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!
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.
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
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).