Picture New Year celebrations in a fancy setting with party-goers sitting round a gaily festooned table consuming…soup. Vegetarian party? Cook burnt the roast? Effect of the crisis? The answer is tradition, long and glorious tradition. In Italy, clear soup appears on the festive menu because it is enriched with a generous portion of tortellini, thus elevating the dish to five-star status. Tortellini Day is the right moment to try some of the many variations of tortellini, including in soup. Tortellini are made from thin fine pasta wrapped around delectable fillings of meat, ham or cheese, served with various sauces, or soup. Most Italians agree its filling must include a blend of prosciutto, mortadella and Parmigiano-Reggiano.
The history of Tortellini
Tortellini, the emblematic dish of the Bologna region of Italy, are considered more than appropriate for grand occasions. They should be accompanied by red wine, preferably Lambrusco, which also originates from Emilia-Romagna. Legend has it that a tavern-keeper in Bologna glimpsed the infamous femme fatale Lucrezia Borgia’s navel while spying on her through a keyhole, prompting him to immediately reproduce vision in pasta, thus inventing tortellini. This legend is also why the their alternative name is “belly button” (ombelico).
Another similar legend originating in medieval Italy tells us about how the Roman gods Venus and Jupiter decided to spend the night in a tavern in Bologna after spending the whole day helping the surrounding regions to fight a war amongst themselves. After eating, they went to their room, but the tavern keeper was so captivated by Venus’ beauty that he attempted to look at her through the door’s keyhole, much like in the aformentioned legend. As the room was dark but for a few candles, all he could see was her navel, and the sight inspired him to recreate the heavenly vision in pasta as well.
Creepy? Yes, a bit. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try tortellini–it’s one of the best-known Italian dishes for a reason.
How to Celebrate Tortellini Day
The best way to celebrate Tortellini day is to learn to make your own tortellini, which is not as difficult as it may seem. If this is your first attempt, feel free to buy the pasta dough ready-made, as this will greatly decrease the amount of work necessary. Roll and cut pasta dough into thin, two-inch squares, then put a small amount of filling in the center. Ricotta seasoned with black pepper and nutmeg is a popular choice that is both simple and traditional.
Make a wash of of egg mixed with 1/2 teaspoon water, and then brush on the edges of each square of dough. Then, fold the dough in half, making a triangle and press the edges together to seal them. To finish wrapping your tortellini, draw the points together, overlap them and press to seal into a ring shape. Done!
You should probably make about 20 tortellini per person, and it is best to let them sit for an hour or so before cooking them briefly in salted water. Tortellini can be served with a variety of sauces, a brown butter and sage sauce, a simple tomato sauce or a pungent pesto sauce. To celebrate tortellini day, why not make a few different sauces and try them all? If you have a bit more time on your hand, you could also experiment with various fillings, and then decide which sauce complements each filling best.