The heresy of Tortelli Cremaschi

With Venetian origins, in a constant battle with those from Mantua, they’re sweet and eggless. Though not at Il Ridottino

19-07-2016
Tortelli Cremaschi served at Il Ridottino of patro

Tortelli Cremaschi served at Il Ridottino of patron Carlo Alberto Vailati in the very heart of Crema’s historic centre. They differ from the traditional ones in that the dough has eggs. A fresh egg filled pasta course, a sweet first course that people in Crema like to counterpose to Mantua’s Pumpkin Tortelli

A long chat with Matteo Bassi in Crema on the Italian and global restaurant industry, starting from XXL, 50 piatti che hanno allargato la mia vita for Mondadori Electa, gave me the chance, last Sunday, to spend a nice evening in one of the cloisters of the ex convent of Saint Augustine in Crema. There’s more: after many words, came a dutiful convivial stop in the best local restaurant, Carlo Alberto Vailati’s Il Ridottino in Via Alemanio Fino 1, tel. +39.0373.256891.

Crema has three super products: tortelli, salva cheese and spongarda. The first are sweet, the second is hardly spicy, and the third is a cake. Just so you get an idea. Vailati served an excellent Salva Cremasco and the typical local filled pasta of course. Which divides opinions and rarely unites them.

In Crema people identify themselves with tortelli. However, many told me they don’t love them on a daily basis as it’s hard to find good ones, often made roughly, especially in village feasts when what counts the most is filling the visitors’ stomachs. The strong sweet character is certainly of no help, as they’re sweeter than Mantua’s pumpkin tortelli. Moreover, the dough, following tradition, is only made with water and flour. Indeed I like those at Il Ridottino because they’re heretic. Salviati adds eggs to the dough. And he’s right as they taste better and if one looks back in time this choice was certainly made for economic reasons, to save money.

In November 2002 Beppe Severgnini, who’s from Crema like Roberta Schira, organised the Tortellomachia, the Disfida del Tortello at Aquila Nigra in Mantua. A contest between tortelli from Crema and Mantua. It predictably ended in a tie, after a nice evening. Severgnini wrote on Corriere della Sera: «Mantua’s tortelli are willing yet bland. Pleasant yet predictable. Nice at first, but then monotonous. Crema’s tortelli are indeed good. If anything, they’re do-gooders. Pumpkin tortelli are like a yawn: you need one from time to time, but without exaggerating. It’s food for the rich dressed up as food for everyone. I know very well that you in Mantua eat better than us in Crema: my palate is not parochial. Yet we have a specialty in Crema, an area of excellence: sweet tortelli. An interesting, intriguing, symphonic dish: dark amaretto, candied citron, grana, mostaccino, egg, a hint of mint. Crema’s tortelli are a stroke of genius: they have personality, creativity, grit». I guess it’s because it has more ingredients.

Vailati said: «As there are no documents of sure provenance, the recipe’s origin can be ascribed to the historic presence, in the area of Crema, of the Republic of Venice, and the consequent use of spices and of the sweet and sour taste which derives from the contamination with the cuisines of territories connected with Venice». Whatever the historical truth, which will be unknown forever, what’s important is that in Crema they’re still faithful to this dish. Three and a half centuries under Venice, from 1449 till 1797, remain significant even after over two hundred years.

A classic Tortello Cremasco, a photo taken from the Cremona Food Valley website. You can easily tell them from those of Il Ridottino because the dough, given there’s no egg, is white.

A classic Tortello Cremasco, a photo taken from the Cremona Food Valley website. You can easily tell them from those of Il Ridottino because the dough, given there’s no egg, is white.

Here’s the recipe from Il Ridottino and Carlo Alberto Vailati: “My” Tortelli Cremaschi.

For the dough: white flour 700 gr.; semolina flour 100 gr.; 3 egg yolks and 6 eggs; a drop of extra virgin olive oil and a pinch of salt. For the filling: 500 gr. amaretti "Gallina" (amaretti with cocoa); 1 "mostaccino", a spicy biscuit (with star anise, cinnamon, cloves...) to be grated; 200 gr. sultanas soaked in a little water and 1 tablespoon of Marsala or anise; 50 gr. chopped candied citron; 1 egg to bond; 1 mint; 2 or 3 handfuls of grated Grana Padano of which one for the filling, the rest for the seasoning.

Method: prepare the classic “well” with the flour and gradually mix the eggs, the pinch of salt and the oil until the mixture is smooth and soft. Leave to rest in a damp cloth or in flimsy paper for around one hour. Chop the amaretti, mix all the other ingredients and knead until the mixture is rather thick. Put aside in the fridge. Tip: best prepare everything one day in advance. Roll out the dough so is not too thin, shape the squares in which to put the filling, in the shape of balls, close the pasta by pinching it in 5 places so as to close it perfectly. Put the tortelli on a wood board with a little flour. Boil the water without adding too much salt. Carefully immerse the tortelli, handling them with care. Meanwhile, fry some sage in lots of butter, drain the tortelli carefully, roll them in the butter and place them in layers in a baking tin putting in turns the tortelli, the butter and the Grana Padano. Serve the dish.


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