Tortellini: a tale of two cities.

Tortellini are dainty filled parcels of egg pasta which are traditional in the provinces of Bologna and Modena. However, there is some disagreement as to who actually first produced tortellini, with both cities still laying claim to the invention.

This ambiguity is underscored by a famous legend. The story tells of a landlord from Bologna whose inn in the town of Castelfranco Emilia, in the province of Modena, had the honour of a visit by a noblewoman. Peeking through the keyhole of the lady’s room, the landlord is said to have been struck by her great beauty, and in particular by her exquisite navel. Eager to commit the vision to memory, he attempted to reproduce the admired navel, and thus invented the tortellino.

What sets the recipe of Modena’s tortellini apart from those from Bologna is the filling. Genuine Bolognese tortellini have a filling of pork loin, cured prosciutto, mortadella, Parmigiano Reggiano, egg and a hint of nutmeg, while those from Modena use lean beef, prosciutto, mortadella, parmigiano and nutmeg.



In the countryside of Emilia, the smooth running of any household was exclusively the realm of the “rezdora”, more a master of the household than a mere housewife. These “rezdore” were invited to the city to perform their art, the art of making tortellini, for large banquets, parties and weddings. They used to return home with the leftovers and enjoy their own celebratory meal with their family.



Traditionally, tortellini have always been served in broth, ideally broth made with a capon. It is said that the delicate flavour of capon meat goes perfectly with the filling of the tortellini, enhancing their flavour.

Al premm turtel, an vèn mai bel.
The first tortellino is never perfect.
Popular Modenese saying.

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