AL TURTLEIN MAT is one of my creations I’m the most proud of .
Everything started with a recipe from my maternal grandmother, named Elisa, wich my mother Silvia passed down to me.
We were at the second world war time , in 1942.
A large country family, coming from the hills nearby Reggio Emilia, short while moved to Modena.
They were farmers, specialized in viticulture and Lambrusco wine production.
One day , Roberto, my maternal grandfather rounded up the whole family, grannies too, and asked the local photographer to come and take a picture.
He said to his wife ,wich he kindly called Lisetta: “We have to do it now!..As long as we are all here! Our older sons could soon be recruited and called to the army.”
It was a big event.. and the family wanted to celebrate it the best they could.
And for Modena people ,as well for Reggio people, the best way to celebrate is to put a big plate of Tortellini on the table.
The original recipe included meat.
But there was no meat in the house that day.
In the barn and in the farmyard there were the animals .. but they were too precious.
Cows gave the milk that used to be brought to the cheese factory to produce Parmigiano Reggiano, ricotta and butter.
Every day chickens gave their eggs.
The wheat grown in the field without pesticides, herbicides or artificial fertilisers.
So the flour was always available.
But it was very different from the modern flour , the white and refined one brought by the later industrialisation of food production.
It was obtained by grinding the grains of wheat under a stone.
It was dark and lightly greasy.
But it was ALIVE because packed with wheat germ, full of vitamins, minerals and rich in antioxidants essential for human wellness.
And it was also rich in fibers, middlings and bran, only partially removed by a filtration system called “sdàs”.
So at that point ,my grandmother Elisa didn’t esitate a second ,she gathered all the ingredients available and decided to put them in the filling.
Parmigiano reggiano, bread crumbs, eggs and nutmeg..
Nowadays, I’ve dusted off this ancient and poor recipe , keeping it vegetarian, and revised with a more balanced nutritional profile.
But the smell, the texture, the taste.. are the same of the traditional tortellino.
At the first bite these flavours bring back to childhood memories, comfort feelings and well-being.
It’s that kind of food that nurishes the body, but also the soul.
My grandmother’s challenge, in 1942, was to recreate a festive food , like tortellini, without meat.
The challenge I’m meeting now, in 2018, is to demonstrate how some dishes can be recreated in a vegetarian version but keeping them strictly tied to tradition, to the best part of traditions.
Today meat is not “missing” .
But we have reached such a consciousness level that suggests us not to consider meat ( animals) an essential ingredient in food anymore.