By Alberto Amore
The beginnings of the pasta variety known as tortellini are obscured through many legends and many villages who lay claim to the origins of the small naval shaped pasta also known by the Italian name for a belly-button, ‘obellico’.
A strong local tradition has it that this dish was born in Castelfranco Emilia (province of Modena). One night during a trip, Lucrezia Borgia stayed at an inn in the small town. During the night, the host became so captivated by Lucrezia’s beauty that he could not resist the urge to peek into her room through the keyhole. The bedroom was lit by only a few candles, and so he could barely see her navel. This pure and innocent vision was enough to send him into an ecstasy that inspired him to create the tortellini that night. Like many Italian stories, there are variants and some believe this to be absolute gospel while others perceive it to be little more than an urban myth.
Many knew Lucrezia, not as the victim, but as a femme fatale, who rather than being the preyed upon was the predator. Lucrezia was known to have a ring that carried poison. She was known to poison, murder and commit incest with those she preyed upon and was easily entertained due to her intoxicating good looks.
Is it thought that many paintings were made of Lucrezia including ‘Portrait of a Youth’ by Dosso Dossi now hanging in the Gallery of Victoria.
Lucrezia was described in many favorable and desirable terms. She has been described as having thick blonde hair that ran well past her knees with a beautiful complexion, hazel eyes, a full, high bust, and a natural elegance that made her appear to “walk on air”.
Tortellini of Modena
Another legend, distinct but similar in theme, originated in medieval Italy and tells how a battle weary Venus and Jupiter arrived at a tavern on the outskirts of Bologna one night. After much food and drink, they shared a room. The innkeeper, captivated by the two, followed them and peeked through the keyhole. All he could see was Venus’s navel. Spellbound, he rushed to the kitchen and created tortellini in Venus’ image.
Tortellini in broth
A third, and also very widely entertained explanation, claims that the tortellini reproduce the shape of a turtle in an effort to replicate the famous architectural features of Modena, where many 17th-century buildings allude to the turtle motif.
Homemade Tortellini Recipe
- Pork loin 250g
- Mortadella 100g
- Prosciutto crudo 100g
- Parmesan cheese
- Nutmeg (optional)
- Egg pasta Sheets
- To make the stuffing, cut the pork into smallish cubes and mix with a finely minced battuto of the garlic and rosemary, a generous amount of salt and pepper. Marinate for a couple of hours minimum.
- Heat butter in a pan and sauté the pork in butter. When the pork is cooked through, transfer it to a food processor, leaving the butter and bits of garlic and rosemary behind.
- Add mortadella and prosciutto to the food processor and process using the pulse function until you have a finely minced consistently. Add egg, grated cheese and if you like, nutmeg to taste. Then let it process until very fine. The mixture should be dense and dry. If it is a bit loose or a bit wet, add more cheese or ideally more breadcrumbs. Place stuffing aside in the refrigerator.
- Now make a batch of fresh egg pasta. You want to roll out the pasta into thin sheets. Cut the pasta into squares and add the stuffing. Take a sheet of pasta and lay it out on a clean, flat, lightly floured surface. Cut the sheet into small squares, roughly 3cm/1 inch wide.
- Now take your stuffing and place a small dot of it in the middle of each square. Form each tortellino by folding each square into triangles, taking one end and pulling it over the stuffing to touch the other end. Don’t try to line up the points exactly. They should be ever so slightly askew to give the tortellino its classic look. Now take the two points at the ‘base’ of the triangle and twirl them around your index finger, attaching them on the other side of your finger to form a kind of ring. As you form each tortellino, place it on a dry towel, preferably one that has been draped over a baking rack, which allows for even air-flow above and below.
- Cooking. Boil the tortellini in well-salted water (or, even better, in broth) for a few minutes until done. You don’t want them al dente in the manner of pasta secca (dried pasta). They should be tender without being mushy.
- Serve immediately either in broth or with a sauce.