So, Bologna! Tortellini! Parmigiano Reggiano!
Bologna was actually the city my plane landed in. (Sorry, I’m doing this Italy trip stuff all out of order.) It was all little harried, and unfortunately I didn’t get to stay long in the city. (Who couldn’t go for more time in the city that invented Ragù Bolognese?) I arrived right around dinner time and went right from the airport to a a cooking class where we learned how to make homemade tortellini. Sadly, this meant no shower after 16 hours on an airplane. But what can you do? And I’m certainly glad I didn’t miss the pasta making demonstration.
My first attempt at tortellini: unfortunately, not too impressive. My were a little…odd looking. The chef was a nice guy though and kept telling me I was doing a good job.
I actually think my mother in law Kathy would be really really good at folding tortellini because it reminds me a little bit of folding gyoza or pot stickers and she can fold like, a gyoza in half a second. And it’s perfect too.
But, don’t worry I practiced a lot of tortellini folding before writing this post. If only because to get enough tortellini to feed my family for dinner you’ve got to make a lot of em!
I found out that both Bologna and the near by Modena both lay claim to being the first city to invent the tortellini. Nobody really knows which city did, though there are a lot of odd legends about it.
Both cities however will serve tortellini in a meat broth made by boiling beef or chicken. This is called Tortellini en Brodo. Tortellini are NEVER SERVED IN VEGETABLE BROTH, my guide Simona told me so. (Sorry vegetarians.) Ironically the reason I know this, is that the Chef of the cooking demo serves us our tortellini in vegetable broth. Simona then made a point of explaining the correct way to serve the dish. She is from Bologna and had to defend her cities honor, you know? (It still cracks me up how opinionated everyone I spoke with was about the right way to make every dish.)
The tortellini of Bologna are stuffed with a mixture of meat (mortadella, ham, sausage….and more) and Parmigiano Reggiano (Emilia Romaga’s crown jewel of cheeses), and a dash of nutmeg.
Interestingly, this exact dish, Tortellini en Brodo, is an important part of the traditional Christmas eve meal in this area.
Simona also mentioned that all the different things we do with tortellini in the states (i.e. serve them in a meat sauce, or a pasta salad, or whatever) would NOT be done in Bologna. That being said, totally in-authentic though it may be, I think homemade tortellini are absolutely amazing served in pretty much any pasta sauce you can think of, any soup, plain old butter… yum. I’m going to share an authentic recipe with you today, but I’m just saying get crazy and experiment with the serving once you’ve got the whole thing down.
So after our class/dinner we did go back to our hotel and I took a blissfully long shower. The hotel, a Best Western (who knew they were in Italy?), was clean and comfortable, if not super fancy.
But the next morning when I went for breakfast, wow, then I was impressed. The hotel had an absolutely picture perfect balcony, a great breakfast spread (hello croissants!), and really good cappuccino. Oh man do I love a good cappuccino. (One more reason I’m sure I’m secretly Italian, these people properly appreciate coffee. You don’t even want to know how many espressos I drank while I was there…)
After breakfast we had time for about a 15 minute walk around the area and then we were on our way. (See what I mean about too short?)
But our next stop was pretty awesome. We traveled outside the city to Hombre Farms, a real deal producer of Parmigiano Reggiano. Don’t be fooled by the same, apparently the owner took a trip to Spain and really like the word hombre.
By the way, if you really want to make sure you’re getting the authentic item when buying Parmigiano Reggiano look for the words spelled out in a dot pattern on the rind. And obviously always buy your cheese with the rind. (Bonus, the rind adds amazing flavor when tossed in a pot of soup!)
We got to scope out the farm and learn about the production process.
Plus check out the Maserati collection/ museum that is also part of the property. If you like cars and cheese, this is a must visit kinda place.
After Hombre Farms we headed off towards Modena to see how traditional balsamic vinegar is produced. But, that my friends is a story for another post. For now, lets get to the recipe.
Traditional Tortellini From Bologna– Serves 8. Recipe adapted, barely, from Scuola di Cucina Cooking School, Bologna Italy.
Notes: In the interests of not making this an absolutely ginormous post I’ve included step by step photos on how to fold the tortellini, but not of how to make the dough. The dough used in this recipe is a variation of the basic egg dough, though it does not call for water. If you need a little more guidance or visuals while making the dough please see my post Homemade Pasta 101- Basic Egg Dough, this post has directions on how to make and stretch the dough by hand, with a stand mixer and electric roller, or a hand cranked pasta machine. The steps are exactly the same as what you are doing for this recipe, except of course minus the steps adding water.
In this recipe I’ve included instructions for handmade dough, and machine rolling to make the dough. My Pasta 101- Basic Egg Dough post also has instructions on how to make the pasta with a stand mixer. This dough can also be made with that method, though I’ve explained things the traditional way in this recipe.
In the states all of the meats used in the filling are not necessarily readily available. If you can visit a butcher you may find everything. If you are just hitting the local grocery store for your ingredients you may not. If this is the case for you I recommend looking for pre-ground meatloaf mix which is generally a mix of beef, pork, and veal or lamb. Or make a mix using equal parts of ground beef, ground Italian sausage, and ground pork. Either way you will need about 20 oz of meat (1.25 lbs) total. Both make decent substitutions, though of course, will taste a little different.
- 6 cups and 5 tablespoons 00 pasta flour
- 8 eggs
- 2 tablespooons butter
- 5oz ground pork
- 5 oz ground veal
- 4 oz ground sausage
- 4oz finely diced ham
- 4 oz finely diced mortadella
- 1 egg
- 1/2 tablespoon bread crumbs
- 1 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano
- salt to taste
- 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
- Heat a large pan with the butter until the butter foams. Add the ground pork, ground veal, and ground sausage to the pan. Cook until browned. Allow to cook and drain off the grease. Transfer the meat to a large bowl. Add the raw ham and mortadella, along with the Parmigiano Reggiano, bread crumbs and egg to the bowl. Add salt and nutmeg. Use hands to mix together well so all ingredients are evenly distributed. (This isn’t authentic but you may even want to run the mixture through a food processor. It makes the filling much easier to work with.) Put filling in the fridge until needed again.
- Prepare the pasta dough by sifting the flour and making the classic mound of flour with a crater with eggs in the center. Whisk the eggs with a fork and then gradually incorporate the flour into the eggs. Work the mixture with your hands for 15-20 minutes. Continue until a smooth dough is formed and bubbles begin to appear on the surface of the dough. Form the dough into a ball and allow the dough to rest in a bowl for 30 minutes. (For photos or more detailed instructions see Homemade Pasta 101- Basic Egg Dough. There are also directions for making the dough with a stand mixer if you desire, though again that is of course not traditional.)
- Divide the dough into four parts, then either by hand with a rolling pin or using a pasta roller to stretch the pasta and form long rectangular sheets of pasta. (Again, for photos or more detailed instructions see Homemade Pasta 101- Basic Egg Dough.) For machine rolled pasta pass the dough through the settings starting with the widest and continuing to the number 8 setting.
- Working with one sheet of pasta at a time, cut using a pasta cutting wheel. Keep the additional sheets covered with plastic wrap or a towel until needed so they don’t dry out. Real tortellini is very small. Pasta should be cut in about 1 and 1/2 inch squares. However, if you are a beginner I recommend cutting the squares to be about 2 and 1/2 inch squares until you get better at the folding technique.
- Place about a pea sized amount of filling in each square of pasta. (A little more can be added if you’ve cut the squares bigger.) Use both hands fold the square into a triangle sealing the edges together. Fold the shortest point of the triangle down over the area where the filling sits. Rotate the triangle so that it sits upside-down behind the forefinger of your left hand. Then gently pull the last two corners of the triangle around your finger to form a ring. Repeat until all the pasta is filled.
- If you plan to use the tortellini right away, set completed tortellini on a wire rack, and allow to sit about 10 minutes before cooking. cooking promptly. If using later on same day, or in the next three days place on a parchment lined baking sheet and cover well with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to use. Tortellini can also be frozen, by placing on a parchment lined baking sheet not touching. Place tray in the freezer and allow the pasta to freeze completely. After frozen gently transfer to a ziplock bag, and seal with as little air as possible.
Note: This trip was fully paid for by Emilia Romagna Region Tourist Board. However, any opinions expressed here are my own.