Even though I’m adamant that horse mince is the most delicious meal in Italy, I would like to spend few moments talking about another traditional recipe from the north of Italy. This one, however, is much more widely appreciated! Today I am going to introduce you the “Tortelli di Zucca”, an ancient recipe that has its roots in the medieval times and due to its simplicity and harmonious taste, it is still one of the favourite plates of the Italian people.
The “Tortelli” are a kind of fresh handmade pasta stuffed with a soft filling; it could be meat or ricotta cheese and spinach, in this case it is pumpkin. This kind of pasta is commonly used during religious festivals such as Christmas because it allows less wealthy people the chance to consume a tasty and nutritious dish with less ingredients.
Even if the grander looking ones are obviously the tastiest, and also the most expensive due to the preparation, you can find a cheaper commercial version everywhere. You can even find it in local supermarkets like Sainsbury and Tesco. They even keep the same name and the Italian translation is needed just for the filling.
The pasta is made with eggs, flour and a little salt, while the filling is a mixture of cooked pumpkins, “amaretti” (a kind of biscuits), nutmeg and grated parmesan cheese. The preparation takes quite long and is not the easiest, but like many things the harder the task the more rewarding the result. There are many ways to prepare the dish and as is usual for such an ancient recipe every city is claiming the paternity and imposing their personal variation (even if the final result is more or less the same). It is tradition that after boiling the pasta it is usually served with melted butter, sage and a lot of parmesan, you can also add onions, bacon or even a light red tomato sauce. (From my point of view they are adding too much to the recipe which has to remain simple to bring out the taste of the filling).
The particular thing about this kind of Tortelli is that it is quite sweet, but at the same time the bitterness of the amaretti and the salty flavour of the parmesan creates one of the most intricate mixture of tastes which turns out to be a masterpiece of the culinary science. If you are walking in the streets of Parma, Reggio Emilia, Piacenza, Cremona or Ferrara you will easily find many places where tortelli are still handmade prepared every day. My suggestion is always to go inside and try them! If you are not totally convinced about it then you can ask for a “Trittico di Tortelli” to get three different kinds of fillings: pumpkins, pot-herbs and potatoes with porcini mushrooms on the top.