Classic Italian Tortellini in Broth


A Christmas Eve MUST for a true Italian menu

You will find this simple tortellini soup for a primo (first course) at every Christmas Eve dinner across Italy. Usually, spaghetti or other pasta is a first course, but not on Christmas Eve.

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The soup was a peasant creation. The evolution started with the brodo, a rich broth favored by the ruling classes and made from boiled capon. By the time the broth was ready, all the flavor from the capon’s meat was gone. The house staff in the kitchens throughout Emilia-Romagna didn’t dare throw away edible meat; instead they peppered in crumbs of Parmesan cheese, then scraps of prosciutto or mortadella. The mixture was then ground into a ripineo (filling for the tortillini) and smidges were placed on tortellini small enough to fit on a spoon.

Tortellini: History

The word tortellini comes from the Italian torta, cake. The basic shape of this stuffed pasta comes in various sizes—Tortellini, the smallest, to medium-sized tortelli, to tortelloni, the largest. Tortellini are made with 00 flour, eggs, and a bit of water, rolled very thin, cut into squares, filled, and carefully folded to create a pointed ring. They are traditionally filled with ground pork and chicken breast mixed with finely chopped Prosciutto, Parmigiano Reggiano, and nutmeg.  However, there are several classic variations, including one which substitutes mortadella for the prosciutto. There are also many cheese versions, especially ricotta and spinach filling, which have become extremely popular both in Italy and worldwide. Tortellini are sold ready-made in gourmet shops throughout Emilia-Romagna.

Tortellini have been around since the Middle Ages, with written documents referring to them dating to the early 12th century. There are many legends of their origin. The province of Modena claims that tortellini were created there after a local innkeeper sneaked a peek through her door’s keyhole and spotted the navel of Renaissance beauty Lucrezia Borgia. Bologna, which since ancient times has had a rivalry with nearby Modena, has an even more fanciful claim, believing tortellini were invented there and modeled after the navel of Venus, the goddess of love.

No matter the origins of these small pieces of heaven, they are a staple of Italian cuisine and a favorite at holiday meals. At Christmas, they are often served in a hearty broth for the classic tortellini in brodo dish.

Source: La Cucina Italiana

tortellini broth plate


Now you will see all different sizes and filling at Christmas tables across Italy. Some buy the tortellini at their local pasta shop while others still make them from scratch. Some make the broth some use pre-made. However it is made the importance of keeping the tradition alive is all that matters. This year I bought some from a local restaurant and will cook them at home. Maybe next year I’ll give away our family recipe ;).

bread- soup- pasta- plate

This simple peasant dish that is a little piece of my heart. A little piece Italy to your holiday table.

Made with Amore,


For a jazzed up version of this dish see: Tortellini Soup with Lemon and Spinach