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The cradle of Italian filled pasta
An Italian festivity doesn’t go by without us feasting on a bountiful plate of stuffed pasta. Tortellini, Ravioli, Agnolotti, Cappellacci and potato-filled Tortelli are quintessential dishes for special occasions.
Each region has its own filled pasta specialty with a specific shape, filling and sauce. From Marubin in Cremona, through Pansoti in Liguria and Tortellini from Bologna, to Culurgiones from Sardinia - our peninsula has plenty of different pasta shapes to offer.
Central Italy, in particular, is home to some of the most famous and beloved filled pasta types. Let’s take a look at them and at their features.
Tortellini from Bologna
A must on the Christmas table - Tortellini are a major bone of contention between the cities of Bologna and Modena.
To avoid triggering off a fratricidal war, the city of Castelfranco Emilia was set as the place of origin of Tortellini. The legend narrates that Bacchus, Mars and Venus spent a night here.
The owner of the inn where they were staying was dumbfounded by the Goddess’ beauty and decided to spy on her through the peephole; he was so struck by her looks that he created a new pasta shape, taking inspiration from the shape of her navel. Some people question whether the beautiful guest was actually Venus herself or just a charming noblewoman. The story of peeping Tom aside, Tortellini were created to celebrate beauty.
In Bologna, Tortellini belong to an actual ‘religion’ and the highest authority on the subject is the “Dotta Confraternita del Tortellino” (the Tortellino association). It was founded in 1965 and it keeps the tradition and culture of the real Tortellini from Bologna alive. In December 1974, the association lodged with a notarial deed, which was then countersigned by the Prefect and Mayor, the real recipe of Tortellini and broth.
We can see the ingredients for the filling in the original scroll: pork loin, dry-cured ham, Mortadella from Bologna, Parmigiano reggiano cheese, eggs and nutmeg. As far as broth is concerned, only beef and free-range chicken stocks are allowed.
Pasta should be thin, but coarse and the filling should be flavourful, but well-balanced. It may seem easy, but making good Tortellini is an actual art.
Potato Tortelli from Casentino
Let’s move on to Tuscany, to Casentino to be more precise. Stuffed pasta looks completely different here. First of all, the filling is different: the meat is replaced by potatoes. After all, Casentino is home to the Cetica red potato. This potato has a red skin, a white and compact flesh and a fine and delicate flavour; it is a Tuscan delight, as well as a Slow Food Presidium.
At the beginning of the 19th century, the Lorena family fostered the cultivation of this potato type in the Casentino land: prospects for future epidemics and famines were scary and it was best to prepare for the worst case scenario.
Let’s talk about the filling of potato-filled Tortelli from Casentino. Besides potatoes, the filling also includes some tomato paste, a little bit of garlic, parsley and Parmigiano (or Pecorino cheese). Some people like to add lemon zest; other people also like to add Rigatino belly fat or Pancetta pork jowl. People from Casentino all add “saporita”, which is Italian for “flavourful”: it is a spice mix that is always paired with Tortelli.
Besides the filling, the shape is also very different from the shape of Tortellini. Potato Tortelli are big, square and the pasta is not twisted on itself, but it is just sealed with a fork.
They are dressed in layers and placed on a large serving dish. How should you dress them? Let your creativity run wild, but we suggest keeping it simple. A classic dressing is butter and truffle, but they also pair very well with mushrooms. You can also dress them with a rich ragout, such as wild boar ragout, for a dish that will make everyone happy.
There are endless variations of meatless Ravioli. The most famous filling is ricotta and spinach, but our country offers countless types of vegetarian filled pasta: pumpkin Tortelli with or without amaretto, Ravioli with nettle, Cappellacci with mushrooms, Capresi with a Caciotta-cheese filling… and the list goes on.
The region of Liguria is home to Raieu de Magru with chard and ricotta cheese, which are dressed with melted butter and sage. In the 12th century in Gavi (which was located in the region of Piedmont at the time and is now in Liguria), there apparently was an inn that was renowned for its pasta dishes. The owners were the Raviolo family; they came up with an egg pasta shell containing a filling made of borage and ricotta cheese. A new dish was just invented, which was named after its creators.
It is also said that the Raviolo family became extremely wealthy and bought a title of nobility. How did their coat of arms look like? It looked like a Raviolo, of course! In Liguria we can also find Pansoti bearing this name, because they are “panciuto”, pot-bellied. The filling is very traditional and must include Preboggion which is a mix of wild herbs like chard, borage, pimpernel, nettle and rapunzel.
Ricotta cheese is also replaced by Prescinseua, a traditional cheese from Liguria which is slightly sour and very soft. They should be dressed with a nut sauce and they are truly mouth-watering.
Countless pages of Italian cookbooks have been dedicated to filled pasta: traditional, regional pasta rich in history or recipe adjustments and new experimentations.
An interesting idea would be slightly changing the egg pasta. We can change colour, by adding squid ink, spinach, purple cabbage or red beet. We can flavour the pasta with basil, parsley or saffron or we can add to the dough some chestnut flour to make an amazing autumn dish.
If you want to experiment, you can let your creativity run wild and try out new combinations and associations. But if you want to stay on the safe side, you can always opt for classic dishes; for us at Italy Bite, classic is a synonym of territory and that’s why we think that the best filled pasta is potato Tortelli. Top-notch flavour is always guaranteed.