Italian New Year’s Tortellini Recipe

by Lael and Giuliano Hazan on January 3, 2011

In the Italian region where our family is from, Emilia-Romagna, a traditional New Year’s dish is tortellini or cappelletti: small filled pasta that is shaped, according to some, like a bishop’s hat.  Cappelletti means “little hats”, and New Year’s, capo d’anno, is the hat or head of the year, so it is an appropriate pairing.  They are at their best in a homemade meat broth but they are also delicious served with a cream sauce.  However you choose to enjoy them, they are a delicacy to look forward to all year long.

According to one legend, the origin of a tortellino’s distinctive shape, occurred when the infamous femme fatale, the beautiful Lucrezia Borgia, illegitimate daughter of Pope Alexander VI, was traveling through Emilia-Romagna and stopped at an inn to rest for the night.  The innkeeper was so enthralled by her beauty that he couldn’t resist peeking through the keyhole to her room to watch her undress.  All he could see was her bellybutton, but he found it so beautiful that he was inspired to create a filled pasta in its shape, and the tortellino was born.

Like most Italian pasta shapes, the name changes depending on where in Italy you are.  In the Romagna, section of Emilia-Romagna, on the Adriatic coast, they are called cappelletti and are made with a round piece of pasta.  In Bologna, about 50 miles inland, they are called tortellini and are made with a square piece of pasta.  Ironically, it is tortellini, with their pointed shape that resemble a bishop’s hat, while the rounded cappelletti resemble a belly button.  Although now both are usually filled with a meat stuffing, originally, cappelletti had a meatless cheese filling.  Pellegrino Artusi, a native Romagnolo and author of the famous 1891 cookbook, La Scienza in Cucina e l’Arte di Mangiare Bene, once wrote that the original cappelletto emigrated to Bologna and returned “contaminated” with meat as a tortellino.

They are fun to make, and our children, of course, always assist. We’ve also discovered that they make a lovely ring on one of our children’s fingers!   Somehow, there never seem to be many leftovers especially when our kids regularly have three portions!

The recipe in this blog is for the filling.  If you’ve never made pasta dough, here is a link to Giuliano’s step by step pasta making video and you can find the detailed recipe  here.

We hope that you enjoyed your holiday and we wish you a delicious and joyous New Year!  Buon Anno and auguri from the Hazan family.

Tortellini/Cappelletti

From HOW TO COOK ITALIAN, Giuliano Hazan

Total time: 1 hour 20 minutes

Serves 4 as a main course or 6 as part of a multicourse Italian meal.

Egg pasta of Emilia Romagna (see How to cook Italian pages 170-176), made with 2 eggs and 11/2 cups flour

2 ounces lean boneless pork loin

3 ounces boneless, skinless chicken breast

1 tablespoon butter

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

Salt

Freshly ground black pepper

2 ounces mortadella

3/4 cup whole-milk ricotta

1 large egg yolk

3/4 cup freshly grated Parmigaiano-Reggiano

1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1. Cut the pork loin and the chicken breast into 1/2” chunks.  Put the butter and the vegetable oil in a small skillet and place over medium heat.  Add the pork cubes and cook, turning as needed, until cooked through, 2-3 minutes.  Use a slotted spoon to lift the meat out of the pan and set it aside on a plate.  Put the chicken cubes in the pan and cook, turning as needed, until cooked through, 1-2 minutes.  Use the slotted spoon to remove them from the pan and set aside with the pork.  Season the pork and chicken with salt and pepper

2. Coarsely chop the mortadella and put it with the pork and chicken in a food processor.  Chop to a fine consistency, but do not purée.  Transfer to a medium bowl and add the ricotta, egg yolk, Parmigiano-Reggiano, and nutmeg.  Mix thoroughly, until all the ingredients are well amalgamated.  Taste and season with salt if needed; set aside.

4. Roll out the pasta dough.  Cut the sheets into 1 1/2″ squares.  Put just over 1/4 teaspoon of the stuffing in the center of each square.  Fold the pasta square in half forming a triangle then wrap the 2 opposite points around the tip of your index finger forming the shape of a bishop’s hat.  Pinch the ends together to seal.  As you make them, set the tortellini on a clean dry cloth. Continue the process until all the pasta and/or the stuffing is used up.

Note: Do not refrigerate and plan on using the tortellini within 2-3 hours.  Otherwise, cook them partially, about 1 minute, then toss with some vegetable oil, cool, and store in zip lock bags in the refrigerator (do not freeze).

Comments on this entry are closed.

Sandra@Sandra's Easy Cooking February 3, 2011 at 12:05 am

This is just beautiful.. kitchen ,cooking and food in general brings families together! I love this dish and wonderful writing!

Peter Romando January 15, 2011 at 1:19 pm

Giving this a shot this evening with my kids. This brings back memories of helping my mother make batches of fresh fettuccine…Fun!

Nisrine M January 7, 2011 at 10:33 pm

Lael, this is the cutest pasta ever, perfectly folded into hats and deliciously filled. I want it!

I have never made nor had fresh pasta (I did as a child but don’t remember much about it) so it was never worth it for me to give it a try because i never thought it would be much better than store-bought but when it comes to tortellinis, raviolis and other stuffed pasta, I’m sure nothing beats freshly made.

Magic of Spice January 7, 2011 at 12:04 pm

Beautiful tortellini dish…I love the background story.

Lynne January 6, 2011 at 2:22 pm

Interesting story of how the tortellini got its name. Lovely tortellini and the filling sounds very flavorful, especially with the mortadella adding some depth to the flavors.

Lael Hazan January 6, 2011 at 5:19 pm

The filling is wonderful.
We had a bit of filling left over and used it as a marvelous pasta sauce the next day.

Jamie January 6, 2011 at 6:04 am

I love the story of how they got their name and actually adds something wonderful and exotic to the dish. We adore tortellini in brodo and when Simon was little it was his absolute favorite meal! Just before we moved to Italy, JP gave me a pasta machine, but that’s like bringing coals to New Castle, isn’t it. I never used it because those 7 years I could buy fabulous fresh-made ravioli and tortellini all over the place. I really want to learn to make these! Maybe your daughters will teach me? They are beautiful!

This is such a wonderful recipe for filling! Mmmmm!

Rosa January 5, 2011 at 5:39 pm

What a fabulous tradition! That tortellini soup must be extremely good.

Cheers,

Rosa

Lora @cakeduchess January 5, 2011 at 10:11 am

Buon Anno Lael e Giuliano! Your tortellini look fantastic! I love the photos of the girls making them with you. I wish you a wonderful new year full of love, good health, and great food!

Meeta January 4, 2011 at 4:31 pm

I’ve always wondered where tortellini got their shape from. This is such a soothing way to serve them! Hope you had a great start to the new year and may 2011 be sweet and fruitful.

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