Tortellini in brodo (tortellini in broth) is a classic Christmas dish from Bologna. The tortellini need to be so small that you can eat them in a single bite, together with the broth. It is quite a bit of work to make them as well as the broth from scratch, but certainly worth it. You can make the broth and the tortellini the day before, in fact my advice would be to do that. Officially you need a capon (neutered rooster) to make the broth, but a plump farm chicken will do.
Tortelli and tortellini are the typical stuffed pasta shapes from Emilia-Romagna, the region around Bologna. The word “tortellino” is derived from “torta” (tart), in the meaning of something made from dough with stuffing inside. “Tortello” is the diminutive of torta and means small tart. “Tortellino” is the diminutive of tortello and is even smaller.
In 1974 the official recipe for tortellini has been deposited with the Bologna chamber of commerce. The dough has to be made from eggs and flour and rolled out to a thin .6 mm (about 1/40 inch) and the stuffing needs to be made from pork loin, prosciutto, mortadella, parmigiano reggiano, egg, and nutmeg. The only variation is in the quantities of the ingredients. Some recipes specify equal amounts of pork loin, mortadella and prosciutto. However if the mortadella and prosciutto are salty, this mixture can end up being too salty. I recommend to use more pork loin and add a bit of salt when needed.
For about 6 servings
300 grams (2 cups) 00 flour
For the stuffing
150 grams (6 oz) pork loin
50 grams (2 oz) prosciutto di Parma, chopped
50 grams (2 oz) mortadella di Bologna, chopped
50 grams (2 oz) freshly grated parmigiano reggiano
1 Tbsp butter
nutmeg to taste
salt to taste
For the broth
1 capon or plump farm chicken (about 2 kilograms or 4.5 pounds), cut into pieces (it is OK to remove the breast and reserve it for another use)
about 500 grams (1 pound) well-marbled beef with bone, or with a separate piece of marrow
1 celery stick
1 ripe tomato
1 bay leaf
salt to taste
freshly grated parmigiano reggiano
Preparation of the stuffing
(If you are worried about tasting raw egg, bring a small saucepan of water to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and add a small ball of the stuffing. Cook for 30 seconds or until cooked through. Taste the ball and adjust the seasoning if needed.)
Preparation of the brodo
Drain the broth. Reserve the chicken if you like to eat it warm with salsa verde or cold in a salad.
How to make the tortellini
Make fresh pasta dough from the eggs and flour. I use 00 flour for tortellini to make them feathery light.
Roll out the dough to a thickness of .6 mm (1/40 inch). Cut it into squares with a size of 3.5-4 cm (1.5″). Put a small piece of filling (about 1/2 tsp) on the center of each square.
If the dough has become too dry, you can moisten the edges with a bit of water.
Repeat until you have used up all of the filling. Turn the tortellini if needed to let them dry on both sides. Try to avoid getting too much flour on them, because all that flavor will cloud the broth later.
You can store the tortellini overnight at cool room temperature, covered with a kitchen cloth.
How to cook
Bring the broth to a boil. Add salt to taste, but not too much. Add 1 tortellino and cook for 3 minutes or so. Taste it together with a bit of the broth. The broth and the tortellino should have a similar level of saltiness. Add more salt to the broth if needed. (Adding more salt to the tortellini is not possible at this point, that is why you should make sure you taste the stuffing before you put it into the tortellini and also not to add too much salt to the broth before tasting it together with a cooked tortellino.)
As soon as the saltiness of the broth has been calibrated, bring back to a boil and add all of the tortellini. Cook for about 3 minutes (depending on how long the tortellini have been drying).
Tortellini in brodo pair well with a full-bodied dry Italian white wine such as Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi, or a light Italian red wine, or a dry red Lambrusco di Sorbara. The latter is most classic as it is from the same region, but it has to be good quality very dry Lambrusco (secco).