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.
Extra tip: the anvein (anolini) from Piacenza which are distinguished from other similar stuffed pasta for the fundamental ingredient of the filling, that is the beef stew from Piacenza, and for cooking in “third-party broth”. Given its delicacy, it is absolutely suitable for all seasons, even if it is the Christmas dish par excellence, therefore a must if the itinerary is scheduled for December to better savor the traditional magic of Christmas.
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.
Extra tip: know that the tortelli you will find in the Parma area, always rectangular in shape, have various personalities as far as the filling is concerned. From the most famous tortelli d'erbetta foghè in tal buter and sughè col formaj (drowned in butter and dried with cheese) to those of pumpkin, typical in autumn or those with potatoes, typical of the Apennines, where they are seasoned with a sauce of mushrooms (TOP if Borgotaro mushroom PGI) or with truffles. In the upper Val d'Enza you can even taste them with a particular filling of potatoes and herbs.
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, in a more square shape than the Piacenza ones.
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, in Parma, on San Giovanni, on 24 June. But, of course, you can eat them anytime you want!
Extra tip: the people of Reggio are also very proud of the cappelletti recipe, which varies slightly depending on the family and the locality (mountain, Lower Reggio and capital), as well as the size that tends to increase going down towards the Bassa. Appetizing and irresistible, according to a legend - which originates from the "Secchia Rapita poem" - the cook "imitando di Venere il bellico, l'arte di fare il tortellino apprese" (imitating the navel of Venus, the art of making tortellino he learned".