Tortellini is the navel of pasta dishes. I wonder why that never caught on as a slogan? Nothing is more appetizing than eating an odd looking food than being reminded it looks like someone’s navel. Specifically, it look’s like Venus’s navel, the goddess of love. That’s the legend of tortellini. It comes from Italy near the famed cities of Bologna and Modena. Legend has it that Venus once stayed at a local tavern there (who would think goddesses would stay in taverns), and the innkeeper spied on his guest through the keyhole getting a partial glimpse of her. Struck by what he saw, he rushed to his kitchen, rolled out a sheet of fresh egg pasta and invented a shape inspired by that glorious navel. Ok, that’s pretty creepy and beyond that, why would he make a food inspired by the navel of all body parts? I mean, you think he would have been inspired to make a couple of Jell-o molds or maybe some ice cream bombes, if you catch my drift. The bellybutton seems so random. But wait a minute, is that tortellini shape a navel or could it be something else? Hmmm.
No matter, that’s the legend of tortellini. Really tortellini is just a pasta that is made into small circles, stuffed with a filling and then folded over and sealed. There are recipes for it dating back to 1570 and it is a rich part of Italian culture. It is served there in broth as a rule. Serving it in cream or other sauce would take away from the taste of the filling. The best tortellini is made by hand from a fresh dough made of eggs and flour. When you read about how it is revered in Italy, you see how proud they are in their creation. How much love goes into every homemade recipe. It really is a food to honor the divine so it should be savored as such. I think Chef Boyardee put an end to that glamorous image when he started putting them in cans with ketchup-like sauce.
There are a lot of recipes online on how to make your own homemade tortellini. It’s a whole industry. There are videos of folks in Italy making it with their grandmothers and there are even classes on how to do it. I was not going to make my own. I think to make really great pasta you need the right space. Our kitchen is not optimal for that. I would end up cramped in a corner. To make great pasta you need a big table that you can utilize for rolling out the dough. I just knew it wasn’t going to work in our house. Maybe it would have, but I didn’t want to try. I decided to go to Clements Market to pick up some tortellini. I knew they have fresh tortellini from Buttoni that they keep in the refrigerated section that’s always pretty good. But then I looked in their freezer section and I found some tortellini that is made in Providence. It was called Mama’s Home Style Cheese Tortellini and it looked kind of low tech. But it boasted that it was made fresh and it was made at Venda Ravioli which is an Italian market in the Federal Hill section of Providence. That was a good sign of quality, so I picked it up along with everything else I needed.
I had found a recipe earlier in the day for One Pan Tuscan Garlic Chicken Tortellini from a blog called Le Creme de la Crumb. It looked pretty good and anytime they have garlic in the name, I know it will be a hit for Lola. It was pretty easy to make. You cook the tortellini which took about 7 minutes. Meanwhile, you cook some chicken in a pan. When the chicken is done, you cook some garlic, sun-dried tomatoes and some spinach until the spinach wilts. Then you deglaze the pan with some chicken broth and stir in some heavy cream. After that heats up, you toss the pasta and chicken back in and you have your meal all ready in one skillet. It smelled awesome.
I’ll start with how I messed this up. One, I didn’t cut the sun-dried tomatoes small enough. When they come out of the jar covered in oil, it was hard to run a knife through them. So I made a couple of cuts but should have cut them up finer. I was hurried at this point because of my other mess-up: I was burning the garlic. I hate when I burn the garlic. It starts to give off that bitter aroma. The other improvement I would make would be to cut up the chicken into slices. That would have made it easier to eat. On the plus side however, it looked beautiful. The bright green of the spinach, the red of the tomatoes, the milky glaze of the cream all made it seem impressive. It was actually really tasty too. The tortellini was perfect with a nice al dente texture and a burst of cheese on the inside. I know the Italians would be up in arms about serving it in a cream sauce, but the sauce was actually a good addition, giving the tortellini more depth. It was good to have spinach just in that general need for greens but it also added some good flavor, especially with the garlic taste which was slightly bitter but still good. All in all a great little meal. Lola approved too.
I think there should be more food inspired by the body parts of deities. That would make eating more fun. Maybe some ears of Poseidon or perhaps some kneecaps of Zeus (I’ll pass on the hot dog of Thor though). I’m still confused at how recreating a navel became such a sensual moment in food history. Then again, the story brings a whole new dimension of appreciation to the food. It’s not just something being mass-produced to meet a quota. It’s being crafted out of love and inspiration to resemble a moment of beauty and truth. That’s really a celebration of food, so I’m glad we celebrated this today. Plus, it was a warming dinner that was good for our travel-weary souls. Thank you Venus for having such a delicious belly button. I think I’ll go peek through the keyhole at Lola now to see if I get inspired to make something for dinner as enduring as the glorious tortellini. Wish me luck. I’ll take pictures.
Source for history of tortellini: “Tortellini, The Dumpling Inspired By Venus’ Navel” by Sylvia Poggioli for NPR
Next Up: National Cream-Filled Chocolates Day (naturally)