Tortellino Tradizionale di Castelfranco Emilia Pairs with Red Lambrusco

Learn about the legend behind the pasta and try this traditional Italian recipe.


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Legend says a damsel traveling between Bologna and Modena stopped to rest at a tavern in Castelfranco Emilia, Italy. As she washed in a basin, the tavern owner peeked through a keyhole, but all he could see was her bellybutton. Inspired by the vision, he rushed back to the kitchen and shaped dough to resemble her navel. This scene is re-enacted every year in a pageant that brings out thousands of hungry enthusiasts.

Tortellino Tradizionale di Castelfranco Emilia

Recipe courtesy Associazione di Volontariato La San Nicola, Modena, Italy

3 pounds beef shank
4 pounds chicken or capon
3 cups all-purpose flour (“00” flour in Italy), plus more to sprinkle
4 eggs
2 tablespoons olive oil
3½ ounces pork tenderloin, cut into ½-inch cubes
1¼ ounces prosciutto crudo, thinly sliced
1¼ ounces Mortadella di Bologna, thinly sliced
2 ounces Parmigiano Reggiano (aged 24 months)
½ egg
2 pinches ground nutmeg
Salt and pepper, to taste

Create a broth by simmering the beef shank and chicken for 4 hours in a large pot filled with water. Reserve the meat for the pasta filling.

To make the pasta dough, pour the flour into a mound on a wooden pasta board. Form a crater in the center of the mound with your fingers and break the eggs into it. Whip the egg and the flour with a fork and use your hands to knead the dough to a smooth consistency, about 10–15 minutes. Sprinkle flour onto the board and flatten the dough with a wooden rolling pin until it is 1 millimeter thin.

Heat the olive oil in a skillet set over a high flame, and fry the pork until all sides are white, approximately 10 minutes. Let the beef and chicken cool before passing them through a meat grinder with the prosciutto and pork. Pass the mixture through the grinder twice, a third time with the mortadella and a fourth time with the Parmigiano, egg, nutmeg, salt and pepper.

To form the tortellini, cut the pasta sheet into 50–60 1½-square-inch pieces. Place some of the filling onto the center of each square, and fold the square into a triangle. Press the edges closed tightly, then pull the lower ends of the triangle together to form a ring. Let the tortellini dry for at least 15 minutes before cooking.

Fill a second pot with half the broth. Cook the tortellini until they are al dente and float to the surface of the broth, approximately 3–4 minutes.

To plate, use a slotted spoon to divide the tortellini among 4 large soup bowls. Ladle in enough of the reserved broth to allow the tortellini to float. Serves 4.

Wine Pairing: Fizzy red Lambrusco is served with this dish because the acidity and effervescence cuts through the fatty meat flavors. Excellent producers include Cleto Chiarli, Donelli, Cantina della Volta and Cantina Medici Ermete.

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