The human comedy

Despite my heart says that Giuseppe Ceri was onto something when he wrote about tortellini, Venus and her belly button, sometimes we need to stick to the boring, predictable reality.

And the facts are clear: tortellini are old. How old they are has not been established yet, there are so many myths and legends surrounding this pasta that it would be so disappointing to find out that behind their creation there is only an “ordinary” story of somebody that just wanted to use up some leftovers.

But we have a mission here, so we need to keep digging and find the truth about how these little ring shaped pieces of heaven were created. A document from the 12th century is mentioning the “tortellorum”, eaten in Bologna during the Christmas festivities. There is no recipe, so it doesn’t really prove it is referencing to our modern tortellini.

A cooking book from the year 1300 referencing the “torteleti de enula”: pasta filled with a herb popular in the Romagna region. So I guess these torteleti are the first attempt to create the delicious pasta we all know today, even if the filling was completely different.

What I find really fascinating is that tortellini are mentioned in a book written in the 14th-century by Giovanni Boccaccio, that has nothing to do with pasta or la bella vita: The Decameron, also known as The Human Comedy. The Decameron is a collection of tales, told by a group of ten young men and women, that sheltered in a villa just outside Florence to escape the Black Death, the deadliest pandemic ever recorded in human history. Sounds familiar?

The word Decameron comes from the Greek, and it combines the words, deka (‘ten’) and heméra (‘day’), meaning together ‘ten-day [event]’. The stories told by the main characters are framed in a ten days period.

In one section of the book, Giovanni Boccaccio describes “a mountain made entirely of grated Parmesan cheese on whose slope there were people who spent their whole time making macaroni and ravioli” – My dear Giovanni, I am in.

A menu for the Senate of Bologna, dated in the year 1500, listed the “minestra de torteleti”, and finally in 1664 the author Vincenzo Tanara published a book containing the recipe for tortelletti cooked in butter.

So in a way or another we got to the concept of tortellini; it will take centuries to finally share them with the world, and to become a symbol of the Italian cuisine. In 1904, the Bartani brothers participated to a festival in Los Angeles, and presented tortellini to the public, consecrating this pasta to the Olympus of Italian most popular ad appreciated creations.

As of today, the two cities of Bologna and Modena are not fighting about a bucket anymore, but they still can’t find an agreement on the stuffing of the tortellini:

  • The stuffing made in Bologna contains pork loin slow-cooked with butter, mortadella, Parma ham, parmesan cheese, eggs, nutmeg, salt and white pepper.
  • The stuffing made in Modena contains pork loin, ham, parmesan cheese, eggs, nutmeg, salt and white pepper.

As you can see, the differences are not massive but they are still worth a fight and endless arguments on Twitter, where the populations of two cities accuse each other of not having any clue about tortellini and how to make them properly. Again, in this nonsense fight, I sit among the purest intellectuals: those who would have one plate of each version, as they are both delicious and super tasty.

When it comes to making them, I am more a Bolognese stuffing gal: I love mortadella, it is my favourite cured meat and I would pick any recipe that lists even a minuscule amount of it. And also, I do feel sorry for them for the bucket affair, so Bologna will always have a special place in my heart.

Ingredients for 5 people:


-flour, 500g


-pinch of salt


-pork loin, 100g

-mortadella, 100g

-grated parmesan cheese, 150g

-parma ham, 100g

-egg, 1

-butter, 20g

-pinch of salt, white pepper and nutmeg


1.Let’s start with the stuffing: melt the butter in a pan at low temperature, add the pork loin, salt, pepper and nutmeg. Let it cook for 15 minutes

2.Put the cooked loin in a blender, and add the mortadella, the parmesan and the parma ham

3.Add the egg to the mixture, and add salt, pepper and nutmeg if required

4.Transfer the stuffing in the fridge and let’ s start making the pasta dough: mix together the flour, eggs and a pinch of salt, knead for 10 minutes

5.Wrap the dough in cling film and let it rest for 30 minutes

6.Once rested, take 1/4 of the dough and flatten it with a rolling pin until it is 1-2mm wide. Leave the rest of the dough wrapped

7.Cut the dough you flattened in squares of 4cm

8.Take the stuffing out of the fridge, place half a teaspoon of stuffing in the middle of the square

9.Close the square to form a triangle, and gently press the centre around the stuffing. Press the edges of the triangles and close them up around your pinkie finger, like in the video below

10.Repeat these steps for the remaining dough, 1/4 at the time

According to the tradition, tortellini are meant to be eaten in a lovely homemade meat broth, but to be honest I also have them with a butter sauce, tomato sauce or cream (sorry Bologna and Modena guys, I know it is blasphemy for you!)

24 thoughts on “The human comedy

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