Good morning and welcome to the Guide, the teller of food tales. The Homer of the food holiday. The provider of the best fake food histories on the planet. Each week, we celebrate some amazing food holiday to spice up your culinary appetites and whet your imagination as it comes to all things food. I know we have taken a bit of a hiatus due to holidays and my partnership last month. (Please check out some of the interesting tales of wonder from last month at your own discretion. We take no responsibility for time loss, hair loss, mind loss, or any other loss which may occur as a result of reading the Perspectives Series.) But to bring us back to food, we knew with February we needed to return to our roots. So the Guide looked into the amazing possibilities and determined National Tortellini Day outshone them all.
While National Tortellini Day begins Tuesday, February 13th (which you should be partying with this tasty dish as it’s Mardi Gras) my tale of Tortellini is a far more sordid affair. Wait. Ok, maybe not too sordid. Unless you count what I did the days leading up to my friend’s wedding at his bachelor party. (After hearing this tale you might gouge out your ears and poke our your eyes so I dare not tell it.) Nevertheless, my first experience with this amazing meal came at my close friend’s wedding.
The crazy thing is, my friend is one of the most amazing cooks you will ever meet. I am not saying I cannot cook. I can cook. (Which Remy might be happy to know.) But my friend Steve’s artistry in the kitchen far outstrips my own. I’m like a decent painter who repaints old masterpieces, copying the artists who came before him. My friend is Rembrandt.
You can tell a gifted chef in the kitchen because they can do things on the fly. They take what they have and make something amazing from it. And they, like Alton Brown my hero, know the science of food and the affect every ingredient has on the dish they prepare. I follow instructions. Maybe I change things around the edges to deal with food allergies or issues. But I would never consider myself a master.
And my amazing friend got it into his brain he would cater his own wedding. To this day he admits the insanity of such a proposition. But at the time, he wanted things just so. And he got them. Just. So. He would hand make all of the pasta with his own pasta maker; make all the filling; pinch the pasta together; and finally cook it all for his wedding guests. If he had ten guests, it probably wouldn’t have been as big of a deal. But when you get into the hundreds, you may come to realize having someone else prepare the food would be so much better. He realized this fact. A couple of weeks too late.
So after having one of the more unique and beautiful ceremonies in a park, we went back to a large banquet room set up for the food. In the room I sat down at a table for the groomsman and was given a large bowl of this strange looking pasta and some Alfredo sauce. There were vegetables and a few other items that were less memorable. I did not know what to make of this strange looking pasta which looked not unlike the human navel.
But as my friend was an amazing chef, I knew I had to try what was put in front of me. The minute this filled noodle touched my lips, my mouth sang from the delicious delicacy but inside. In an instant, I fell in love with this strange pasta dish. I cannot even tell you what he filled these delicate shells with. What I can say is that Tortellini quickly became one of my favorite things to order at Italian restaurants. And it has been to this day.
If you have followed the Guide long enough, you will remember I never do a food holiday without two things. The first thing I make sure to give you is the amazing fake food history behind the dish. The Guide spares no expense when it comes to making sure you know all of the details behind every amazing morsel we recommend you eat, or every libation we would suggest you drink. Sometimes it means getting into our fake Wayback machine and traversing the reaches of time and space.
And at other times it means going into the deep, dark jungles of the dark web, extracting this dangerous information and bringing it directly to your table. Because the world must know the fake food history behind these amazing foods. Or my name isn’t Daniel David Darnell Dawkins the 10th. (Shhh!!! It’s my pseudonym.) So without further ado, the Guide presents to you the amazing fake food history of the Tortellini.
The Fake History Of The Tortellini
Often times the great food histories must be created out of the bits and pieces of information to create one great tale of longing and heartbreak before we reach the ecstasy. The greatest thing about this dish is we have three competing tales of wonder about this crazy dish. Because Tortellini can’t just have one great tale of wonder. It must have three. In other words, we have the great dark history of Tortellini al la Tre. Enter at your own risk.
The Goddess Version
Once upon a time, in the land of God’s and Goddesses (I told you I was Homeric, right?), Venus and Jupiter were out frolicking in the fields. Which basically means they started wars just for the fun of it. One god taking affront on one side. The other goddess taking affront on the other. And bam!!! An Emeril Lagasse masterpiece. Ok, maybe not a chef masterpiece but human carnage instead. The towns of Bologna and Modena would never be the same.
After frolicking for the better part of an afternoon, Jupiter and Venus got tired and decided to visit an innkeeper at the outskirts of the city they knew had the best pasta around. Ivano Catalo Giuseppe Tortellini was his name given to him at birth by his parents. Actually his parents were a prostitute and poor farmer who decided to have a laugh at the expense of their child, giving him such a ridiculous name.
But Ivano was a proud man and made sure he would be a success, building an inn and a tavern up from nothing. That evening, Ivano happily served the god and goddess his delicious pasta dish and quickly prepared a room for them. (As you know, gods and goddesses were pretty much amoral. And asking Venus where was Mars would only land him in hot water. Ivano said nothing.)
But Ivano worshiped at the temple of Mars every week he could make it. And he felt like spying on Venus and telling all the information he had to the priest of the Martian temple would give him more credit with the gods. Little did he know what was about to transpire.
Venus, decided she had a little more energy than she thought before. She figured it would be a good idea to seduce Jupiter so her side of the battle would win. But Jupiter was not going to be easily won over. Venus, knowing this, decided to give him one of her belly dances as she pushed him up against the room door. Ivano just began looking through the keyhole at this moment and spied the belly button of Venus. Immediately, Ivano became transfixed. He could see nothing else and think of nothing else other than her belly button. He was so in awe, he decided to make a pasta in the shape of Venus’ belly button.
We he came to his senses, he realized how bad that might look, so he took the shells, stuffed them with cheese, and brought them to the priestess in charge of Mars temple as a sacrifice, explaining what took place.. Mars was about to destroy the little Innkeeper when he noticed his priestesses devouring the shells in the corner. Mars softened his heart and decided to spare Ivano his life. But in return, he had to bring his shells to the temple as a sacrifice daily. Ivano agreed. Eventually naming his shells Mondo Cheese Shells. Thankfully the priestesses convinced him Tortellini would be a better name.
Lucrezia Borgia Version
So imagine the same situation, only much later, in the late 1400’s with the notorious Borgias. In this instance, the same innkeeper, instead named Davilo Damano, Davido De’Tortellini from Modena. The Borgias, also fond of starting wars and getting people into trouble decided they were going to move against the pope with their outpost just outside of Modena.
In this version, Davilo, the innkeeper is going to spy on Lucrezia for the Pope and report back to the pontiff. Lucrezia, being the master manipulator she was, could hear a creaking sound coming outside her door. And show she swayed around the room, diming the lights, so he could barely see her navel. Davilo, being a man, was transfixed by the beauty of Lucrezia instantly. He could not turn away from her exposed navel, present in the room.
Like Ivano, Davilo decided he would make a filled pasta in honor of the beauty of this “goddess.” And when Davilo decided to inform Lucrezia of his affections for her with this shell, she wanted to kill him. And then she noticed that the shells were stuffed with spiced cheeses. Instantly she realized all of the many ways she could poison men and make them think they had an amazing meal, all at the same time. This beautiful shell she figured would be a ticket to power. Unfortunately for her (and fortunately for us) her life was cut short before she got a good chance to use it, thankfully.
It’s All About The Turtle
The last of the stories about this great pasta come once again from the town of Modena and believed to be the creation of an Italian bread maker by the name of Giuseppe Tortuga. He lived just outside of the town of Modena in the late 1700 and early 1800s. For whatever reason back in that time the people of Modena were obsessed with the turtle. Jealous of their neighbors who had significant access to water, Modena decided to make the turtle its town mascot.
All of the art and architecture of the period reflected their love of the magnificent turtle. For a simple bread maker like Giuseppe, there was only one response to this love. He needed to do something with his cooking that reflected this love of the turtle. After many failed attempts at trying to replicate the turtles he would see around him in his bread, he became frustrated. He gave up with the bread and started to flip pasta for the dinner he would make for his family. With every flip of the pasta it would get curled over. And before long, Giuseppe noticed the pasta had a humpback shape, not unlike a turtle.
He ran in and kissed his wife and screamed out loud, “I made a turtle! I made a turtle.”
But his aunt Veronica, who couldn’t hear very well, stared at him bluntly.
“I made a turtle Aunt V. A real turtle with pasta.”
“What’s that my boy? What’s that you say? You made a Tortellini? What’s that?”
All of Giuseppe’s family laughed. Giuseppe at first had a frown on his face. But soon he couldn’t help laughing as he heard the laughter of the rest of his household. His aunt Veronica smiled back at him.
“That’s right Aunt V. I made a tortellini!”
He ran back into his house and made this marvelous filled pasta shell for the rest of his family. Giuseppe filled it with the finest of meats and herbs and served it up to his family with some amazing pasta sauce. It was so well received that they made him make it every year for Christmas and family get togethers. It eventually spread to the rest of Italy, and throughout the whole world.
The Five Best Tortellini Places In Southern California
As is the case with the Guide, we make sure to give you either our favorite recipe of a certain food, or some of the amazing local fare. In this instance, we decided to go with our five favorite places which serve the most amazing Tortellini throughout the southland. Between some amazing pumpkin tortellini in a sage sauce to mushroom and cheese versions, be prepared to get your Tortellini on when you come to one of these amazing Italian restaurants. Take a good look a these places and enjoy, if and when you are in the Southern California and in that romantic Italian mood.
1) Alimento – Los Angeles, CA
Located in LA’s historic Silver Lake district, at Alimento’s come prepared to enjoy some of your favorite Italian dishes with a unique flare. Originally an inspiring architect, Zach Pollack’s culinary curiosity blew up on a trip to Florence, Italy studying abroad. He knew his love of food was taking him in another direction. From there he got involved in various Italian food ventures. Eventually he would start Alimento in 2014. Listed by Los Angeles Magazine as one of the ten best new restaurants in 2015, Alimento has the best Italian food locally. Between the amazing plates and the incredible platters to share, that would be enough. But the tortellini tops them all. Simply a revelation.
2) Il Pastaio – Beverly Hills, CA
From a lovely hilltop village in Sicily, Giacomino Drago has been serving amazing and traditional authentic Italian fare for the past twenty years. Brought by his brother at the age of 16 years old to learn the restaurant business, Giacomino would take what he learned only three years later to start Il Pastaio. And when it comes to Italian fare, almost nothing can compare to it. With an amazing array of salads and pastas, you will never get enough of the amazing dishes they offer. Of course, the tortellini is among the most amazing of dishes. But think of Tortellini pasta stuffed with pumpkin and ricotta cheese and then swimming in a sage parmesan cheese sauce and try not to drool. I dare you.
3) Baci di Firenzi – Anaheim, CA
Purchased by Vittorio Severino in 2008, Baci di Firenzi serves Italian fare that doesn’t merely focus on one region. Severino’s dream was to bring all of fine Italian food to the states. With a wide variety of pasta, salad, seafood and chicken, you will find a variety of dishes to tempt the palate. But as we are celebrating the Tortellini, imagine one filled with cheese, ham, and mushrooms in a light cheese sauce. Simply marvelous.
4) Angelo’s And Vinci’s – Fullerton, CA
If you have followed me from the beginning, you will know that I love Angelo’s and Vinci’s. I cannot say enough about the food and the decor. If you haven’t been there yet, you definitely should take a peek at some of my other reviews here. I cannot tell you enough about the amazing hand made pasta with sauce to go with the tortellini. Go to Angelo’s and Vinci’s and love the whole experience.
5) Jack And Guilio’s Italian Restaurant – San Diego, CA
Around the Old Town San Diego district since 1961 Jack and Guilio’s has been a favorite of San Diego people for over 57 years. And when it comes to Tortellini, you will get none better. Of course, it’s not quite tortellini. Jack and Guilio’s serves tortelloni, which is the equivalent on tortellini on steroids. Same shape, twice the size . . . or more. They serve it filled with spinach, ricotta, and parmesan. And then it’s covered in a porcini mushroom sauce. As if they needed to give me an even greater reason to want to try it out. If you are in San Diego and want good tortellini, Jack And Guilio’s is the place.
Continue The Conversation
So what did you think of the fake history of Tortellini? I’m not sure I believe anyone, but the romantic in me likes the Lucrezia Borgia story. I think the Venus and Jupiter story is just one leap of logic too far for me. Ah well! But I can totally buy into that creepy innkeeper supporting the pope. Then again, wasn’t the pope Lucrezia’s father? How messed up! What about the five different Tortellini offerings out here? Which sounds like your favorite? And which is your favorite filling for tortellini? Is it just cheese or is it more complicated than that? I would love to hear from you.
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Until next time, don’t go peeking in any strange keyholes.
David Elliott, Single Dad’s Guide to Life