SARONNO, Italy - The undisputed star of the Italian Christmas table is tortellini in brodo. And if it isn't tortellini, it will surely be another type of filled pasta. The three most popular are cappelletti, tortellini and ravioli, and each one has specific characteristics.
Cappelletti, (little hats) are named after a type of padded Medieval hat that wrapped around the wear’s head. This type of pasta is very popular in the region of Emilia Romagna, but…. the cappelletti of Reggio Emilia are generally filled with meat while those from Romagna are most often filled with cheese, traditionally three different types of cheese.
Ravioli have another story. Some say the name comes from rabiola, a Medieval word for turnip, which was used as filling during the Middle Ages. Others claim that the name ravioli more likely came from the Raviolo family, a family of restaurateurs, who emigrated from Gavi in the province of Piedmonte, to Genova sometime during the 13th century. They were the first to record a recipe for this type of pasta.
Tortellini are similar to cappelletti but the pasta is thinner and instead of being named after a hat, they are said to be named after the shape of Venus’ bellybutton. It is generally believed that tortellini are the direct descendents of the most ancient form of filled pasta, and given the fact that there are so many references to tortellini in Italian literature, in 1974 the Confraternita’ del Tortellino decided to register the original recipe with the Chamber of Commerce of Bologna, just in case someone else got the bright idea of claiming tortellini as their own.
Tortellini and cappelletti are most often served in a clear broth, while ravioli, unless they are filled with meat, are served with melted butter and sage and a little grated parmesan cheese.
There was a time when you only saw filled pasta during the holidays, but today you can find them all year round. You can buy fresh pasta in most grocery stores but the best comes from small speciality shops. The one in Saronno is interesting because the pasta making machine is in the window. You can watch as the owners crank out noodles and sheets of pasta that will later be used for lasagna or cut into squares for one of the many filled pasta shapes.
Here in northern Italy we consume about 66% of the total production of commercially made filled pasta, while in the center of the country that number drops to 22% and it drops even lower, 12%, in the south. Filled pastas make up 50% of all the pasta produced in Italy and 70% of all the fresh pasta produced. That’s a lotta pasta.
Photos: (1)Tortellini in brood (2 Nimble Fingers