HIS MAJESTY THE TORTELLINO
The name “tortellino” derives from the diminutive of “tortello”, proceeding from “torta” (Italian meaning of cake).
Tortellino is a probable result of a humble peasant cooking, since it allowed to “reuse” the meat left from the tables of rich noblemen. In 1664, Vincenzo Tanara wrote about tortellini “cooked in butter” in the book “L’economia del cittadino”. Another reference dates back to 1842, when the French traveller and bibliographer Valéry Pasquin wrote about a particular dish of pasta, filled with “minced beef, egg yolks and Parmesan cheese”, so in a far rougher way than it is today.
There are several myths about the origin of this course. One among these attributes tortellino origin to the owner of the Corona Inn in Castelfranco Emilia who, peeking through the keyhole of a noblewoman’s room, was so impressed by the beauty of her navel that he wanted to reproduce it in a culinary preparation.
Another variation of the story draws from the legend reported by Alessandro Tassoni in his mock-eroic poem “la Secchia rapita”: after a day of battle between Bologna and Modena people, in the evening Venus, Bacchus and Mars found respite by the Corona inn. The following morning Mars and Bacchus left the inn while Venus was still sleeping; awakening, she called for somebody and the innkeeper rushed to her. Catching her half-undressed, he was so deeply impressed by her enchanting body that, on arriving at the kitchen, tore the dough apart and filled it, giving to it the shape of the goddess’ navel.
Over time, the tortellino has been ‘upgraded’ to a festivity dish: it is the main course most local people have on Sundays for lunch and on all other special occasions (On Christmas day the pot full of tortellini in broth is a must).
So, which is the real tortellini recipe?
The official recipe was registered on December 7, 1974, when the “Confraternita del Tortellino” and the “Accademia Italiana della Cucina” deposited it at the Bologna Chamber of Commerce, Industry, Craftsmanship and Agriculture. The ingredients are a sheet of 6/10mm thick pastry made of flour and egg, with a filling prepared with minced pork, raw ham, mortadella from Bologna, Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, eggs and nutmeg. According to the tradition, tortellini are best enjoyed cooked and eaten in a savoury capon or hen broth (in brodo).
Another non-traditional but quite popular recipe is to dress tortellini with cream after boiling them in a poorer broth (of stock cube, for example). It is not recommended to cook tortellini in water because most of their taste dilutes and gets dispersed, resulting in a far less tasty course. It is quite easy to find variations which can move away from tradition such as, for example, tortellini dressed with ragù (Italian meat sauce), even though this combination spoils the taste of tortellino filling.