It’s a little bit 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 definitely flown by! And while I am eagerly awaiting the last part 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? Yep, tortellini. Those famously tiny and savory homemade meat-stuffed pasta, served in an equally savory broth.
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 something that I love, and so I know that it will be a great day.
I met with my cooking instructor, Maribel, and another 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, showing us different specialty candies and baked goods, and even taking us into the meat shop; all while picking up the ingredients for our class.
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 then dove right in.
First things first, starting with 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.
With the broth underway, it was time to roll up our sleeves and start the real work: making the pasta. Maribel gave us each 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 well, and then kneaded the dough for a bit before it was time to 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 piadine 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 might be able to find it Stateside?)
She also offered us a plate of mortadella and prosciutto to snack on. Which by the way, I could really get used to all of these “snacks.” However, let me not forget to mention the one snack that terrified me a little (or a lot), tasting the raw meat 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 (insert my look of horror here). But Maribel kindly coaxed me to try it, convincing me that it was only “a little raw.” Well, a little raw or a lot, I was actually surprised by how delicious it was.
After our pasta dough had a good rest, and we had finished our snacks, it was time for rolling. Although I make homemade pasta regularly, this was my first time rolling out the dough completely 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 that it would be.
After 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, fold and seal.
Since we were in the homestretch of our cooking, Maribel popped open a bottle of wine, poured us hearty glasses, and brought chairs for us to sit at around the table while we carefully created our teeny, tiny tortellini. Truly, if you haven’t been to Bologna, you have really never seen such delicate little creatures – just a little bit bigger than the top of my thumb – these are the cutest little tortellini.
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.
And then it was time for the moment that we had all been waiting for. . .the eating. Maribel strained 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 had never had tortellini in brodo before, and it was truly a heavenly experience. Every morsel was exploding with flavor. Perfectly al dente, perfectly tiny, and perfectly delicious in every way. They were absolutely worth every ounce of work.
On that dreary, rainy day in Bologna, there was truly nothing better than tortellini in brodo to warm me up. Thank you Maribel for such a wonderful day in the kitchen.