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Potato Tortelli: a tale made in Casentino
Potato tortelli are not only one of the most delicious Tuscan dishes, but they also are the symbol of our land Casentino. Talking about ‘Tuscan’ potato tortelli does not do justice to this delicacy, since two great varieties of tortelli exist: tortelli from Mugello and tortelli from Casentino. And we know how deeply tied these recipes are to their home land.
Casentino potatoes: from peasant food to lavish filling
Casentino potato tortelli have always been a staple in local homes - and now in many restaurants -, since potatoes started to be cultivated in this area at the beginning of the 19th century. As a matter of fact, the soil on most of the slopes of the Casentino hills is perfectly suited for the growth of this tuber.
The very tasty and flavourful Cetica red potato is famous all over Italy.
It is a potato with a red skin and a compact white flesh. It is a local variety and one of the most important food products in the province of Arezzo, as well as part of the Slow Food Presidium. It is ideal to fill potato tortelli of course, but it is also excellent baked with succulent roasts.
From Central-Southern America to Tuscany, potatoes have come a long way. They have a low energy density and low nutrient content, just slightly higher than those of vegetables; nonetheless, they were the main source of food for many farmers for many centuries.
It was the Lorena family that fostered potato cultivation in Casentino in preparation for potential famines. For instance, without potatoes many more people would have died because of a typhus epidemic that broke out in 1816. Over the course of time, this tuber managed to redeem itself and started to be used in gourmet recipes and in delicacies made by housewives to tempt the taste buds of their husbands. That’s how potatoes first met egg pasta, pecorino cheese and meat fillings and became potato tortelli.
As is often the case, especially with traditional recipes, the quality of ingredients used to make the delicious potato tortelli really makes the difference. But now let’s take a look at the story of this pasta shape.
The origin of potato tortelli
Tortelli was originally a recipe for leftover scraps, as is the case with many recipes containing a filling. Tortelli used to be filled with leftover roast and cooked vegetables, among other things. The first evidence of the presence of Tortelli on Tuscan tables dates back to the 13th century in Lombards’ settlements. They were very different from the tortelli that we eat today; they were closer to the pasta that used to be made in Bologna in the 12th century.
In the Middle Ages, the dough was made with flour and eggs and used to be filled with either salty or sweet stuffing, such as jam or candied fruits; the tortelli were then either boiled or fried.
This very ancient tradition is still part of many Italian recipes and Casentino potato tortelli are a perfect example of that.
The traditional recipe
The potato tortelli recipe originates from traditional rural cuisine. The filling may vary according to the secret recipe that each grandma passed on to her granddaughter, but one thing is always the same: boiled potatoes. Some people like to add tomato concentrate and nutmeg, whereas other people like to add garlic and a sprinkle of grated pecorino or Parmigiano reggiano cheese. There is also one particular filling, called ‘Saporita’, the tasty one, made with a mix of spices, which is particularly common in the northern part of Casentino. In any case, the dough must always be thin, so as not to overpower the delicate flavour of tortelli.
As mentioned before, the most commonly used potato variety is Cetica red potato; other varieties which are used quite often in Casentino are Papiano white potatoes, Faltona potatoes and Talla potatoes.
The filling is very simple: it is made of boiled and smashed potatoes with a little bit of garlic and parsley to add a little kick of flavour, which overall is quite sweet and delicate.
One remark about the shape: potato tortelli are square or rectangular and not crescent-shaped.
Which sauce best suits potato tortelli?
My favourite sauce for potato tortelli is as simple as can be: high-quality extra virgin olive oil, Tuscan pecorino cheese and sage, or pepper, depending on what I feel like eating that particular day. In Casentino potato tortelli are also eaten with porcini bolete mushroom sauce, without tomato, or with meat-based ragu sauce or butter and truffle.
There are two very important rules concerning tortelli. First of all, after cooking, they must be drained and sauced in layers; my suggestion would be to place a layer of tortelli on a serving plate rather than in a bowl, to avoid breaking them, and adding the sauce on top. The second rule is that you must absolutely make more than usual, because they taste even better the next day!