I met some very interesting people while I was in Italy. One such person is Sergio Manbrini and he has a restaurant called Cartoccia in Mantova (Mantua).
Sergio founded and directed the first Legambiente of Mantua, a group dealing with issues aimed at investigating the relationship between health, nutrition, agriculture and the environment. He is now an author as well as an activist on environmental issues and a restauranteur.
His first book is Fango Nero and as you would expect it has a political message. Sergio began his working life in a factory and like the character in his book, he began to question the social, industrial and economic events that were happening in the 70’s and the consequential changes to the society and the environment he lived in. He decided to radically change his way of life and motivate others to do the same.
It is therefore of no surprise that the restaurant only uses organic, dio – dynamic, raw ingredients. All good!!
Of prime importance when I travel is to eat the local food and traditional dishes of that particular town and region (yes, to this degree – the variations and specialities of dishes exist in the short proximities). I could not go wrong when my partner and I ordered from his menu.
Tortelli di zucca conditi con burro e salvia. being a purist, I selected the classic traditional version dressed with butter and sage. These are large tortellini stuffed with yellow pumpkin and certainly a classic dish from this area (photo above). On the menu he also had the tortelli dressed with, sugo di pomodoro e salsiccia mantovana (dressed with a tomato sauce with pork sausage from Mantova).
Tagliatelle con castagne, ricotta e radicchio con speck (Tagliatelle made with chestnut flour and wheat, dressed with ricotta and radicchio and speck).
Luccio in salsa con peperoni capperi, acciughe on polenta (Pike, a fresh water fish with peppers, capers, anchovies on polenta).
Verdura grigliata (we ate this as an appetiser – seasonal vegetables including Cavolo Nero).
During lunch I had many interesting conversations about global and local issues. We discussed the food we were eating and my interest in sustainable fish and in the environment and I was told how pike swam in the lakes of Mantua when the water was not polluted. Pike is now bred and fished nearby in very clean waters, as the lake is so polluted that no swimming is permitted. We discussed the pros and cons of aquaculture and the importance of maintaining our interest and commitment to such an important issue.
This is not Sergio’s recipe for Tortelli di Zucca. I used to have an aunt who was Piedmontese and lived in Genova, she was an excellent cook and she used to make them. In her recipes she always included Mostarda di frutta di Cremona, an Italian condiment made of candied fruit and a mustard flavoured syrup. In my home we ate Mostarda with Bollito misto (boiled meats) and This is all I have left of the jar of Mostarda in my fridge. Cremona is not far from Mantova or Genova and the tortelli being a classical dish from these parts of Italy, it would contain Mostarda di Frutta as well as amaretti. It is an interesting taste and quite sweet.
You may consider making them into ravioli. Tortelloni are big tortellini and there is no way that I can describe adequately how you can fold them in writing… Basically they are squares of pasta, small amount of filling, pasta square is folded in half, one point of triangle folded down, other two points joined together. I am sure that if you are interested there would be something on the internet about this.
The filling is sufficient for a pasta made with 250g of white hard wheat flour and 3-4 eggs. There are plenty of recipes on how to make home made fresh pasta and I will not bore you with that.
A non-watery type of pumpkin is best. If boiled, the pumpkin must be well drained.
Fresh pasta in sheets.
1.5kg pumpkin peeled and seeded and cooked (baked or boiled in little water)
1 tablespoon butter melted
50g Amaretti biscuits, crumbed
2 tablespoons of chopped fruit from Mostarda di Frutta (pear and apricot are good)
100g Parmigiano grated
½ tsp ground nutmeg
Salt, pepper to taste
Melt 1 cup of unsalted on gentle heat. When the butter begins to bubble add 7 leaves of fresh sage and continue the heat for 1 to 2 minutes. The butter will be a caramel colour.
Make the sauce last of all.
Mash the (cold or warm), cooked pumpkin and add all of the other ingredients. The filling should have the consistency of a paste (not runny). If it does not, you may need to add some fresh breadcrumbs from good quality bread (no crusts).
Fill and shape into ravioli.
Cook ravioli in salted boiling water for 4-5 minutes, they will float to the top.
Dress with sage butter, add some freshly ground pepper, Parmesan
(optional), and serve.
I enjoyed my lunch very much and I wish Sergio well…. he persists when it is so easy to give up.