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14 December: Tortellini in Broth National Day – Between History and Curiosity

This day cannot be tied to us Italians. Surely, the residents of Modena, Bologna, and Castelfranco Emilia celebrated this day with a nice dinner of tortellini in broth.

Yes, the dispute over the origins of tortellini is still ongoing and will most likely never be resolved. We can’t even agree on these things because we’re so stubborn and patriotic. Listen to me: You don’t say anything about the city that gave birth to the famous Italian dish. Today, let us make peace and enjoy one of the cornerstones of Italian food and culture, dating back at least to the fourteenth century

Between mythology and mystery, how did the tortellino in broth come to be?

The legends you must be aware of

A first amusing story to tell and remember takes place in Castelfranco Emilia, at the inn La Corona, where a noblewoman arrives to book a room. According to tradition, the owner was struck by its beauty and, inspired after seeing her navel through the lock of the door, sought to recreate its shape, resulting in the notorious tortellino.

The second mythology is always centered on Modena, but it also features the gods Venus, Bacchus, and Mars as protagonists. The trio sought rest at the same inn, and the next morning, after Bacchus and Mars had left, the innkeeper was enamored with Venus’s beauty (and her navel), and decided to honor it by inventing the tortellino.

«… l’oste, ch’era guercio e bolognese,
imitando di Venere il bellico,
l’arte di fare il tortellino apprese.»
(The Kidnapped Bucket – a mock-heroic epic poem by Alessandro Tassoni)

Blessed are the navels, I say, for what they have given us!

The poem’s cover, from which the mythological narrative of the tortellino is said to have originated | Credit

Tortellino’s True Story

We strive to condense and unify the few fragments that have been handed down to date, leaving aside our treasured legends. 

The beginnings are a little ‘fragmented, which is why the debate about the site of origin is still ongoing (in brief, it depends on which team cheers the person you question). However, the mention of Tortellino at a Christmas lunch in a 14th-century book appears to be certain

Instead, the most renowned European cook of the fourteenth century, Maestro Martino, provides us a thorough account of his meat filling for a specific ravioli, which could be a sort of predecessor of modern tortellino. 

Let us fast forward to 1708, when a tortellini soup appears on the menu of the monks of the monastery of San Michele in Bosco di Bologna‘s Christmas supper.

Tortellini in Broth | Credit

The tortellini consecration

The year of consecration, the year of the spotlight—the year when the entire world learned about the tortellino. The Bartani brothers displayed it for the first time in the world at a fair in Los Angeles (1904).

The Tortellino recipe was officially consecrated on December 7, 1974, the date on which the Dotta Confraternita del Tortellino entered the recipe at the Chamber of Commerce of Bologna.

Headquarters of the Chamber of Commerce – Bologna | Credit

But, at this point, aren’t all tortellini the same? Certainly not!

Bolognese Tortellino & Modenese Tortellino

The Tortellino shape is nearly always the same; the significant distinction is in the filling. You’re probably wondering which is better: the one from Modena or the one from Bologna. Everyone throws water at his mill, depending on who asks! Aside from the bars, the Tortellino began as a pasta filled with leftover meat from affluent and nobility’s dinners. So, if you ask me, it was more of a waste-free pot.

Tortellino Bolognese

Tortellino Bolognese | Credit

They begin with a little dialect; the true Bolognese term is turtlèn.

The traditional Bologna recipe calls for a stuffing of pork loin marinated for two days and cooked over low heat with a knob of butter. Then, as usual, the raw ham, bologna mortadella, parmesan, egg, and nutmeg must be added, all well chopped and combined.

Tortellino Modenese

Modenese Tortellino | Credit

Tortellino is nothing more than turtlèin in Modena. We utilize pork loin sliced into cubes and sautéed in a pan instead of the loin itself. Then stir in the mortadella, parmesan, eggs, nutmeg, white pepper, and salt to taste. 

To maintain consistency and porosity, the pasta must be laid out and prepared by hand, regardless of its origin. Tradition is no laughing matter, in my opinion!

A little-known fact: Bolognese soup is entirely made of chicken, but in Modena capon (beef with bones) is utilized.

The debate over its origins may never be settled, but it is precisely in its diversity that the magic of a dish that has captured the world with its enveloping embrace of pasta and creamy filling lies. While certain recipes differ from region to region and from family to family, Tortellini in Brodo (Tortellini in Broth) remain an Italian culinary icon that conveys warmth and flavor well beyond its borders. Enjoy your dinner and don’t forget about it the next time you’re in this area!

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