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Tortellini are ring-shaped Italian pasta that are also popularly known as “belly button”, because of their resemblance to the belly button or navel. Like cannalloni, this pasta too is stuffed with various ingredients such as cheese and meat (prosciutto and pork loin are the popular meats). This pasta is usually cooked in a broth of chicken or beef or a mixture of both and the sauces used are preferably thin. The pasta is used in various preparations that include cold salads, soups, bakes, etc. Tortellini Primavera, Cheese Tortellini with Roasted Garlic and Herb Sauce, Tomato Tortellini Soup and Slow Cooker Cheesy Italian Tortellini are a few popular recipes.

Tortelloni is another version of this pasta, which is generally stuffed with vegetables. Both these pastas are made industrially by various Italian companies and these belly button shaped pasta have a shelf-life of almost 7 weeks. It is sold in flavors of tomato and spinach, which also adds color.


The origin of Tortellini can be traced to Bologna and Modena regions of Emilia, Italy. There are many versions to the origin of this pasta. One popular story heard by everyone is about how the host of a small town inn was captivated by Lucrezia Borgia’s beauty, when she stayed at his inn once. He peeked into her room through the keyhole; however, all he could see was her navel. He was so inspired by this that he created the pasta the very same night. Another story that is similar to the earlier one is about Venus and Jupiter who stayed at a Bologna tavern after a battle between Bologna and Modena. The tavern host was captivated by Venus and went to peek at her through the keyhole of their room. All he could see was her navel and he was so inspired that he ended up creating tortellini pasta.

However, the most explainable version about the origin of the pasta is about how it was inspired from the 17th century buildings of Modena, which had turtle-like motifs.

Popular Accompaniments

Tortellini pairs well with various ingredients such as -

  • Meats (beef, pork, veal)
  • Thin broth like sauces
  • Other sauces such as tomato sauce, cream sauce, pesto sauce, and ragu
  • Cheeses (such as parmesan, ricotta)
  • Vegetables (most vegetables such as celery, spinach, carrots, pepper)
  • Herbs (such as basil, rosemary, parsley)

Popular Tortellini Recipes

  • Tortellini Primavera – Boiled pasta and vegetables such as broccoli, snap peas and carrots are tossed with a sauce made of flour cooked in chicken broth and flavored with garlic (tarragon and cheeses such as fontina or parmesan and salt are also added to the sauce), seasoned and served hot.
  • Cheese Tortellini with Roasted Garlic and Herb Sauce – The cheese flavored tortellini is cooked al dente and drained off. Meanwhile, the five cheese garlic bread is baked. The sauce base is prepared by cooking together browned pork sausages in a cream base that is flavored with garlic and herb Italian sauce. When the contents thicken, the pasta is tossed with the sauce and served hot with a garnish of parmesan cheese and sliced bread.

Similar Dishes of Other Cuisines

There are many similar dishes popular in other cuisines –

  • Uszka – This is a popular Polish dumpling served during Christmas Eve as a side dish or served in a soup. The dumplings are made with pasta dough and stuffed with forest mushrooms and minced meat and served with either borscht or with a sprinkling of melted butter and chives.
  • Maultaschen – These are traditionally served on Good Friday in Swabia. These are similar to the Italian ravioli, made with pasta dough and stuffed with a mixture of smoked meat, minced meat, bread crumbs, spinach and onions that have been flavored with herbs and spices such as nutmeg and parsley. These dumplings are generally served with a potato salad.
  • Wonton – This is a Chinese dumpling that is made in the same manner as ravioli. The filling ingredients include meats or vegetables that are flavored with herbs and spices. These dumplings are fried or boiled and served in a broth.
  • Mantu – These are Turkish dumplings, popular in Northwest China, Central Asian and also Caucasian cuisines. These dumplings too contain filling of spiced meat (usually ground beef or lamb) and they are then steamed or boiled.

There is many more such dumpling like pastas in various other cuisines, which are similar to tortellini.