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World’s Best Tortellini in Paris?

The other night, for our collective birthdays – three of us – our dear friend Daniela X (she is modest and does not wish to be identified) made classic tortellini alla bolognese in brodo. Anyone who has been to Bologna, Parma, Modena or the other great-eating-cities in the Emilia region, will know the authentic item.

Tortellini are a variety of navel-sized (and shaped) filled pasta — see the photo of Daniela’s tortellini, courtesy Kimmo Pasanen. They’re cooked in a sumptuous broth made from several types of meat (usually chicken or capon, veal, and, optionally, cotechino), and served in the broth, period. Purists don’t even sprinkle them with grated Parmigiano. But that may be going too far.

The super-classic recipe comes from Pellegrino Artusi’s celebrated 1880s cookbook, La scienza in cucina e l’arte di mangiar bene. Many websites and modern cookbooks will tell you that no one – no one – makes tortellini the way Artusi did. Modern recipes are often fundamentally different – easier and faster. It also means the modern way is less fattening, and less rich, and so on. What’s left out in these descriptions is the “less good.” Artusi’s recipe is simply unbeatable, with one exception: our friend Daniela. She has slightly modified the list of ingredients, not to eliminate fattening or scary items. She has improved it – after decades of trial and error – by adding a thing or two. Alas, I cannot share her recipe with you. It is a secret. But I can tell you that if you use Artusi’s original, you will be very very well served. Do not leave out the marrow. Why is it okay to love osso buco and eat the marrow, but a dangerous crime to use marrow in the filling of tortellini?

If what you’d really like to know is, where in Emilia can you eat excellent tortellini, please pick up a copy of the May issue of Bon Appétit and read my story on La cucina emiliana. In the meantime… here’s the essential part of the original Artusi recipe:

Prosciutto grasso e magro, grammi 30.
Mortadella di Bologna, grammi 20.
Midollo di bue, grammi 60.
Parmigiano grattato, grammi 60.
Uova, n. 1.
Odore di noce moscata.
Sale e pepe, niente.

Tritate ben fini colla lunetta il prosciutto e la mortadella, tritate egualmente il midollo senza disfarlo al fuoco, aggiungetelo agli altri ingredienti ed intridete il tutto coll’uovo mescolando bene. Si chiudono nella sfoglia d’uovo come gli altri, tagliandola col piccolo stampo del n. 8. Non patiscono conservandoli per giorni ed anche per qualche settimana e se desiderate che conservino un bel color giallo metteteli, appena fatti, ad asciugare nella caldana. Con questa dose ne farete poco meno di 300, e ci vorrà una sfoglia di tre uova.
Se vorrete i tortellini anche più gentili aggiungete alla presente ricetta un mezzo petto di cappone cotto nel burro, un rosso d’uovo e la buona misura di tutto il resto.

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