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What are Tortellini?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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Tortellini are a ring-shaped stuffed Italian pasta. In addition to being popular in Italy, the filled pasta is also well known and beloved in many other parts of the world. A wide range of fillings from vegan mushroom blends to hearty meat and cheese mixes can be found in tortellini, and the pasta can be served in a number of ways. Many stores stock dried tortellini, along with frozen and fresh tortellini. It is also possible to make the pasta at home, for cooks who want to experiment with fillings and sauces.

It is said that the shape of tortellini was inspired by the female navel. Indeed, the stuffed pasta does look rather like a bellybutton. The pasta has certainly been made for quite some time, and it is common in Italian cuisine. Different regions have unique traditional fillings and serving techniques, making the dish quite varied across Italy. The pasta is among an illustrious family of filled or stuffed pastas including manicotti and ravioli.

Some common inclusions in the filling are cheeses like ricotta, a range of meats, and vegetables such as spinach. The filling is often pulled together with cheese or egg so that it will not fall apart, and it may be partially cooked to ensure that it is completely cooked when the pasta is cooked. The pasta dough tends to be thick, to support the filling, and it usually includes egg as well so that it is rich and dense. Some producers also color their dough with additions like tomatoes and spinach.

Of of the most traditional tortellini dishes is tortellini served in a thick stew or broth. The pasta also pairs well with creamy sauces, and it may be served with ragu or tomato sauces as well. Some cooks also use tortellini in pasta salad for a unique texture and taste. Depending on where one is in Italy, one may be assured that tortellini in broth is the only way to serve the food, or that cream sauce is a travesty, or that tortellini without ragu is simply unthinkable. Along with a treatise on appropriate serving presentations, one may also be lectured about correct fillings.

Dried tortellini tends to be the lowest in quality, since the ingredients must be essentially dehydrated to be made shelf stable. Fresh tortellini is often considered to be the best, since the freshest ingredients can be used, although it will have a shorter shelf life as a result. Frozen tortellini is sort of a happy medium, combining a desired longer shelf life with fresh, tasty ingredients.

DelightedCooking is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a DelightedCooking researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By SarahSon — On Jun 03, 2011

I love just about any kind of tortellini and have tried several different kinds of fillings. Any kind of pasta salad usually goes over well at family gatherings, and I love to make a cold tortellini salad.

I like to add some fresh vegetables like cherry tomatoes and cucumbers, along with some cheese and Italian dressing. This is quick and easy to put together and I usually come home with an empty bowl.

By sunshined — On May 31, 2011

I make a tortellini dish that is always one of my stand-by recipes when I have company or need to take a main dish somewhere. You can add meat if you wish, or just leave it out and add marinara sauce with some chicken broth and Italian dressing.

You also add mozzarella cheese the last few minutes of baking and it is so good. I like it because it is quick and easy to put together and really feeds a crowd. Add a tossed salad and some bread and you have a great meal.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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