Saturday, September 17, 2011

Tortellini Westerner

Who can turn down a freebie? Especially one that saves you having to cook your own tea? When the camp-site I worked with offered up three free tickets to the local tortellini festival we certainly couldn’t say no.

“We’re going to the pasta thing tonight,” I said to Ana the receptionist on the day of the festival.

“No no no,” she responded, “it's tortellini! It's so much more than pasta.”

In all honesty, pasta wasn’t something I regularly ate (being skint and working on a camp-site in Italy) but close to pay day, when customers left some behind on their plate, I was known to take a little taste. So the thought of spending an evening eating free pasta, sorry tortellini, and drinking Bardolino wine was just too tempting. Perk of my job I suppose - going for free when others were paying €20.

The festival was in a town called Vallegio sul Mincio near Verona. I've had the good fortune of living here, close to Lake Garda, for the last four months. It's a place I'd never been before so when Ana directed us to take the blue route I was a little lost. My usual modes of transport were walking or riding my bike while swigging from a travel beer but that night, Fabio the taxi driver took us in. He was something of celebrity amongst my guests; a chivalrous nature, snappily dressed and friendly to a tee. Already our evening was off to an interesting start.

When we arrived at the info point in Vallegio we were handed a bag containing a wine glass and I thought, what a convenient idea. Wear your glass around your neck so you can’t lose it. Genius. On closer inspection the glass was engraved with the Vallegio Sul Mincio crest so after drinking everything they had you were left with a souvenir.

The festival was split into two areas, red and blue, through the town. One token bought four tastes of different tortellinis, all hand made in various family-owned shops. Other tokens were swapped for several wines from the local Bardolino wine region (and boy do they know how to make a good red), Italian pudding and Verona peaches.

In true maverick style we started at booth number four where the lovely Fabio had dropped us off. It was amazing watching the families make and cook the tortellini fresh in front of you. There's a real community spirit to the whole festival. Local scout leaders were there to help clean up, the church provided an organ for a concert and local musicians played as we walked from station to station.

Most of my fellow festival goers were beaten by station five but I was on a mission to get my money’s worth. At each table I was asked if I wanted meat or vegetable and my answer was always meat. If there were extra tastes going for free, I was there. Entire families were manning the stalls and as they handed out samples of cheese, olive oil, honey, preserves and cakes I was blown away by the sheer numbers. The strong Italian family ethic was reinforced when we saw another receptionist from the camp-site helping out at her uncle’s stall and we chatted to dozens of grandmothers and mothers between each snack and wine stop. By the end of the evening the wine was really taking effect and that's when I stumbled across the most delicious discovery.

I had a food revolution. There was a beautiful selection of cakes, icecreams and other tasty sweet treats but it was the chocolate tortellini that caught my attention. I've been a chocoholic since visiting Belgium when I was fourteen and that tortellini was a revelation. The chocolate was perfectly soft with nuts and cream inside. Well worth the €5 for a bag to take home and enjoy with the rose wine conveniently still slung around my neck. Suddenly pasta tasted better than it ever had before but that may have been because it wasn't quite pasta.

After such an experience I've found that I can tell the difference between hand-made tortellini and the cheap supermarket varieties. Both can be tasty with a nice glass of wine, a Bardolino rose if possible, but it's the chocolate version that really drove me crazy.

Written by Karen McGuigan.

See Karen's full profile here.

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