At the Three Monkeys Online Christmas party, we let the Irish sing, the Spaniards dance, and the Italians cook. Without casting aspersions on any of my colleagues' national cuisines, let me introduce you to yet another smashing Italian speciality: the cappelletti[Editor's note:a small filled pasta from the Romagna region]. This dish is not to be confused with tortellini, tortelli, tortelloni, agnolotti, ravioli, ravioloni or raviolacci. And this is not to say that 1. these other specialities are not just as appetising, 2. that in the whole of the Boot, you find the same traditional meal at the Christmas table, or 3. that Cappelletti in brodo are served only at Christmas. They are however the 'piatto forte' in many Italian regions, from Marche to Toscana, from Romagna to Umbria.
Being Romagnola myself, I bring you, with a touch of proud arrogance, one of the most reliable recipes around (I cringe when I read in other websites of 'real cappelletti bolognesi', but what can you do, everybody can publish anything they want on the www!), but first a bit of history.
The first mention about cappelletti can be found, according to one of the major scholars, the Riminese Piero Meldini, in a document dated 1811, precisely a survey on the inhabitants of the countryside requested by the Napoleon's administrationi. And according to Meldini, the cappelletti can be dated back at least by 50-100 years, referring in the document to 'a tradition'. Initially, the filling must have been made of cheese, eggs and natural flavours, but soon after, the people of Romagna added different types of meat to the preparation of the stuffing, primarily pork, veal and capon. If you have heard that the stuffing should include parma ham and/or mortadella, then you must be referring to the tortellini, from Bologna. And here I'm finished with the polemics!
Pellegrino Artusi, the undisputed Maestro of Italian cuisine, reminds us that their name comes from their characteristic shape a cappello (resembling a hat)ii. Others, evidently more sinful-minded or simply provided with a brighter imagination, call them Venus' bellybuttons. In any case, cappelletti are an earthy and sumptuous dish, and, rightly so, became part of the Christmas menu at a time when the modern abundance was a dream for most people, reserved as it was to a small elite.
The tradition sees the women of the house gather together the night before Christmas preparing hundreds of cappelletti, assisted by the kids, while the men applied themselves to the choosing of the best chunk of wood to provide the fireplace with the Christmas stump, which, according to pagan beliefs, was to burn all night to bring comfort to the souls of the deceased and benefit Mary when she popped in to wash and dry the Baby Jesus. The ashes of the Christmas stump were then used to keep the evil eye out of the house or the farm, to cure sick animals and to protect the vineyard from the stormsiii.
Before the piatto forte, on the traditional menuiv you'd expect crostini with liver, and afterwards roast meat, the boiled meat form the broth accompanied by a tasty salsa verde (a sort of salty mayonnaise made with a base of capers, anchovies, and pickles), roasted potatoes, green vegetables, and to finish zuppa inglese (thick custard cream with layers of sponge cake soaked with a red liquor called alkermes) along with the Italian classics: the Milanese panettone and the Veronese pandoro.