A food-and-wine themed wedding could only be followed by a romantic honeymoon to the food capital of the world…Italy. So where do Italians go for the best Italian food? Nonna’s house, of course. But a close second is the region of Emilia-Romagna, where the cities of Bologna, Modena, and Parma maintain and refine some of Italy’s best known foods like Parmigiano-Reggiano and balsamic vinegar.
In Bologna, a staple pasta is the ring-shaped tortellini stuffed with either a cheese or meat mixture. Tortellini can be served with a sauce, but traditionally are dished up in brodo (broth) like a soup. We fell in love with this dish and looked to recreate it at home.
Our New Year’s Eve tradition involves avoiding the partying crowds and instead cooking up something fancy at home. Tortellini are not that complicated but do require some time, especially for newbies like us. For that reason, it makes sense to churn out hundreds of tortellini at a time. They freeze well and can be enjoyed later as we did this week.
The key to authentic tortellini is the stuffing. A tortellino (singular of tortellini) should burst with flavor when you bite into it, unlike many we find in the states which often seem rather bland. Each tortellino is small so that several tortellini should fit onto a spoon (tortelloni are similarly-shaped, but larger cousins). With room for only a little bit of stuffing in each tortellino, it needs to be potent. The classic tortellino stuffing is pork loin, ham, mortadella, Parmigiano-Reggiano, eggs, and nutmeg (Italians often use this rather than black pepper to spice up a dish).
Mortadella is Bologna’s traditional cold-cut and an extremely distant pre-cursor of what we know as Oscar Meyer’s bologna (pronounced buh-loh-nee) made famous by the jingle. Peppercorn and pistachio-studded mortadella from Bologna (pronounced buh-lohn-yuh) is an entirely different heaven of its own.
Pipe the stuffing into the middle of a 4cm square of pasta (we’ll cover pasta making another day), fold over one corner to another to make a triangle, wrap the other two corners around your finger to make a little ring, and…presto…you have your first tortellino. Admittedly, after several hundred, we called it quits for the day, ate some of them, froze the others, and saved the rest of the stuffing for another day of pasta making.
When it came time to enjoy again, we spruced up some store-bought chicken stock with veggies, herbs, and spices for a couple of hours; dropped the frozen tortellini into salted, boiling water for 4-5 minutes; dished up together in a bowl; and topped with additional freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano that we had brought back from Italy. Like so many Italian foods – seemingly simple, yet divine!
Lucky for us, there’s more in the freezer…