Il Tortellino

Tortellini Bolognesi (Bolognese cappelletti stuffed with meat) are probably the most well-known delicacy of the Emilia-Romagna region. Both, Bologna and Modena provinces located in northern Italy, always compete for the tortellino origin and recipe.

Historical information place the birth of the traditional tortellino at the Locanda Corona lodging of Castelfranco Emilia, a city located between Modena and Bologna, that have disputed its belonging as province up to 1929 (even though at first the city was part of Bologna province). A local tradition tells that the lodging host peek into the room of a noblewoman through the keyhole and remained so fascinated by the beauty of her navel to be inspired to create the tortellini to pay a tribute to it. The traditional tortellino is composed by a square piece of fresh egg pasta stuffed with an exquisite mixture of meats.

Etymologically, the term “tortellino” comes from the diminutive of tortello, which in turn comes from the word torta (cake), and indicates that, as for the preparation of the cake, also the trotellino can be stuffed. Most probably, the tortellino was born in order to recycle the remains of the aristocracy meals. Infact, in 1842 the French traveler and biographer Antoine-Claude Pasquin provided documentary evidence of the existence of tortellino, describing it as a pasta made with “ground tallow, egg yolks and parmesan”, that is a more modest and rough version of the actual traditional recipe of tortellini bolognesi. Tortellini are rigorously made by the “sfogline emiliane”, women dough makers from Emilia Romagna region (or “rezdore” that means the queen of the house in local dialect), and are served with chicken broth or with heavy cream and Parmigiano Reggiano cheese sauce, the most representative Italian and Emilia-Romagna region cheese.

There is an intense discussion regarding the recipe of the tortellini bolognesi perfect stuffing and, until today, it is valid the Italian saying “Country you go, custom you find” that will explain the existence of several different recipes. In Ferrara, a city located near Bologna and Modena, the tortellini are called “cappelletti” because of the difference in the stuffing recipe!

This is the reason why, in 1974 the “Confraternita del Tortellino” registered at the Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Craftsmanship of Bologna the stuffing original recipe, which is composed of a mixture of pork loin, raw ham, bologna, Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, eggs and nutmeg. According to this recipe, the fresh pasta used for the tortellini should be prepared using only wheat flour and eggs. Each tortellino should be made with a square of pasta with a side length of 4 cm, wrapped around the little finger of the women dough makers’ hand, in order to reproduce, with great patience and dedication, the famous navel from which, as per the tradition, it was born.

There are many variations also in the way this Italian delicacy is prepared from city to city: someone cook slightly the tortellini bolognesi stuffing before wrapping it into the pasta and someone use stuffing still raw, someone add veal or chicken meat to the pork meat and someone does not add nutmeg to the stuffing mixture. Today it is possible to purchase tortellini ready to use all over the world, with different expiration periods that is in case of fresh pasta, seven weeks in the freezer or one week in the refrigerator.

See also "il tortellino alla crema di latte"

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