It’s crazy to think that today is my last day in Bologna, and in fact that I am already 3 weeks into my Italian adventure – my time has flown by! Although I am eagerly awaiting the last portion of my trip, today is going to be a really fun day. I’ve arranged to take a cooking class, and guess what’s on the menu? Yup, tortellini. The infamously tiny and savory homemade meat-stuffed tortellini served in broth; probably one of the most famous dishes from Bologna.
These tiny little babies don’t come easy though, and that is probably why they are so sought after and worshiped. I have hours of cooking ahead of me, but spending time in the kitchen is so enjoyable for me, it will make for a great last day.
I met with my cooking teacher, Maribel, and the other student bright and early (and rainy) in the Quadrilateral District. Maribel patiently took us through all of the stalls, talking to us about the different seasonal produce, into different shops, showing us different specialty candies and baked goods, and even into the meat shop, picking up all of the ingredients for our cooking along the way.
We took a cab back to Maribel’s beautiful apartment, where she had everything set up for us, ready to get started right away. We suited up with our aprons, made cups of tea to warm up, and dove right in.
love this tea cup
First things first, starting the broth. Yes, even the broth is homemade. As Maribel explained, everything about these tortellini is about flavor, including the broth, which you literally cook the tortellini in. So it is imperative that everything be just right.
A big pot of water, different vegetables, cuts of meat and seasonings all get friendly, and were set over the fire to cook away for the next couple of hours.
With the broth settled, it was time to roll up our sleeves and start the real work, making the pasta. Maribel set us each up with our own work station and talked us through the whole process, carefully guiding us to pasta perfection.
First up was simply making the dough. The very simple mixture of flour and one egg (one brilliantly orange egg), and that’s it. We incorporated the egg, mixed it, and then kneaded the dough for a bit before it was time to cover it and let it rest.
With a little bit of time to kill (while the dough rested), and of course being in the home of an Italian chef, what better thing is there to do than eat? Maribel had planned to make us a little snack – piadina in fact (sigh). I already knew that I was in for a treat. Maribel carefully toasted the piadina with 2 different fillings: prosciutto and arugula, and squacquerone (a local squeaky cheese) and arugula. ( I am still dreaming about this cheese – does anyone know where I can get this in the States?)
Additionally she brought out a plate of mortadella and prosciutto for us to snack on. I could really get used to all of these “snacks.” But let me not forget to mention the one snack that terrified me a little – tasting the raw filling for the tortellini. Maribel was insistent that we taste everything that we cook with so that we know that everything is seasoned just right. This includes the filling, which was in fact raw pork. But Maribel kindly coaxed me to try it, convincing me that it was only “a little raw.” A little raw or a lot, I was actually surprised by how delicious it was.
After the dough had a good rest, it was time roll it out. Although I make homemade pasta regularly, this was my first time rolling out the dough fully by hand. I was a little intimidated, but with Maribel’s guidance and specialty wooden boards and rolling pins, it actually turned out to be a lot easier than I thought it would be.
that’s a pretty serious rolling pin
After ever so carefully rolling the dough thin enough so that you could read a recipe from underneath it, and without creating a single rip, tear or fold, it was time to cut, stuff and fold. This is the point (hours in), that you start to feel the tiredness of making homemade pasta in your back. After hunching over the table for a few, your body starts to wear out a little. (How do all of these Nonna’s do it everyday!?!)
But since we were in the homestretch, Maribel popped a bottle of wine, poured us hearty glasses, and brought chairs for us to sit around the table as we carefully cut and stuffed our teeny tiny tortellini. Truly, if you have not been to Bologna, you have never seen such delicate little creatures. Just a bit bigger than the top of my thumb, these are the cutest little tortellini.
But with some Italian Opera in the background, a nice glass of wine and good company, the time passed quickly, and we were able to whip out a batch of tortellini before it was even time to refill our glasses.
With all of our pasta making done, it was time for the moment we had all been waiting for, eating. Maribel drained the broth a few times to make sure that it was perfectly clear, then brought it to a boil and dropped in our beautiful tortellini. Just mere minutes later, and it was feasting time.
I have never before had tortellini in brodo, and it was truly a heavenly experience. Every morsel is exploding with flavor. Perfectly al dente, perfectly tiny and perfectly delicious in every way. They were absolutely worth every hour that we put into them.
On a dreary, rainy day in Bologna, there is truly nothing better than tortellini in brodo to warm you up. Thank you for a beautiful day Maribel.