Tortellini are intended to resemble a human belly button, more specifically the belly button of a beautiful woman (of course), and more specifically still (according to some) the belly button of Lucrezia Borgia, the daughter of Pope Alexander VI. Lucrezia was an interesting character. She was so successfully framed and demonized by enemies of the pope and Machiavellian politics that she is still remembered today as a mass murderer with a hollow ring that contained poison for dumping in the cup of an unfavoured guest. More than likely she lacked the spirit to cuff a puppy, but whatever else she was, Lucrezia was said to be extraordinarily beautiful. The story goes that an innkeeper was so struck by her when she passed through his establishment that he risked papal wrath by peeping through her keyhole at night. Lucrezia happened to be naked, but as she was standing near the door at the time all the peeping tom received was a glimpse of her navel, which was still so unbelievably gorgeous that he immediately went downstairs and invented tortellini to commemorate the show.
Anyhow. Making tortellini is a double discipline, because you have to master both the filling and the pasta. I’m going to cop out here and completely circumvent both requirements, refusing to describe my filling in detail and totally avoiding yet another description of pasta technique. This is not to say I can’t make pasta. I can. I just wouldn’t serve it to an Italian grandmother, and because I esteem you little less, I will not foist my recipe upon you.
The filling is up to you. I have no secrets. The filling I made today involved veal, pork, Parmesan, nutmeg, and one egg, which is fairly traditional for a meat-based tortellini. But go nuts. I’m keen to make butternut squash tortellini next.
The pasta? Making tortellini is a snap when using wonton wrappers from the local supermarket. They’re a little too large, so chop them down to about 2-inch square size.
After that, the only serious rule is not to use too much filling. Err on the side of more pasta, and you will find it much easier. You can always add more as your skills improve.
Start with a 2-inch square of wonton wrapper. Wet down two adjacent edges with a little water.
Add a dab of filling in the centre.
Fold the un-wetted edges up to make a triangle. Squish them down firmly. Here, if you’ve added too much filling, you will immediately realise your error. Better luck on the next one.
Fold the top of the triangle away from you.
Wet the edges of the two remaining points, and fold them towards you to make a ring. If you turn it over, you will see what that innkeeper was so hot and bothered about.
Toss them in a pot of boiling water, and four minutes later – mangia!