If you’ve ever caught yourself saying “I’ve always loved tortellini”, this is the article for you. Whether in a social group, or dining with a special someone, tortellini creates belief in something sacred. Some even go so far as to say that it requires ritual acts focused on something sacred, it begets a sense of awe.
The word itself possess a certain feeling on the lips as its spoken and along with the name for this delectable dish comes a rich history of tradition through the ages. This timeless recipe and treasure of Italian cuisine not only has a delightful name, and delicious reputation, but also a curious and mythical framework on how it came to be.
Pastas abound in Italy, but none quite have the legend that tortellini does. The navel-shaped pasta has an origin story unlike any other. And while tellings of this legend vary, the basics remain the same. Allegedly when a sixteenth-century innkeeper in the once saw the naked navel of Venus, the goddess of love, he created a tribute to her in the form of a pasta that resembled her belly button.
This thoughtfully crafted pasta is said to have been born in the town of Castelfranco Emilia, in the province of Modena, near Bologna. Although the story varies from town to town, it is commonly said that Venus, the goddess of love, spent a night in a local inn. While there, the innkeeper stole a peek at her through the keyhole of her door, and within seconds of seeing the enchanting goddess, he was struck by that divine degree of inspiration. He then went to his kitchen and masterminded the tortellini pasta, said to be sculpted in the shape of Venus’s navel.
Take the Italian region of Bologna, Tortellini gives the Bolognesi a sense of identity, of pride. Imagine belonging to to the place where tortellini come from a place where people make the dish once a week, just like going to church on Sundays. You have to gather all the ingredients, and assemble them, dare we say, ritualistically even?
Why was the goddess of love visiting an inn in Italy in the Sixteenth Century? That is a part of the story that food historians usually gloss over. But not here. While that is the way the legend goes, chances are this pasta’s creation was like that of many others and simply a matter of practicality.
Sometime around 1570, when the first tortellini recipe was developed, someone figured out the way to keep filling inside of a piece of pasta. They folded the pasta around their fingertip to prevent the meat filling from spilling out during cooking, and voilà! Tortellini!
If you haven’t yet experienced tortellini it is a pouch of rolled dough encasing various fillings. If molded accurately it creates a delicate circle or slightly triangular shape. With the curved and carefully cut egg noodles crowning varying pockets of goodness, they are a work of culinary art. Maybe tortellini captivates us because like the content they hold, they bind people also together.
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