Where to eat the ‘tortello’
From North to South of Tuscany the right place where to taste
The majority of people would guess that it is steak, but they are wrong: the flagship dish of Tuscany is in fact “tortelli” pasta. Yes, tortelli is the correct answer, but be careful that you are not caught saying that “all tortelli are the same”, or you yourself risk being cooked in the pot! In the pot, where same or different, our tasty friends end up before they find their way to our plate. But not before reminding us that they are diverse: in shape, in size; and surely in how they are stuffed; for the variety of the dishes, and finally….even in the names they are given. Perhaps the most widespread geographically are potato filled tortelli.
There are two valleys whose claim to fame is that tortelli were invented there, and even a third has cropped up in this dispute: In addition to Mugello and Casentino, Val di Bisenzio also has a serious claim. The pasta is always prepared the same way-using flour, water and salt-but it is the filling that changes; The classic recipe in Mugello uses boiled potatoes, garlic, parsley, salt, pepper, and a pinch of nutmeg; however it has become common practice to spice this dish up with tomato concentrate, or even better with ragù, still better with duck ragù. Opinions even clash on the preferred size, some like them small, others nice and big. Where should you eat them? Some suggestions: la Casa del Prosciutto in Ponte a Vicchio (tel. 055 844031); l’Antica Osteria di Novoli on via Bolognese between Vaglia and San Piero a Sieve (lunch only, tel. 055 8486833); la Locanda degli Artisti in piazza Romagnoli in Borgo San Lorenzo (tel. 055 8455359); The beautiful backdrop to Villa Campestri, at the slopes of Mount Giovi in the municipality of Vicchio (tel. 055 8490107, closed from November to March); finally, the different versions of the dish at the Locanda Senio in Palazzuolo sul Senio (tel. 055 8046019).
In Val di Bisenzio they are strictly filled with potato, nutmeg and salt and topped with parmesan cheese. In Montepiano, one can eat tortelli at the hotel restaurant Ca’ del Setta, tel. 0574 959829; in Vernio, at the restaurant of the Hotel Stefanacci di Costozze, tel. 0574 950146. Third option, da Betrice in Luicciana di Cantagallo (tel. 0574 933125). In Casentino the recipe is richer and more savoury. The pasta is the same, but tomato sauce is a must, with garlic, parsley, salt and pepper, and even sausage and bacon. Here the small town of Corezzo is worth noting, in Vallesanta near Verna, where giant tortelli are filled with vegetable sauces, pecorino cheese, parmesan cheese, eggs, butter and nutmeg. They are cooked on a red hot slab of pietra serena stone. Try them da Loris, a restaurant in Papiano di Stia (tel. 0575 583680).
Still in the mountains, but more West, we are in Cutigliano, in the Apennines of Pistoia: home of the “Tortello del Melo”, named after the small, lovely hamlet, where they are prepared and served. Here they are stuffed with Swiss chard, pecorino cheese, bread crumbs, nutmeg, parsley, salt and pepper; try them at the Rifugio della Saida (tel. 0573 68355) and daFagiolino (tel. 0573 68014).
Towards the sea, both the dish as well as its name changes. It changes from “tortello” to “tordello” in Lucchesia and in Versilia. The filling is more meat based: in Lucca they use beef, pork and veal with oil, eggs, salt and pepper, nutmeg, as well as thyme, garlic, parsley, parmesan, and bread. In Versilia they use home grown mortadella cured meat, Swiss chard, borage and pecorino cheese.
To try both versions: in Lucca at l’Antica Locanda di Sesto (tel. 0583 406303); in Versilia in Pruno di Stazzema at Il Poveromo (tel. 0584777021); at da Luciano in La Culla, above Camaiore (tel. 0584 989091) and Da Demè in Vallecchia di Pietrasanta (tel. 0584 757011).
Also in the running for offering the tastiest tortello is Maremma. The recipes here are very different for their fillings: spinach, ricotta, salt, nutmeg, egg, and shredded cheese. The restaurants: alla cucina del Lucherino in Monticello Amniata, in the municipality of Cinigiano (tel. 0564 992014) Two important chefs offer their own recipes: Barbara Cannarsa at alla Filanda di Manciano (tel. 0564 625156), who creates a filling with pecorino cheese from Pienza, pigeon breast browned in Port wine and thigh stuffed with foie gras; and, Valeria Piccini from Caino, in Montemerano (tel. 0564 602817), with other splendid varieties: cheese and pears with beets, lamb fricassee, goat and rocket or Cinta senese pork and chicken broth with chestnuts. But Maremma never ceases to surprise us; it always manages to pull something new out of its hat, in this case a sweet…..tortello. This dish originates from Pitigliano, a memento from the community’s Jewish past: and in fact, it is filled with sugar, ricotta, and cinnamon flavored “rosolio”. Tortelli: so many delicacies, all in one name.