“The raviolo is a thoughtful type of pasta”, once wrote an Italian poet. It has to be said that this ancient technique of mingling form and stuffing has been used for centuries in the preparation of food. The result is a culinary masterpiece requiring flair and manual skills. It may be nothing but a fine layer of dough made to hold a stuffing, but it gathers flavour, culture, tradition and artisanal know-how.
We have taken the tortellini, an almost sacred custom in the region it comes from, located between Modena and Bologna, and Chinese dumplings, in order to compare the two. There are numerous different versions in the vast nation of China so, to make this comparison more effective we have limited the field to those the North China population calls Jiaozi, whose name derives from their shape. In fact, the Chinese word “jiǎo” means horn.
In both cultures, they are considered dishes for celebrating special occasions: the New Year, public holidays or religious festivities.
Both of them are of complex preparation, requiring time and manual skills. The preparation of Chinese dumplings or tortellini traditionally requires many hands: some prepare the dough while others fill it and cook it. But it is here that the similarities end and the differences start to emerge.
How to make the dough
A true sfoglina – this is the Italian name for those women whose expert hands roll out the almost transparent sheet of dough for making stuffed pasta specialties - would probably be horrified to hear their pasta dough being compared to that of a Chinese dumpling. But in both cases, we are talking about a sheet of pastry.
The tortellini is made from 00-type flour and eggs, while our Chinese cook uses plain flour either on its own or mixed with rice flour, with nothing else but boiling water. In the Bologna area, the pasta dough has to be so transparent that "it is possible to see the bell tower of San Luca through it" when you hold it up. Instead, the dough used for Chinese dumplings is thicker.
How to use the rolling pin
Traditionally, in the region of Emilia, the rolling pin is of fundamental importance and any future housewife must have one made especially for her, as part of her dowry. It is about 70 centimeters long and made from heavy beech wood.
The Chinese rolling pin is smaller and easy to handle, no longer than the width of a palm because the sheet of dough is never rolled out whole but in numerous little rounds, one at a time.
How to fold tortellini and dumplings
Chinese jiaozi have many different variants but, for our purposes, we shall be considering the ones filled with meat such as beef or minced pork, combined with Chinese cabbage or nappa, chopped leak or spring onion, garlic, rice wine and sesame oil.
There are many different schools of thought about the authentic tortellini filling, but we shall consider the one approved by the Tortellino Confraternity which harks back to the most ancient recipe. This stuffing is made up of roast pork, Parma ham, mortadella, eggs and Parmesan cheese.
How to shape tortellini and dumplings
To make tortellini you start out from an extremely thin 3 cm square of rolled out dough which is then folded over into a triangle and wrapped around one finger.
The jiaozi are made from a little circular piece of dough, thicker in the centre, which is then sealed by pinching together its edges at the top.
How to cook tortellini and dumplings
The perfect tortellini are boiled for a few minutes in a mixed meat broth of boiling fowl and capon. Woe betide those who drown it in cream!
The jiaozi are either cooked in boiling water or steamed and generally dipped in soy sauce to which vinegar, garlic, ginger and sesame oil have been added.
What is tortellini and dumplings taste like?
The tortellini – strictly served in nothing but hot broth – hardly touches the palate before dissolving immediately, owing to its very fine pasta dough. The first sensation is conferred by the savoury taste of Parmesan, followed by that of the ham. The spicy notes of mortadella bounce back on the palate and, finally, comes the light aroma of nutmeg and Sunday roast.
The jiaozi should not be completely immersed in the piquant sauce but – held firmly between the chopsticks – gently dipped in the sauce by one corner of its horn so as not to cover flavours of the filling. The sumptuous fattiness of pork is mitigated by the citrusy notes of ginger and the slight acidity cuts through the greasiness and prepares our taste buds for the next morsel.
Are you looking for some tortellini or dumplings recipes? Take a look at our recipe section! Why don't you try to cook a dish of tortellini in broth or, otherwise, some deep fried dumplings? Enjoy your meal!