The History of Tortellini: Emilia Romagna Cooking Vacations
Pastas abound in Italy, but none quite have the legend that tortellini does. The navel-shaped pasta has a story all its own, and while tellings of the legend vary, the basics remain the same: when an innkeeper saw the naked navel of Venus, the goddess of love, he created a tribute to her in the form of a pasta that resembled her belly button.
While that’s the way the legend goes, chances are this pasta was created as many other pastas were; someone around 1570, when the first tortellini recipe was developed, was searching for a way to make a pasta stuffed with filling. They found that solution by folding the pasta around their fingertip to prevent the meat filling from spilling out during cooking.
Whichever origin story you prefer, tortellini holds a special place in people’s hearts, and stomachs, in Bologna and Modena, which is apparent during an Emilia Romagna cooking vacation. In fact, tortellini is considered Bologna’s number one gastronomic tradition, at least according to the president of the San Nicola Association, Gianni degli Angeli. As such, the town of Castelfranco Emilia celebrates tortellini every year with a festival to honor the legendary creator of the pasta dish.
In general, tortellini is always made with an egg pasta, but what you fill it with varies from family to family. Some pack it with ricotta, others with parmesan. Still others prefer prosciutto or beef, and sometimes its a combination of meat and cheese. No matter what the filling, it’s traditionally served in a broth.
The tortellini-making tradition is a sacred one in Emilia-Romagna, but it’s one the locals are willing to share. During our cooking vacation “Gastronomy in Parma and Bologna,” visitors can learn the technique behind this special dish, along with a few other pasta dishes.
By Liz Hall