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Cooking al cartoccio is an Italian term for baking food in a paper wrapper. In Italian cuisine, pasta, fish, and poultry are the most popular dishes prepared al cartoccio, although many other foods may be prepared using this method. The purpose of al cartoccio cooking is to create steam and preserve the moisture of the food within the wrapper. At serving time, the al cartoccio dish may be presented at the table while still in the paper, or the paper may be removed before serving.
Known also as “en papillote”, the word “cartoccio” means paper bag, pouch, or parcel. Special moisture-proof paper for cooking al cartoccio is called parchment paper and is usually available in the grocery aisle with aluminum foil and plastic wrap. If parchment paper is not available, aluminum foil may be substituted, although it does not have the same aesthetic effect. Parchment paper is available on rolls or as individual sheets in various sizes.
In addition to its aesthetic appeal, cooking al cartoccio helps foods maintain their moisture and the intensity of their natural flavors. No additional oil is needed, so al cartoccio dishes may be healthier and lower in calories. With the exception of certain meats that may require longer cooking time, cooking al cartoccio is time- and energy-efficient.
For al cartoccio cooking, ingredients may be partially cooked before being wrapped in paper, or they may be assembled directly in the paper wrapper. An entire dish may be baked al cartoccio, or the dish may be divided into individually-wrapped portions. Since parchment paper is moisture-proof, a modest amount of water, stock, or sauce may be added to the dish before baking. It is also important to brush or spray the parchment paper with water during the baking process to prevent it from burning and crumbling.
There are several different methods for folding the wrapper. The food may be placed diagonally across the paper, or it may be aligned with the vertical and horizontal edges. The paper may then be neatly folded into an envelope with the ends tucked under, or the edges of the paper may be crimped around the food across the top and at the ends. At serving time, the envelope may be neatly unwrapped to reveal the food within, or it may be quickly cut open. Caution should be used to avoid steam burns when unwrapping the paper.