Paolo Castelli Code

WHO CAME FIRST, THE EGG OR THE TORTELLINI?

5 Marzo 2019

Dai “tortellini che camminano sul brodo” di Massimo Bottura ai tortellini take away novità dello street food luxury made in Italy

Precious, like a trunk guarding an ancient treasure passed on from generation to generation. Perfect, like a jewel to be flaunted in special occasions, and envied by others’ eyes. Protected, as an endangered species that evolves and changes without losing its DNA.

His majesty the tortellini is as small and perfect as Venus’ navel – or at least it’s how it should be – and paired with broth, they become a match made in heaven. An endless guilty pleasure, that might save the world, as its history and evolution. A symbol of fresh pasta, an invitation to a moment of bliss that has gone on for centuries. The yellow tinted dough, as light as a voile, rolled out by the so called zdaure, the only keepers of the perfect recipe – the primordial one – holds the delicious filling, center of debates and arguments among those who want it all to themselves or those who try to protect it from becoming a wrong copy of something so utterly Italian.

The ancient history of the tortellini dates back to the 12th century, when the first traces of stuffed homemade egg pasta are found.  As for many other recipes, also the history of the tortellini was born from a need: using the leftovers. Not the most noble story, but one that was never forgotten. The poorest parts of the pork that was butchered for the nobles, who ate the best part, was used for the filling. In other words, it was made from leftovers, the least noble part of the meat that was cooked and minced to hide its “not so noble” origin. But some sources say that the initial stuffing wasn’t made of meat, yet of herbs (perhaps typical of the Emilia Romagna region). The Tourtlén first appears on paper in 1570, and some sources date the history of tortellini, the bolognese one, back to 1790 when it appeared in “L’Apicio Moderno” by Francesco Leonardi. The recipe is not the same as today, its filling was made of roasted chicken breast, beef marrow, parmesan, butter, nutmeg, cinnamon and egg yolk. Neither the shape was the same as today , still ogival and small but made of two little rounded layers placed one on top of the other to hold the precious filling. They were already served dipped in broth.

The Bolognese Tortellini praises its Tortellini policy document, registered at the Chamber of Commerce on December 7, 1974, that holds the original recipe of the filling. With no shade of doubt, the Tortellini from Bologna must be made of pork loin, IGP mortadella from Bologna, local ham, Parmigiano Reggiano, eggs and nutmeg. In order to keep its quality and authenticity only local ingredients must be used. Never mistaken tortellini with their cousin cappelletti, that are instead made of a mix of various bovine and swine meats. This is another dispute between the two Italian regions of Emilia Romagna and Marche, but this is a different story. The Bolognese Tortellini praises its Tortellini policy document, registered at the Chamber of Commerce on December 7, 1974, that holds the original recipe of the filling. With no shade of doubt, the Tortellini from Bologna must be made of pork loin, IGP mortadella from Bologna, local ham, Parmigiano Reggiano, eggs and nutmeg. In order to keep its quality and authenticity only local ingredients must be used. Never mistaken tortellini with their cousin cappelletti, that are instead made of a mix of various bovine and swine meats. This is another dispute between the two Italian regions of Emilia Romagna and Marche, but this is a different story.

EVOLUTION COMES FROM TRADITION

Also one of Italy’s best known chefs Massimo Bottura, owner of Michelin star restaurant Osteria Francescana in Modena, learned from the history and experience of his grandmother, seeking perfection to bring to the table. According to Bottura’s vision of tortellini they are only six, and they “walk on broth”. They are lined up in rows, as if they were about to cross a dense and almost jelly capon broth. His idea is to have the guests taste and appreciate every single piece, leading them to the rediscovery of the true and authentic taste of tortellini. The one from Emilia, obviously, that hold the habits and gastronomic tradition, the ones that were cooked by Bottura’s grandmother whom he learned from, and that he used to steal and eat from the kitchen table.

But Bottura is evolution, change. This is why, thanks to the complicity with his Japanese sous chef Yoji Tokuyoshi, he went to look for, actually to conquer, the perfect umami betweenlegends and tricks, from the mountain to the river, in order to create the perfect broth: a contamination of different histories and cultures centered around the tortellini. He worked out the legends and true recipes of the tortellini broth: from the one made of frog and eel to the contamination with kombu seaweed instead of Parmigiano Reggiano. The result is a broth that speaks different languages, different dialects. Basically a broth that speaks to everyone, or at least that reaches everyone. Only one element connects and balances them all: the tortellini.

Bottura’s tortellini feature different stuffings that originate from different traditions, yet always being original: pigeon, guinea-fowl, frog, eel and of course the one of the Modenese tradition with pork, calf, ham, Parmigiano and mortadella.