The Quest for Tortellini

Bologna is known for its food, well the whole Emilia Romagna region has so many treasures.


Markets in Bologna selling fresh tortellini

While I was there I decided I was going on a quest to find the best tortellini in Bologna. It really is an impossible grueling task but I was willing to put in the work and try to make a dent in the offerings of such a great city. Tortellini is such a thing of pride that there is a yearly festival dedicated to it. Infact in 1974 the official recipe of Tortellini was deposited with the Bologna Chamber of Commerce, proving that according to Bolognese officials there is one right way to make it.

First of all, lets talk about Tortellini, there are many legends about the origins of Tortellini. One of the most popular tales

“One night during a trip Lucrezia Borgia stayed at an inn in the small town of Castelfranco, and during the night the host because so captivated with her beauty that he could not resist the urge to peek into her room through the keyhole. The room was lit only by a few candles and so he could only see her navel. The pure and innocent vision was enough to send him into Ecstasy. That inspired him to create the tortellini that night.”

Another really popular legend is that in medieval Italy the god(ess)s Venus and Jupiter were staying at an inn in the outskirts of Bologna and again! an Innkeeper looked through the keyhole at them them and all he could see was Venus’s navel and was captivated.

So both popular stories credit the invention of this pasta to a perv. Were the little ombelico (another name for tortellini meaning belly button) folded like that so the stuffing wouldn’t leak out into the sauce during cooking or because some peeping tom had a navel fetish? I prefer the fetish story.

This is my tortellini journey:

The first tortellini:

This was at a little Salumeria called La Biata . Its very close to Piazza Miaggore. Even though I was looking for Tortellini en Brodo the tortellini I spied on the way to the upstairs dining area (the bottom floor is just retail) looked so amazing I decided to try the Tortellini Bolognese. It was ah-mazing. First let me clarify that REAL bolognese from Bologna does not really resemble its tomato-y soupy american cousin. It was delicious. The tortellini were filled with cheese as often as the case when served with a meat sauce. I was so impressed by the quality of food coming from this tiny salumeria, it reminded me why I love Italy so much and the passion for food.

On to the next:

This was at Ristorante da Nello. Da Nello al Montegrappa has a very authentic bolognese menu. The tortellini were meat filled in a rich Capon broth.  Its down a small alley off of Piazza Maggiore so it wasnt packed with tourists (or so I assumed).

And then:

Restaurant Teresina. This was the best, the best tortellini en Brodo I had in Bologna. The broth was rich and flavorful, it was more herbaceous than a lot of the others I tried on this trip. The filling of the tortellini was perfectly seasoned. I admit I like A LOT of grated parmigiano on this dish but this one didnt need it. I mean, it made it better as adding cheese always does. But it was really really fantastic.  See that look of utter contentment on my face.

This was at I Carracci Ristorante in The Posh “Grand Hotel Majestic”. That is really the hotel’s name. Really. This was the most expensive meal I ate. The tasting menu was 100 Euros per person for 5 courses. I asked if it included the Tortellini en Brodo which was on the a la carte menu and my server assured me it was. Little did I know that I was to get all 5 of the chefs tasting menu in addition to a full portion of tortellini(which was no extra charge). It was good, it wasnt 5 stars, but the other dishes were spectacular. Overall I also may have been overwhelmed by the shear amount of food that was brought to me. I assumed the chefs tasting to have smaller portions but this is clearly a restaurant that wanted to live up the Bologna The Fat reputation of the city.

And continuing

This was my second favorite bowl of tortellini. This was at a small restaurant called Golem. Its off the beaten path in Bologna. I was just wandering the city trying to get as far away from the main piazzas when I found it. The broth was peppery and thick. The tortellini had a more pronounced nutmeg flavor. The warmer spices made the soup seem a little bit more winter-y.

This bowl is from a place in the Jewish Ghetto district of Bologna called L’Archimboldo. The menu at this place is very adventurous  compared to most places that I ate. I had two sections: traditional and modern. Obviously this was from the traditional side and it was fantastic. The tortellini were a lot bigger than all the other soups I had but it was nice, the filling of the pasta was really the star of this dish. It was richer and fattier than most, I’m assuming more mortadella less pork loin.

La Biata again. This was the meat tortellini in a cream sauce. I loved the atmosphere there and really wanted yet another plate of salumi and when I went I couldnt resist trying the other offering of tortellini. It was worth coming back for.

Looking at this tiny list of places I tried tortellini seems unimpressive for the 9 days spent in Bologna, but I tried my best. Its easy to forget that as simple as this dish appears, its filling and hearty, and of course I had to eat other delicious-ness while I was in the food capital of Italy.


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