Tortellini have always been the key figure of debates, myths, stories and anecdotes. Known in Bologna and Modena by this name, the turtléin becomes an anolino if we move to Parma and Piacenza, while in Reggio Emilia and Ferrara the only word used is cappelletti.

Is it just a regional issue? Not quite: since the names are different, the fillings and shapes are also different that characterise this stuffed pasta, the queen of Emilian dinner tables and now enjoyed all around the world on a par with Parmigiano Reggiano, Balsamic Vinegar and Prosciutto di Parma.

Legend has it that this Emilian delicacy was first created in an inn on the border between Modena and Bologna. When entering Venus’s room after Bacchus and Mars had escaped from their night of passion, the innkeeper was so struck by the remarkable navel of the goddess of beauty that he recreated it with egg pasta so he would always remember it.

Perhaps due to this legend, or maybe down to a little healthy local Emilian rivalry, Modena and Bologna still argue over who came up with tortellini to this very day. However, whether down to the fact that many people think of tortellini “alla bolognese”, or because the official recipe was filed in the ’70s at the Bologna Chamber of Commerce, the province’s capital has won some sort of virtual victory over neighbouring Modena.

One thing all tortellini have in common, whether from Bologna or Modena, is the filling: made from pork loin, prosciutto crudo, mortadella from Bologna, Parmigiano Reggiano, egg and nutmeg, all enclosed in sheets of egg pasta, according to tradition.

The most obvious difference between tortellini from Bologna and tortellini from Modena? The mortadella must strictly be real mortadella from Bologna in the former and only real mortadella from Modena in the latter.

Moving from Modena and Bologna to closer provinces, we find Reggio Emilia and Ferrara, which may be far apart but share the same passion for cappelletti (caplètt or caplit depending on the dialect), due to their shape which resembles a hat.

The principle is the same as for tortellini, but the filling changes: there is no mortadella in Reggio Emilia where they prefer Parmigiano Reggiano, a mix of beef, veal and pork, sausage, egg and the obligatory nutmeg; while in Ferrara they are split in two, one side uses the recipe from Reggio Emilia and the other side sticks to Romagna tradition with the typical egg and cheese stuffing, sometimes enriched with lean chicken or pork.

Finally, heading towards the beautiful provinces of Parma and Piacenza, we find anolini (anolén in the Parma dialect, from “anulus”, literally meaning ring in Latin), which have a completely different shape from tortellini or cappelletti and a filling based on Parmigiano Reggiano, breadcrumbs, egg and stew. Unlike Parma, Piacenza adds meat and enriches the anolini with beef stew.

A piece of advice from Emilians to non-Emilians: any type of stuffed pasta is known as tortellini in Emilia, but outside of Modena and Bologna such an oversight is inexcusable!

The only points which everyone agrees on are that they are cooked in capon stock or served in cream or meat sauce; but above all, they are the mainstay of all Emilians’ Christmas dinners.