Eat your vegetables: These ravioli are filled with char-roasted vegetables and ricotta cheese. Photography by Claire Freierman.
KAREN HOCHMAN is Editorial Director of THE NIBBLE.
Bertagni Ravioli & Tortellini
Fresh From Italy
CAPSULE REPORT: Want a quick, delicious lunch or dinner? Look for these all-natural filled pastas—ravioli and tortellini—from the oldest filled pasta producer in Italy. They’re found in your grocer’s refrigerator case, and at fine food stores nationwide. The company also does a vigorous private label business, so even if you don’t see the name “Bertagni” on the package, if it has your store’s name on it and “Product Of Italy” on the package back, it may well be theirs. You’re in for a treat—the products are so good, we enjoyed them with just a dab of butter or olive oil (filled pastas are meant to be enjoyed simply dressed, because the filling is the center of attention). They cook in four minutes or less, after the water boils—a benefit of fresh pasta.
Ask Americans what the best food in Europe is, and most will say French. But ask foodies who travel both the big cities and the back roads, and you may well hear Italy. With its warmer climate, Italy has a broad and never-ending supply of fresh vegetables and herbs with which to make simple, everyday meals taste superb. Rather than go for complexity and flash, the Italians have always been locavores. As a result, you can get the freshest, tastiest food in the tiniest backwater, and be happy with your food no matter what the season.
As a result of their geographic good fortune, the Italian palate is demanding of good, fresh flavor. This is still a country where even many grocery store products are at the level of what passes as “artisan” in our own country. Such is the case with Bertagni, a company that sells packaged fresh ravioli and tortellini. Taste any of the varieties—they’re as good as most of what is handmade at an America pastificio.
Why? Ingredients, ingredients, ingredients, and good recipes made in consultation with some of Italy’s internationally-prominent chefs. The best semolina makes the best dough. Fresh basil, great ricotta, real Parmigiano-Reggiano, extra virgin olive oil, delicious mushrooms, no substitutions. Although you can buy them in your grocer’s dairy case, these stuffed pastas could be sold for $15 a plate at top restaurants (and the company does sell to foodservice as well).
The company is believed to be the oldest tortellini producer (company) in the world...although stuffed pasta itself dates back to the time of Marco Polo. It is believed that Marco Polo brought the concept of stuffed pasta back from China—ravioli is a variation on the Chinese dumpling format, and tortellini in brodo is like wonton soup—since spaghetti and other “long forms” of pasta had existed in Italy since the eighth century. (Read the history of pasta.)
There are hundreds of different cuts of pasta—“long cuts” like spaghetti, linguine and fettuccine; “short cuts” like farfalle (bow ties) and fusilli; and stuffed pasta like ravioli and tortellini. Each was developed as a regional specialty. Bologna, Italy is the acknowledged birthplace of tortellini. It is the capital of Emilia-Romagna, one of the 20 regions of Italy, which is the birthplace of Parmigiana-Romano cheese and balsamic vinegar.
Luigi Bertagni opened his shop in Bologna in 1882, making handmade tortellini. (Today production has moved north and east to the town of Arcugnano, near Vicenza.) Luigi won a bronze medal at the Paris World’s Fair in 1889 (the inauguration of the Eiffel Tower) and a gold medal at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis.
Although Bertagni today uses cutting-edge technology, the product tastes handmade—and the fillings, which are the focus of filled pasta, are mixed by hand. Recipes are developed in consultation with internationally-famous Italian chefs.
The company has an extensive line, and each store will order in a different selection. Here’s what we tried. All of the flavors, except for the sweet pumpkin—a specialty item that some people will adore and others won’t “get”—were delightful. While the pastas are meant to be enjoyed with a light dressing of butter, olive oil and some grated cheese, Bertagni’s pastas are so flavorful, they needed nothing more to satisfy. While some people wouldn’t dream of serving “naked” pasta, we used the calorie savings as an opportunity to enjoy a few more pillows of pasta.
The all-natural ravioli and tortellini are made with a combination of soft wheat, durum wheat semolina and eggs. The filling flavor profile is built on a top-quality ricotta, Grana Padano and Parmigiano-Reggiano, layering on vegetables and herbs to create the specific flavors. (Learn more about these two great Italian grating cheeses.) Half of the flavors are different from what American pasta-makers typically offer, and wonderfully so—creative yet perfectly mainstream.
Ravioli are pasta pillows stuffed with a variety of cheese, meat or vegetable fillings served with sauce or in soups. Ravioli can be circular or square; Bertagni has cheese and cheese/vegetable fillings in both shapes.
- Basil Ravioli With Char-Grilled Vegetables. Here, spinach and basil are added to the dough (see photo below), and basil, eggplant, garlic, sweet peppers and zucchini (plus breadcrumbs and other ingredients) are added to the filling. The char-grilled vegetables are flavorful, and perhaps a good way to teach younger eaters that they do, in fact, like vegetables.
- Ricotta & Spinach Ravioli. In a green color that is festive for holidays, this flavor in other lines can be bland. Here, it is full of flavor, both the spinach and the ricotta contributing such tastiness that it was easy to eat these without any sauce.
- Fire-Roasted Tomato,
Mozzarella And Basil Ravioli. The pink-red filling of the roasted tomatoes mixed with ricotta was pretty, and the flavor original. The ravioli are bursting with fresh basil flavor—you’ll think the herb was just picked from the garden.
- Pumpkin Ravioli. The odd man in this line, this is a very sweet ravioli—you could serve it for dessert with whipped cream and candied walnuts or pecans (try it with this recipe for Butternut Squash & Vermont Maple Syrup Ravioli with Pears, Apples & Walnuts, substituting the Pumpkin Ravioli). The flavor is delicious—not quite pumpkin pie filling, but sweet pumpkin with a strong vanilla flavor. If you like strong contrasts, you could serve it with a savory ragù or brown butter and fresh sage, or seek your own favorite sauce pairing. But this is not a pasta for traditional sauces.
Tortellini & Tortelloni
Tortellini are bite-size pasta stuffed with a variety of fillings, and a favorite pasta dish worldwide. It is also served in soups, as in the classic dish, tortellini in brodo. Tortellini originated in Bologna and is accompanied by a legend: When Venus, the goddess of love, stayed in a tavern on the outskirts of the city, the innkeeper spied on her through the keyhole of her room. Spellbound by a glimpse of her navel, he went to the kitchen and shaped fresh pasta into what we now call the navel-shaped tortellini. (The word for navel is not tortellini but ombelico; torte is the past participle of the verb torcere, meaning filled.)
Tortellini are made by adding a filling to a circle of dough, then folding it in half, making a semicircle of the half and pinching the ends together to form the shape. The tortelloni are just slightly larger than the tortellini; both are bite-size.
- Arugula and Cheese Tortelloni. Unusual to find, this Italian arugula is mild and delightful—baby-arugula quality, sweet and totally lacking the acrid bite of much American arugula. The main note here is the signature ricotta-Grana Padano-Parmigiano-Reggiano filling base.
- Porcini Mushroom Tortelloni (photo above). We’re not certain why this is called tortelloni—it’s the same size as the tortellini (the difference is that tortelloni are significantly larger, and these are approximately one inch in diameter, tortellini-size). But, a tortellini by any other name would taste as delicious, and these are wonderful, earthy, mushroomy bites.
- Ricotta and Parmigiano Reggiano Tortelloni. What a great idea—put the Parmesan cheese inside the ravioli. Was this a favorite because it was a novelty, or because it tasted so good?
All-Natural Fresh Ravioli and Tortellini
Available at fine food stores nationwide.
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