, many times to recreate this recipe, but without a name for the dish and only a child’s memory, I have never quite come close. Until now.
Frozen Cheese Tortellini
1 Green Bell Pepper halved
Sweet, Tangy Mini Peppers
Cook tortellini over medium heat. While water warms to a boil, clean and quarter peppers.
I use garden fresh sweet, tangy mini peppers to replicate the colors of this dish. Use two each of brightly colored red, yellow and orange peppers. Quarter these peppers and chop together in a blender.
Quarter one half of a green bell pepper and chop in a blender as well. Don’t strain the juice!
The tortellini is ready when it floats to the top for about two minutes. You want it just on this side of al’dente. Strain cooked tortellini and let it cool for about five minutes, then run cool water over it. Pour it in a bowl.
Use a rubber spatula to fold chopped peppers into the tortellini.
One of the things I remember most about this dish was asking my mom what the “skin leaf things” were. I chose to use artichoke hearts canned in seasoned olive oil. If you have ever worked with fresh artichoke, you can appreciate the ease of this particular step. I do not strain the hearts. I allow a bit of the seasoned olive oil to drip into the bowl for added flavor. I peel the leaves from the stump and fold them directly into the salad. Discard the stump.
Fold at least a half cup of Catalina dressing into the salad. Many recipes I’ve seen call for Cesar dressing, but the flavor is just off to me. Catalina gives the salad just the right amount of tang and complements the peppers nicely.
Sprinkle a three cheese crumble over the top- For this recipe I used Monterey, Colby and Cheddar. I honestly believe the original recipe used a combination of three cheeses in curd form. Unfortunately, good, un-waxey curd is hard to come by where I live, so I substituted.
Cover and chill for at least an hour. I like to make it ahead and chill overnight, allowing the juice from the peppers to soak in to the tortellini. The picture really does not do the dish justice. The colors are vibrant and the fragrance is mouthwatering.