I remember that Christmas day was, apart from celebrations, the one day when I could see my grandmother creating tortellini from scratch and feeding our hungry mouths even more food than normal. For me, the process she used to create our meal was magic and complex in its details. She would create a tall volcano out of flour and put all the other ingredients inside. Among these you could definitely spot the bright yellow of the egg yolks.
Then, she would start kneading everything together. Slowly the dough – yellow, soft and elastic – would emerge from the movement of her hands around this white cloud of flour. Next it was time to stretch out the dough with a rolling pin on a very big wooden board (every little Italian girl has a tiny one to help their grandmothers in this process) and cut it in small squares with a special roller tool. But my favorite part, and where I think the magic really comes from, was to fill the small squares with the already prepared meat stuffing and then close them.
In Bologna tradition says they should be closed around the tip of the cook’s little finger in order to get them really tiny. In my grandmother’s and my opinion the tinier they are, the more traditional they are. Legend says that an innkeeper from Modena, spying through a keyhole, once saw the belly button of a half-undressed woman, was inspired to try to recreate that image with pasta and in that way created the typical tortellini shape.
In our tradition it is the women of the house who prepare the tortellini and cook them for their families. Thinking about it now, the movement of these women together looked like a dance routine; one was kneading the ingredients, one was cutting the dough, another one was stuffing each piece and another one was closing them. But everything was done under the careful watch of the grandmother or the oldest woman in the kitchen (supposedly the most experienced one).
And when on Christmas Day tortellini in broth finally got served in a big soup bowl on the table, everyone was so happy and I could finally really feel the holiday and the happiness that it usually brings with it. So, I have to say that for those of us who are from Emilia Romagna it’s not the holidays without a genuine plate of tortellini!