Eating in Italy: tortelloni di zucca

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The taste of pumpkin in the UK is nothing compared to the seasonal, sweet pumpkin used in my favourite Italian pasta dish: Tortelloni di Zucca, with burro e salvia. Originating in Northern Italy around the 16th Century (Reggio Emilia and Modena are cited as early adopters), these larger ‘pasta parcels’ are filled with pumpkin and amaretti biscuits; a sweet, vegetarian filling inside fresh egg pasta, served under a sauce of sage butter, with fried sage leaves and a grating of salty parmesan. Tortelloni is the larger version of tortellini; pasta whose shape was inspired by Venus’ navel...

The first time I ate Tortelloni di Zucca in Italy it was bought fresh in Modena; from Boutique del Torellino Pasta Fresca where Aziz Ansari learns to make pasta in Master of None (admittedly I may not have discovered Modena without the help of the first episode of series two - so, thanks to Netflix, I guess). This Pasta Fresca is a tiny shop selling fresh pasta made in-house, with two small tables where you can eat at lunch time. I arrived shortly before closing (at 1:30pm) and there was only tagliatelle and tortelloni left in the fridge; I’d learned the Italian for ‘what’s in that’ in anticipation of being faced with unlabelled pasta. I managed ‘cosa…?’ which I believe is more like ‘what…?’ to which the small Italian man behind the counter replied ‘zucca’, and then, raising his hands like a zombie, added ‘’all-o-ween’. Unmistakably clear on the filling, I gave a keen thumbs up and bought what remained of that day’s fresh tortelloni. Through some more entertaining gestures and familiar words from him, I understood to mix butter, parmesan and pasta water to make a version of crema di parmigiano for this dish.

The other ingredients were bought from Modena’s beautiful old food market, a place where they speak only Italian. I’ve revisited several times with less broken Italian and more food knowledge to buy burro, salvia, parmigiano, pecorino, pomodoro, aglio, basilico.

Of course, everything tastes better in Italy, but if you’re able to find some good, sweet pumpkins this season, try this pumpkin, gorgonzola & sage risotto (which doesn’t involve the artistry required for tortelloni di zucca).