I’m not sure you can eat any better in Bologna than how I did for a few days at the end of December but I did find a way: I ate tortelloni that was made at home. And I made it! OK, I didn’t make all of it. I made some of it. Sort of.
I asked the mother of my friend Paola if we could once again make tortelloni in her home. We did it the first time in 1996, when I was living in Bologna. I was Paola’s roommate and her mother, Maria, lives one floor down. It was my idea then and now. And, just like 20 years ago, Maria schooled everybody on how it’s done.
Tortelloni, filled pasta rings, are the bigger versions of tortellini, also filled pasta rings, and are classic Bolognese cuisine. They’re usually filled with ricotta or, in some areas, pumpkin or spinach. Tortellini, the small guys, are filled with meat and eaten in broth.
Maria, 88, has been making pasta at home her whole life. You will not find a machine in here. We’re all about the rolling pin.
First, we made the filling. Fresh ricotta, parsley, salt and freshly grated nutmeg. I actually grated the nut for this. Who does that?
Then the real work started. I have no idea how much flour we used. Maria sort of eyed it when she poured it out of the bag and made a little mountain. Then she made a well with her knuckles, kept the sides high and added five eggs. “I was making this before I was married,” she says as she scrambled the eggs in the well.
Then you start to add the flour into the eggs, it gets gooey, then thick, and then it’s dough. Punch, roll, knead, punch, roll, knead the ball. Then it was time for the rolling pin.
Maria can wield a mean rolling pin. In fact, she ran rings around me with that thing. The goal is to roll out the dough as wide as the board but you have to make sure it’s even all around and not too thin in the middle. If you watch the video, you will see that I failed this part of the lesson.
Maria was very patient on the sidelines when she encouraged me to hurry because if the pasta gets too dry, it’s difficult to roll out. At one point she basically said, “Here, let me do it,” and had the pasta rolled out to the width of the board in about five minutes. How’s that for humbling?
Once the dough was rolled out, Maria cut it into big squares and then each got a dollop of the filling. Here was the other fun part: forming the actual thing around your finger. You have to close the square so it’s a triangle. Then, you wrap it around your finger, connect those ends and somehow fold the top corner out as you do. Or something like that. I did not do too well in this part of the lesson either. Maria made about 20 a minute. It was all I could do to get one finished that didn’t look like it was run over by a truck.
We made about three dozen and put them in the freezer until lunch the next day.
Remember one thing about preparing filled pasta: the flavor comes from the filling. That’s why we ate ours with a simple tomato sauce, with parmigiano reggiano sprinkled on top. You can also eat them with just butter and sage, a popular dish in nearby Parma. But they’re called “tortelli” in Parma and they look like ravioli. Got that?
It was easy to spot which tortelloni were mine. They were just a tad misshapen. But they were still good!
What a great way to start the new year: wine, cheese, and homemade tortelloni in Bologna. Buon appetito!