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Apr '11

Three Cheese Tortellini With Spicy Red Fennel Sauce and Crab Recipe

Three Cheese Barilla Tortellini With Spicy Red Fennel Sauce and Crab Recipe by Doug DuCap

Doug DuCap's Original Recipes

Once upon a time, in the B.B. (Before Barilla) era, you could actually buy dried tortellini, but you probably didn’t buy them twice because they were just about as appetizing as eating a bowlful of pale, vaguely cheese-flavored erasers.

But, as with all dried pasta, Barilla was the game-changer. Their little blue bags of dried tortellini cook up eggy-golden, with an impossibly-delicate-yet-firm texture and a creamily distinctive cheese flavor.

How do they manage it? Who knows? Maybe it’s the combination of Ricotta, Emmentaler, and Grana Padano cheese. All I know is that I don’t feel the need to make homemade tortellini as often, because, well, because homemade takes about ten times as much effort for essentially equivalent results. It’s okay, though; I can live with feeling redundant…(*sniff, sniff*)…no, really, I’m fine…(*sob!*)

This Italian-inspired recipe was created especially for the Barilla and Foodbuzz contest (although it must be said that it doesn’t take much arm twisting to get me to eat tortellini, anyway.) The Spicy Red Fennel sauce is quick and easy to make (you can put it together in the time it takes to boil the pasta), yet the flavor is rich and deep. It’s a beautiful balance of fragrant garlic, fennel, and nutmeg, along with the bright notes of pepper sauce, lemon, and parsley.

The sauce, though zesty, is not fiery. Rather, the gentle piquancy accents the savory-sweet flavors of the three cheeses and the flaky crabmeat, and creates a dish that speaks of leisurely afternoons filled with warm Italian sunshine.

Here’s how to make the Three Cheese Tortellini With Spicy Red Fennel Sauce and Crab Recipe:


1 pkg (8 oz) Barilla brand Three Cheese Tortellini
2 Tbsps extra virgin olive oil (plus extra to dress the pasta)
2 Tbsps minced garlic
1/4 cup tomato paste
2 tsps lightly crushed fennel seeds (see Cook’s Notes)
2 Tbsps hot red pepper sauce (such as Crystal or Trappey’s)
2 tsps fresh lemon juice
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg (see Cook’s Notes)
3/4 - 1 cup water
2 Tbsps minced parsley
1/2 cup Backfin or Special grade crabmeat (see Cook’s Notes)
Salt to taste
Freshly ground black pepper


Bring 3-4 quarts of lightly salted water to a boil. Add the tortellini; when the water returns to a boil, cook the tortellini for 10-11 minutes, stirring occasionally. Drain well and drizzle with a little extra virgin olive oil. Stir gently to coat.

While the tortellini are cooking, saute the garlic in the olive oil over medium-low heat until just softened (about 1-2 minutes.) Add the tomato paste and crushed fennel seeds, stirring well to incorporate. Cook, stirring, for 2-3 minutes.

Stir in the hot pepper sauce, lemon juice, nutmeg, and 3/4 cup of water. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes. Add a little additional water as needed to keep the sauce from getting too thick.

Gently fold in the parsley and the crabmeat. Taste the sauce and add salt (if needed) and a pinch or two of black pepper. Top the tortellini with the sauce. (NOTE: You might be tempted to sprinkle this dish with grated cheese but it really doesn’t need it.)

Serve with steamed spinach or chard, or with a fresh garden salad.

Makes 2-3 servings

Cook’s Notes:

  • If you don’t have a mortar and pestle, you can crush the seeds inside a small resealable bag using a rolling pin, a jar or can, or the flat side of a heavy knife.
  • If you’re using freshly grated nutmeg, start with less than 1/2 teaspoon and add more to taste.
  • You can also use the darker but more economical Claw Meat grade in this dish for a more pronounced crab flavor.


You Can Read More of Doug’s Recipe Corner Here.

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(Photo Credit: Three Cheese Tortellini With Spicy Red Fennel Sauce and Crab from Doug DuCap Food and Travel on Flickr.

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