The Art of Tortellini

You may know Bologna as the birthplace of bolognese sauce (we just call it ragu here), or mortadella, the ancestor or that rubbery lunch meat bologna. But maybe more importantly, Bologna is the home of one of the greatest pastas ever invented: the delicate and delicious tortellini.

Like most Italian food: tortellini has rules, or at least strong suggestions. First of all, they are tiny. Think the size of your thumb. Bigger versions which seem more popular in the states are actually tortelloni. While tortelloni can be stuffed with all sorts of things, in Bologna you will almost always find tortellini one way: stuffed with a mix of proscuitto, mortadella and parmesan cheese and served en brodo, in a rich broth.

Buy your fancy pasta here- and be prepared to pay!

It’s a dish that is both delicate and warm and filling. For me it’s the original comfort food- my mom and my Nonna before her used to serve us tortellini in chicken broth (enriched with 2 or 3 boullion cubes for flavor) sprinkled with copious amounts of parmesan cheese.

When my Mom came to visit in March we got the chance to visit a tortellini “factory” on our terrific tour with Delicious Bologna. Factory is a generous term really. All over Bologna you will find tiny workshops where tortellini is carefully crafted. It’s then sold by weight in small shops or served in restaurants around town. At between 13-25 Euros a kilo, it’s not cheap stuff!

First the dough is rolled into thin sheets using a special long rolling pin. Apparently this is the trickiest part of the process.

After the pasta is rolled out and sliced with a pizza cutter, a dab of filling is placed in each square. Then the folding commences:

I got to try my hand at this, and it’s not super difficult once you get the motion down. How these ladies manage to do about 10 a minute, all perfect though, I’ll never know.

It’s truly an art. While I still buy the cheap boxes of tortellini from the store on occasion, you can really tell the difference when you splurge on the real thing.

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