Tortelloni are a kind of stuffed pasta that take the shape of filled rings or “pillows.” They are a staple of traditional Italian cuisine. The most common fillings are spinach and ricotta cheese, but the pasta is highly versatile, and almost anything — from walnuts and squash to chicken and herbs — can be used to change the flavor of the meal. Traditionally, they were homemade, but are increasingly available pre-packaged or frozen.
The roots of tortelloni lie squarely in Italy, and Italian cooks have been preparing this kind of pasta for centuries. Different regions of Italy have different traditions with respect to how the pasta is stuffed. Originally, cooks would use whatever fresh, local ingredients were available. Although most ingredients are available with some ubiquity now, regional differences are still present in a lot of Italian dishes.
Some chefs will prepare the pasta with only cheese, or a combination of cheeses. Others will add mushrooms, spinach, squash, nuts, herbs, or even beans. Tortelloni prepared with white beans, a popular variation particularly in Italy's north, is known as tortelloni fagioli. Chefs typically design sauces to accompany and accent the particular ingredients used in stuffing.
Tortelloni are generally large, between 1 to 2 inches (about 2.5 to 5 cm) long. They are essentially larger versions of tortellini and rounder versions of ravioli. Ravioli are sealed squares, and lack the texture and twisted shape characteristic of tortelloni.
The pasta is made by filling strips of dough with stuffing to make tubes, then connecting the ends of those tubes to form rings. Most of the time, the rings are so tightly wound that the center hole is small or indistinguishable. The end effect is a sealed pouch or pillow that must be gently boiled, then served.
Fine Italian restaurants frequently make the pastas they serve from scratch. Home chefs can try making their own — many find that pasta-making is actually a lot easier than it seems — but the pasta is also typically readily available for purchase. Some Italian delicatessens will sell fresh-made tortelloni, and pre-packaged fresh versions are also commonly available in the deli section of some grocery stores. Increasingly, too, tortelloni in a wide selection of flavors and varieties is available frozen.
Most commercial tortelloni is made by machine, not by hand. Machines cut the dough, process the filling, and stamp out perfected pieces which can then be flash-frozen or sealed in airtight plastic, refrigerated, and transported. Italian food purists often take issue with mechanically-created pastas, and there is some debate with respect to how authentic any pre-made pasta can be.
Nevertheless, the pasta remains popular around the world as a versatile, hearty dish. While the pasta is generally enjoyed on its own, it can also be used in pasta salads or soups. Creative cooks have even created torelloni kebabs, skewering the pasta together with tomatoes, olives, and cheese, for instance, to create interesting appetizers. Arranging the chilled pasta on platters, either just cooked or deep-fried, with different dipping sauces as an antipasto is another option. Though some preparations are more traditional than others, there is no real “wrong” way to cook or fix tortelloni.