Christmas Traditions - Cappelletti
Do you have that one tradition that is just so interwoven with Christmas that it wouldn’t be the same without it? Me too.Although for me, it’s not a tradition that would automatically come to mind like decorating the tree or wrapping presents. Every year, as far back as I can remember (and even farther I’m sure) we have gathered at my Nonnie’s house to make Cappelletti. It’s something that you’ll find a lot of Italians doing around Christmas time.
Cappelletti - which loosely translates to hat in English - is a small hat shaped pasta that gets filled with a meat mixture. In our family, it’s a mixture of Pork, Beef, proscuitto, parmesan, nutmeg and lemon zest, but I’ll get to that later.
Every year, we pick a day, and my dads entire side of the family all gather together to make nearly 800 cappelletti. We make so much because they get frozen and then are eaten on two separate occasions - Christmas Day and Easter. This year we are doing something different and having a lasagna for new years day, but in the past, we had cappelletti instead.
There is always a lot of poking fun at one another when someone (usually my dad or sister) makes a cappelletti that is way too big, way too small, is a weird shape, or has a hole in it. Last year, Nick came to help us make the cappelletti and my aunts were poking fun at him nearly as much as my dad or sister. He took it really well though, knowing that it was all meant in good fun.
So, if you feel up to the challenge, find the recipe below. Note that it does yield a large number of cappelletti, but that’s only because that’s how it’s traditionally done. If you only wanted to have them for one meal scale it back by 1/2, or about 1/8 if you wanted it for dinner for a family of 4.
Nonnies Cappelletti Recipe
Yield:750 - 800 cappelletti (feeds 8 people for 2 separate occasions)
Time: approx. 5 hours total
For the Pasta:
14 jumbo eggs
6-8 cups flour
1/2 tsp olive oil
For the Meat Filling:
2lbs extra lean ground beef
1.5lbs extra lean ground pork
1lb prosciutto - ground in a food processor until it resembles ground beef
1/3 cup butter
the zest of 1/2 a lemon
3/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
Now, these are approximate measurements, because like any old Nonnie, mine doesn’t measure exactly how much of things she puts in. If that sounds like a lot of lemon zest or nutmeg to you, just try adding a smaller amount at first, and add more as you go until you reach your desired taste.
- Start with about 6 cups of flour and dump them onto your counter.
- Make a well in the centre to crack your eggs into
- Slowly start adding the flour to the eggs until it’s all come together into a scraggly ball. Add more flour if necessary until you have a firm dough. You don’t want it to be too sticky, or it will get caught in the pasta machine.
- Keep working the dough until it becomes smooth and elastic - don’t worry if it feels like it’s taking a long time. This large volume of eggs will take a while.
- Once the dough has come together and is all smooth, rub olive oil over the ball and place in a covered bowl to rest for 30 minutes.
- While your pasta is resting, prepare the meat filling.
- Cook the beef, pork and prosciutto in the butter until it is cooked through, but hasn’t started to brown
- Add the nutmeg and lemon zest
- Remove from the heat and allow to cool.
- Once cooled, add the egg and the parmesan cheese
- Stir to combine. If the mixture seems dry, add some more melted butter. It should kind of clump together when compressed in your hands
Follow the instructions and photos below for assembly:
We have a kind of system for how we go about making them. There is even a special table that gets brought up into the kitchen that we make them on. My dad usually cuts off a small section of the pasta dough and then pulls the pasta through the pasta machine (or Kitchen Aid in recent years) starting on the highest setting and working his down to the lowest setting, until it is in a very long thin strip. This ensures that you have pasta that is very thin and essentially just melts in your mouth. He then places it on the table, cuts it in half, and my Aunt Carla goes along using a 6 wheel pastry cutter to cut the long strip into squares. Some of the time, you get more of a rectangle shape, and that’s really when the strangely shaped cappelletti, such as this one, start to come out.
After the pasta is cut, my Aunt goes along and distributes a small mount of meat onto each square. Then everyone pulls a piece in front of them and begins to fold.
To fold the cappelletti shape, you fold the a corner towards its opposite creating a triangle shape. Then seal the edges lightly by pressing them together with your fingers.With the top triangle point pointing away from you, bring the two ends together around the opposite side and pinch them together, being careful not to make a hole in the pasta. Easy right? Now try making nearly 800.
While we make them, there are several baking trays that we arrange them on in a single layer. We do this so that they can be individually frozen and then transferred to freezer bags later and won’t all stick together. My Aunt Cathy is responsible for the counting and freezing of the cappelletti, and always keeps us updated with a running tally.
Once we have worked for a couple hours, we take a lunch break usually consisting of sandwiches with various cold cuts and cheeses. After lunch, it’s back at it again until we have finished the meat. If there is any pasta leftover, my dad usually just makes it into linguini or a capellini type of pasta for my Nonnie to freeze and use later. If there is any meat left over, we make more pasta.
When it comes to actually eating the cappelletti, they get boiled in chicken broth that my Nonnie has made from scratch. It’s one of the simplest, yet most heavenly things in the world. If you’ve never had homemade broth, I strongly urge you to try making your own. We’re then served the soup and sprinkle a generous helping of parmesan cheese on top.
Since we spent all day making food, we order dinner for the evening. It’s usually KFC (I know, I know) but since last year, we’ve ordered rotisserie chickens from a Portuguese restaurant not too far away, which were quite good.
Making the cappelletti is definitely time consuming, but it’s a tradition that I think I’ll probably carry on to my family once it’s time. There’s always lively conversation around the table, and it’s satisfying come Christmas Day you’re able to eat the fruits of your labour.
Making cappelletti is something that I used to sort of dread when I was younger, because what kid wants to do any work, ever? But now, I appreciate all the time and effort that goes into making them and love that this is a Christmas tradition that our family has 🙂
Let me know if you’ve ever made cappelletti before, or some of your Christmas traditions!