egg pasta
Food & Wine

Pasta Fresca Emiliana: A Primer

Emilia-Romagna may well be considered the kingdom of fresh, handmade pasta! While you may be familiar with tortellini and tagliatelle, you may become confused when reading the menu of a local trattoria and seeing names like tortellacci, cappelletti, garganelli, gramigna, etc. Sometimes, the different name is just a local variation of the same thing, as for tortellini (Bologna), which are called cappelletti in Modena, or a variation on the size (e.g. tortelli – tortellacci). Other times, it is a different type/shape of pasta altogether and it may be difficult to know them apart if you’re not from the area.

That’s why I have compiled this list of some of the most common types of fresh pasta you’ll find in Emilia-Romagna – hopefully, it will inspire you to try out something new, either at the restaurant or at home if you make your own pasta!


fresh pasta emiliana

Stuffed pasta perfection! Tortellini are filled with minced pork and other goodies (here’s the official recipe for the filling) and usually served in brodo (broth); tortelloni, a larger version of tortellini and a Bolognese favorite, are filled with ricotta and spinach or herbs; tortelli are square-shaped and similar to ravioli, but are not called ravioli in Emilia (I know, confusing!) and they are usually filled with ricotta and herbs, or pumpkin, or potatoes, or mushrooms; tortellacci are the biggest of the four, and again are usually filled with a combination of ricotta and some other vegetable/herb.


Tagliatelle al ragù
Tagliatelle al ragù

Ideal with thick sauces, tagliatelle reach their apotheosis when tossed with Bolognese ragù! A glass case inside Bologna’s Chamber of Commerce holds a gold replica of a piece of tagliatelle to show what their correct measurement should be: 8 mm wide when cooked (or, the 12.270th part of the Asinelli Tower’s height).


lasagne alla bolognese

What’s better on a cold winter day than some smoking hot lasagne just out of the oven? The thin layers of rectangular pasta dough are perfect to enhance Bolognese ragù; for vegetarians, there are now many versions, but consider that the authentic lasagne alla bolognese recipe calls for ragù! Lasagne Verdi (green lasagne), where the dough is mixed with spinach, are a popular variation, which some consider the traditional version.


Cappellacci from Ferrara
Cappellacci from Ferrara

Cappelletti are Modena’s version of tortellini – the shape is similar, but not exactly the same. Cappellacci are bigger and usually filled with cheese and some kind of vegetable; the most famous are the cappellacci di zucca from Ferrara.


fresh pasta

Similar in shape to penne, garganelli are obtained using a specific instrument called pettine; unlike penne, they have a clearly visible flap closing their cylinder shape. Garganelli are typically prepared al ragù (duck ragù even) or with panna prosciutto e piselli (cream, ham and peas).


Fresh pasta
Gramigna con panna, salsiccia e piselli

The cute curved curly shape of gramigna makes it a good type of pasta to go with rich, creamy sauces, but it can also be used in vegetable soups. The most popular way to cook it is with sausage: gramigna alla salsiccia.


Strozzapreti – priests’ strangler

Strozzapreti, or priests’ strangler, are made from scrap dough and hand-rolled to obtain a spiral shape. They are especially popular in Romagna. Strozzapreti all canocchie (mantis shrimp), to be eaten at a beach shack on the Adriatic coast in Romagna on a summer day, is an absolute favorite of mine!


Pasta e fagioli with maltagliati

Like strozzapreti, maltagliati are made from scrap dough, but unlike strozzapreti, they are cut, not rolled. In Emilia-Romagna, maltagliati, which means badly cut, are typically used for the classic dish pasta e fagioli (bean soup).

Now you should know your Emilia-Romagna pasta like a local! 😉

If you liked this article, please share it via the buttons below.

16 thoughts on “Pasta Fresca Emiliana: A Primer”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.