Tortellini in brodo is a classic dish from the Bologna area, with small meat and cheese filled pasta cooked in homemade broth. It's comforting, packed with wonderful flavor and worth every moment of effort.
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Before we went to Bologna a couple years ago, I naturally did a bit of research into food in the area. Of course, I knew the chances were it would be delicious, but the more I read, the better it got. I talk about it a lot more in my food in Bologna post, with tips if you are ever visiting. And let's just say we had some wonderful meals.
I saw this bowl of deliciousness on the menu our first day and knew it was one of the dishes I had to try. I wasn't disappointed. Thankfully, while it's a bit of work, it's equally delicious at home.
Where does tortellini in brodo come from?
Tortellini are a filled pasta which are either from Bologna or nearby Modena, with plenty of stories about the origins. Given the earliest written recipe is thought to date from the 1300s, it's unlikely the debate will ever be fully resolved.
However they are so cherished in the area, there's even an official recipe held by the Bologna Chamber of Commerce.
Tortellini in brodo, which means tortellini in broth, is a staple for Christmas in Bologna. Families traditionally make it together and have it as an appetizer. The capon used for the broth is then enjoyed later in the meal.
All of the ingredients are local to the Emilia Romagna region - prosciutto and parmigiano reggiano (parmesan cheese) from nearby Parma and mortadella is a classic luncheon meat from Bologna. It's a big farming region, in general, so pork and eggs are also local.
In the official recipe, you use equal amounts of each meat and the cheese, but you can vary these a little both to taste and given the relative cost of some of the ingredients.
The broth is traditionally made with capon, as I mentioned, however chicken broth/stock is also a good alternative. I do highly recommend you make your own as it does really make a difference. Plus, it's actually very easy to make.
Tips to make stock making a regular habit
I always have plenty of homemade stock in the freezer, chicken broth in particular, as I follow a few simple steps to make it easy to make without really thinking about it.
- Keep vegetable peelings from carrots and onion and save stems from parsley as I use them. I keep them in a bag in the fridge when I am more likely to make stock within a week, but for longer, keep the bag in the freezer.
- If we have a whole roast chicken, for example, keep the bones and make stock the next day as there are plenty. If you have bones that are not enough immediately, like a steak, put the bones in a bag in the freezer until you have enough. Keep different meat bones separate.
- After making stock, I fill up ice cube trays with the stock then transfer to freezer bags. I can then adjust the amount I use for whatever recipe I need it for. They also thaw more quickly than a large quantity.
Before you know it, you'll be on autopilot and never buying stock again!
I won't lie, these take time. And they are a little fiddly to make, especially as the tortellini here are pretty small. These are more bite-sized than the large ones you find ready-made in the supermarket.
However you soon get in a rhythm making them which helps it flow more easily. I do highly recommend employing an assistant, though, if you can. It will help it flow a little faster.
The steps to make them are:
- Roll the pasta extremely thin - I highly recommend a pasta maker. It's very hard to roll it thin enough by hand (believe me, I know from experience).
- Cut the pasta into small squares.
- Top each square with some filling - you only need a very small amount. Just do a few at a time, and cover the rest of the pasta with a damp cloth.
- Take one piece and pinch two opposite corners together. Then seal along the sides to form a triangle - you can use a little water if it doesn't seal easily. Make sure you press out any air as you go and that the filling doesn't escape.
- Gently fold over the middle of the triangle then pinch the two side points together and pinch them around your finger to seal them in a little loop.
- Repeat, repeat, repeat!
See how it comes together (and how to form the tortellini) in the short video!
Tips for working with the pasta dough
It's important to keep the pasta you aren't using covered as it really doesn't work well if the pasta is a little dry and brittle. So, only roll out part of the dough at a time and keep the rest wrapped in cling wrap/film or under a damp cloth.
Then, after you have a sheet rolled and cut, cover the pieces you aren't working with with a damp cloth. It will likely take longer than you expect to fill each square.
If any of the pasta seems to be drying, moisten it slightly with your finger and leave covered a minute. If you use water to help you seal the pasta, make sure you use just a little. Too much and the pasta just slips around.
The good news is that once you have formed the tortellini, cooking them takes no time at all. You cook them in the broth and they only need a couple minutes.
Make ahead tips
The broth you serve them in should be as clear as possible. So, it's worth making it ahead of time so you can ensure you both skim off the fat and hold back any impurities from the bottom. This also makes it quicker when you go to serve.
You can either cool and store the broth in the fridge for a day or two, or freeze it if storing longer. In both cases, I recommend refrigerating overnight first so you can skim fat from the top and hold back anything from the base before you either use or freeze.
It can also be good, if you have enough, to use some broth to cook them in and another batch to serve. This way, you don't serve broth that might be dull from the pasta. However, don't worry too much on that if you don't have tons of stock, you'll soon happily be digging in anyway.
If you have leftover tortellini, or just want to get ahead, you can freeze them to use at a later date. Just lay on a tray, not touching each other, and freeze, then transfer to a freezer bag or container once frozen. You can cook them from frozen - they will just need a couple minutes extra to cook.
Tortellini in brodo is a wonderfully comforting, traditional dish that's full of delicate and delicious flavors. Yes, it takes some time, but it's well and truly worth the effort.
Try these other comforting soups:
- Avgolemono soup (Greek chicken lemon soup)
- German pancake soup (Flädlesuppe)
- Wonton soup
- Plus get more Italian recipes in the archives.
I recommend a Marcato Atlas Pasta Machine to roll out your pasta (I didn't have here, but use this normally and it works really well; affiliate link).
Tortellini in brodo
- 1 whole chicken bones or equivalent odds and ends of bones
- 1 carrot roughly chopped
- ½ onion halved
- 1 stem celery
- 1 handful parsley stems
- 7 cups water (approx, more if needed)
For the pasta
- 2.125 cups all purpose flour plain flour (2.125 cups is 2 cups plus 2 tbsp)
- 3 eggs (large)
- 1 pinch salt
- 1 ½ tablespoon olive oil (or a little less/more as needed to bring dough together)
For the filling
- ½ tablespoon butter approx
- 5 oz pork loin
- 3 ½ oz prosciutto
- 3 ½ oz mortadella
- 3 oz parmesan grated
- 1 egg
- 1 pinch nutmeg
To make the broth
- Place the chicken bones, vegetables and parsley stems in a large pot and cover with water. Cover and bring to a boil. Simmer for a god two hours or more.
- Leave to cool a few minutes then skim fat from the top. Strain to remove all of the solids. The stock can be made ahead of time - you can store in the fridge for a couple days or freeze if storing longer.
To make pasta
- You can make the pasta by hand or in a food processor. In food processor, put everything but the oil in the food processor and blend to combine. Add a little oil as needed. By hand, place the flour on a baking sheet/tray and make a slight hollow in the middle. Crack the eggs into the hollow and sprinkle on the salt. Use a fork to break the egg yolk and start mixing in the flour, then continue by hand. Add oil as needed to bring everything together.
- Knead the dough slightly then bring together in a ball, wrap and refrigerate for around 30 minutes. Meanwhile, make the filling.
For the tortellini filling
- Melt the butter in a skillet/frying pan and fry the pork loin on both sides. Remove from the heat, cut off any fat/grizzle and dice the meat.
- Roughly chop the prosciutto and mortadella. Grate the parmesan.
- Put the pork in a food processor or blender and pulse to grind. Add the prosciutto and mortadella and pulse to break up and mix. Add the parmesan, egg and nutmeg. Pulse all together to mix.
To form and cook tortellini
- Once the filling is ready and the pasta dough has rested, take roughly ⅙ to ¼ of the pasta dough and leave the rest covered. Roll the piece out very thin, to around a '5' on a pasta machine or ideally thinner. You can do by hand but it is difficult - you want to make it really as thin as possible.
- Cut the dough into squares approx 1 ½in (3-4cm) square. Cover the ones you are not working with immediately with a damp cloth to stop them drying out.
- Put some filling on a few tortellini at a time (6 or so) - you will only need around ¼tsp for each, at most ½tsp. Take opposite corners of one square and pinch together then seal the sides to form a triangular pocket, ensuring you press out any air as you go. You can dampen one side with water to help it seal as needed. Then roll the middle tip over slightly and bring the side points together and pinch them to seal (see also video to see how it's done). Repeat with the other pieces with filling on, then on to more squares and other pieces of dough etc. Place the formed tortellini on baking sheets as you go - you'll needed 2 or more.
- Once you have made them all (you'll get around 210 or more) warm the stock to a simmer ( a rolling boil will be too much and may break them up). Cook the tortellini in the broth for a minute or two until they float to the top. Then scoop them out, along with some broth, and serve. You can top with some grated parmesan.
See some of my favorite cooking tools and ingredients in the Caroline's Cooking Amazon store.