It may be strange to think of them as dumplings, but that’s what ravioli, Saccottini and tortellini are. These Italian dumplings are the culinary sister of Russian pelmeni and Polish perogies. They are delicious and versatile staples in the Italian Mediterranean diet.
Traditionally, they are stuffed with local ingredients, including sheep’s milk ricotta, mixed greens, fresh herbs, meat, and beaten eggs. We have all enjoyed these pastas with a creamy alfredo sauce or an appetizing tomato sauce. Though today we associate tomato sauce with all pastas, tomato pasta sauce is a relatively new invention. Tomatoes were only introduced to Italy in the 16th century, after the European conquest of the New World. Until then, the locals were limited to butter- or cream-based sauces.
Italian food, as we know it today, is the product of a long story of evolution and cultural exchange. Ravioli, Saccottini and tortellini each have their own set of interesting traditions and history.
Ravioli is a classic. The word “ravioli” comes from “Riavvolgere” in Italian, which loosely translates “to wrap or wind”. Commonly, ravioli is cut into squares that are each 4cm wide. This basic square dumpling is often stuffed with cheeses, meats or greens, and served with a broth or a sauce. In North America, we most often enjoy our ravioli with a decadent sauce. However, in Italy ravioli in a broth is common as a main course, especially in the winter.
Ravioli can be made as a simple dish. However, it can also be dressed up for fancier occasions. This is the difference between a humble ricotta-spinach ravioli, and a ravioli stuffed with lobster, foie gras, potatoes and saffron. The versatility of this dish has made it a crowd favourite. Today, ravioli is so loved internationally that it has its own day! March 20th is International Ravioli Day.
Ravioli has been a part of Italian cuisine since at least the 14th century. One of the first written records of ravioli comes from Francesco di Marco Datini. In his personal letters, the merchant mentions ravioli to his correspondent. The existence of other manuscripts from that time period mentioning ravioli, as far away as England, demonstrate that it was well-entrenched into European culture by then.
Ravioli has been used to mark various days in Italy. Traditionally, vegetarian ravioli was served on Fridays. Ravioli was also usually served during Lent. This Italian dumping is a classic that has been adopted for both the commonplace and festivities.
Saccottini may be one of the most artistic stuffed pastas on Earth. They are shaped like little sacs, and may remind you of Japanese Furoshiki bento bags. Because of their distinctive shape, they are sometimes also referred to as “beggar’s purse” pasta.
It is rare to find Saccottini on the shelves of supermarkets. This is because its beauty doesn’t make it cut out for the modern life. Its artistic design makes it harder to mass produce, especially compared to the simple square dumpling that is ravioli. Further, their delicate folds make them harder to package and transport.
However, handmade Saccottini is a visual and gastronomical delight. This makes it a chef’s choice for a delicate and high-end presentation of pasta. Plated as an appetizer, Saccottini makes all of us pull out our phones for a picture.
Tortellini is another Italian crowd favourite. Like all dumplings, they can be stuffed with a variety of fillings. Traditionally, tortellini are filled with parmesan or ricotta, and with meats like prosciutto or pork. Tortellini is a ring-shaped dumpling pasta. Due to their belly-button shape, the Italians sometimes refer to them as “Ombelico”, meaning navel. Tortellini also has a cousin called “Tortelloni” which is similar shaped, but almost double the size of tortellini.
According to one legend, tortellini’s shape was inspired by the navel of the beautiful Roman goddess Venus. The story goes that she stayed at an inn in Castelfranco Emilia, where the innkeeper was mesmerized by her grace. He spied on her through the keyhole of her room, but all he could see was her navel. In honour of its beauty, he created the curvy little tortellini pasta.
To commemorate this epic story of the creation of tortellini, Castelfranco Emilia hosts a yearly festival. The festival, Sagra di San Nicola, in September involves the mythical re-enacting of tortellini’s birth. This festival is a playful reminder to us all that Italians take their love for pasta to another level!
Both Modena and Bologna claim to be the original home of tortellini. This feud is an ongoing battle between these two illustrious cities. However, today the entire region of Emilia-Romagna is famous for its delicious and hearty tortellini.
Ravioli, Saccottini, and tortellini are mouth-watering and filling dumpling pastas. They each come with their own rich Italian stories and controversies. When you’re craving an Eastern European version of these treats, reach for Grandma’s perogies.
Our line of pelmeni and perogies are made to be delicious, healthy, and rich. They are simple and quick to make. You don’t need to be an Italian chef to make these tasty delights!