Tortelli is a word used mostly in north-central Italy to describe two very different pasta shapes. In Tuscany, it’s used to describe a shape like ravioli. In the province of Arezzo, where La Madera is located, tortelli di patate, ravioli stuffed with mashed potato—eaten boiled or often deep fried—are a local tradition. Elsewhere, such as in Emilia-Romagna, the word is used for large tortellini, which are often called tortelloni outside the region.
There are various different traditional stuffings for tortelli but as you might have read in my blog on Modena, when I was there I tried them stuffed with pumpkin. Although originally from Mantua (Mantova in Italian), this recipe now considered part of Modenese cuisine and indeed I had them served with a reduction of balsamic vinegar (Aceto Balsamico di Modena DOP), which is decisively from Modena.
The most interesting feature of these tortelli is that the filling was sweet and so the dish had a mix of sweet and salty flavours very common in European cuisine before the 18th century. It’s worth noting that balsamic vinegar reductions are often served with strawberries, so there’s not surprise there. They were so delicious that I’ve spent a lot of time since I came back from Modena researching recipes so that I could recreate the dish at home: and here’s the result.
While making these, I took the opportunity to try out my new matarello (rolling pin). Traditionally, Italian pasta is rolled out with a huge pin into one large sheet, instead of using a pasta machine. I prefer this when making stuffed pasta since it’s easier to cut a large sheet into the required shapes without too much waste.
People (Italians included) often say that it’s MUCH harder work using a rolling pin than a pasta machine. They complain that the pasta often shrinks back while you are rolling it out and it requires a lot of effort to stop it doing so. However, if you follow my advice and allow the pasta to rest for at least one hour after kneading, this is not a problem.
Another way to make the job seem easier is to pick a suitable piece of music to roll the pasta out to. You get into a rhythm and by the time the piece of music is finished so are you. (This also goes for kneading the pasta.) I am thinking of putting a playlist together but yesterday I chose The Triumphal March from Aida by Giuseppe Verdi (Italian opera for Italian pasta and a tribute to Modena’s famous son Luciano Pavarotti.) I’m thinking Vedi le fosche from Il Trovatore would also work. Any ideas for additions to the playlist would be welcome in the comments below.
Here are a few photos showing the pasta making process again. I describe the process for shaping the tortelli in the recipe below.
Tortelli di zucca
Preparation time: 35 minutes (+ 2 hours resting time)
Cooking time: 5 minutes
Total time: 40 minutes (+ 2 hours resting time)
For the filling:
600g (21 ounces) pumpkin
60g (2 ounces) amaretti biscuits
80g (3 ounces) grated parmigiano reggiano
grated nutmeg to taste
For the glaze:
100ml (1/2 cup) balsamic vinegar
For the pasta:
400g (14 ounces) ’00’ flour
semolina flour for dusting
Make the filling
- Pre-heat the oven to 180° C (355° F).
- Cut the pumpkin into cubes and place on a baking tray. You can leave the skin on.
- Roast the pumpkin for 30 minutes. Allow to cool. The skin will now peel off easily.
- Put the amaretti biscuits in a food processor and blitz until they are in crumbs.
- Add the pumpkin and mix until you have a smooth paste.
- Add the parmesan cheese and nutmeg and combine.
- Place into a piping bag and put in the fridge until you need it.
Make the glaze:
- Pour the balsamic vinegar into a saucepan and bring to the boil.
- Simmer gently until the liquid has reduced by half.
- Allow to cool.
Make the pasta:
- Place the flour in a mound on a work surface and make a hole in the middle.
- Put the eggs in the hole and beat them with the fork.
- Go round the edge of the hole with the fork, gradually bringing the flour into contact with the eggs until you have a paste.
- Bring the paste together into a dough with your hands.
- Knead for about 15 minutes until you have a nice elastic dough.
- Wrap the dough in cling film and leave to rest in the fridge for at least one hour.
- Using a pasta machine or a rolling pin, roll the dough out into sheets about 3 mm thick. Dust the board and pin or machine with semolina flour to stop the dough sticking.
- Using a pizza wheel, cut the sheets into 4 cm (1 1/2 inch) squares.
- Pipe a small amount of the filling into the centre of each square.
- Fold the squares in half diagonally, squeeze along the edges to seal and then roll around your finger to form a tortello shape. Press the two ends together firmly to seal.
- Place the tortelli on a baking tray covered with a tea towel and place another tea towel on top. Leave to dry for at least an hour.
- Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil and drop the tortelli in.
- As soon as they have risen to the surface (about five minutes) drain them.
- Serve in bowls with the balsamic glaze poured over the top.