A word from the wise: before starting this tour, it is advisable to prepare a few days ahead of time with a low-calorie diet. This itinerary, in fact, will take you on a discovery of the magic that people from Piacenza, Parma and Reggio Emilia are able to craft with fresh pasta, as well as with butter, ricotta, and Parmesan cheese.
From East to West or from West to East, it doesn't matter. The provinces of Piacenza, Parma and Reggio Emilia sit in succession, so the starting point is not important. What really counts is plunging headfirst into a realm where traditional recipes are rooted in old widespread cuisine that still win hearts and stomachs hundreds of years later.
Starting in Piacenza, your first encounter is inevitably with tortelli con la coda. Their origin dates back to 1351, when the cooks of the Vigolzone castle created elongated dumplings of filled pasta to honour a very illustrious guest: the poet Petrarch.
The name refers to the shape of this filled pasta, which envelop the filling of ricotta, spinach (or field herbs) and grated cheese in the shape of candy or, on closer inspection, a braid. Different sauces can be chosen but normally this pasta is served with melted butter, grated parmesan and sage with the possible variation of a small bowl of mushroom sauce on the side. Needless to say, both options are highly recommended.
Taking the Via Emilia, so dear to the writer Gianni Celati, towards Parma, your second stop on the Tortello Tour involves getting acquainted with a dish that has become one of the most popular symbols of the area: anolini, also called cappelletti (a rather thorny lexical matter, actually). Served with hot broth, in the shape of small suns with jagged or smooth edges, there are two kinds of filling: one of a "poor" tradition, made with Parmigiano Reggiano and breadcrumbs heated up in broth, or one of a "rich" tradition, with the addition of a meat stew. A popular dish that can be traced back to the 15th century, anolini have become a signature dish of Parma to the point of being included in the most important Italian recipe book written by Pellegrino Artusi at the end of the 19th century.
If you still have room in your belly, which of course you will if you’re taking this tour seriously, your last stop involves tasting the green ravioli of Reggio Emilia. The ingredients vary according to family and local traditions and, while the fresh pasta is similar to that of nearby Piacenza and Parma, the filling is reminiscent of tortelli con la coda with the addition of chard, lard, garlic, parsley, nutmeg and the ever-present Parmigiano Reggiano. In Reggio Emilia, this dish is topped with butter and extra-mature Parmigiano Reggiano. Traditionally, these green tortelli are served at Christmas Eve dinner and on San Giovanni, on 24 June. But, of course, you can eat them anytime you want!