Tortellini with Sage and Butter Sauce

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Porticoes of Bologna
Porticoes of Bologna

Bologna is a great, small city for tourists and flies under the radar compared to Rome, Florence and Naples. With magnificent architecture and large parts of this old city constructed with an attractive red brick, the porticoes make Bologna unique. Famous for food Bologna is also home to tortellini and the inspiration for this tortellini with sage and butter sauce recipe.

After having seen some of the great sights of Bologna, it is time to turn your attention to Bologna’s food. Looking at a map, you can see  Bologna is in the heart of the Emilia Romagna Region of Italy.

Food in Bologna

If you are into your food and travel, then being in the Emilia Romagna region of Italy is a highlight. Home to so many classic Italian small goods, it is a real pleasure walking the markets in Bologna, Modena and Parma.

The markets are all in car-free, “old town” sections. And the old town sections (often originating from defensive walls built around the original towns) are extensive. What a pleasure it is browsing without noisy, car traffic whizzing around.

The delicatessens are inviting and packed full of hams, cheeses, pastas and other delicacies. And there are many of them, so the choices are many, each selling many varieties of fresh pasta. The delicatessens present their foods magnificently. It is a real pleasure for your eyes and gets your digestive juices flowing. The selection of fresh pasta is impressive.

The Emilia Romagna region is one of Italy’s best places to travel for foodies- our 5 day Bologna food itinerary shows you all the highlights. You can also find a lot of articles and recipes for travel and food in Italy on Compass & Fork.

The Story of Tortellini

I have already waxed lyrical about the delicatessen pleasures of Bologna. What I have yet to mention is Bologna is not only famous for its porticoes but its tortellini as well.

The history of tortellini is mired in mythology and both Modena and Bologna claim it as their own. It is said the shape of tortellini resembles a woman’s navel. And who was the woman whose navel inspired this delicacy?

Tortellini with sage and butter sauce dresses with Parmigiano Reggiano www.compassandfork.comThere are 2 women credited with this. One is the goddess Venus and the other Lucrezia Borgia; take your pick. However the story is the same. Staying at an inn, the innkeeper was so taken with their beauty he couldn’t resist peeking through the keyhole!

Emilia Romagna Food Bowl

Struck by what he saw, he rushed to his kitchen, rolled out a sheet of fresh egg pasta and invented a shape inspired by Venus’ (or Lucrezia’s) navel. This obviously true story took place in a town called Castelfranco Emilia, conveniently halfway between Modena and Bologna. Sounds legitimate doesn’t it?

Adding the cooked Tortellini to the Sage and Butter Sauce

Traditional Tortellini

Regardless of the history, tortellini is the pasta pride and joy of the food in Bologna. Although there are exceptions to the rule, tortellini is quite small and meat-based or vegetable/cheese-based. In Emilia Romagna, tortellini is generally cooked in broth and served with broth or a sauce. Tortelloni is the same basic shape but larger. It is vegetable-based and generally cooked in water and served with a sauce.

A lot of the towns in the Emilia Romagna region have their own iteration of tortellini. The tortelloni you see below contained pumpkin. This is more common than the spinach and ricotta, we tend to see at home. Meat-based tortellini with Parmigiano Reggiano is also common (and almost always cooked and served with broth).

In the following recipe for Tortellini with Sage and Butter we have “cheated” and bought fresh pumpkin tortelloni. You can make your own tortellini but you will need a pasta machine and it is a labor of love. If you are interested in doing this here is a good recipe for Spinach and Ricotta filled tortellini.

Ingredients for Tortellini with Sage and Butter Sauce
Here we just finish off the cooked tortellini with sage and butter sauce. It’s your choice as to what type of tortellini you use. This sauce works with all of them. And this recipe is super quick. Add a green salad for a great lunch or dinner

And I might add, this is one of my favorite ways to eat vegetarian tortellini- I love the combination of tortellini with sage and butter sauce.



All the specialty ingredients you need to make the Italian recipes on Compass & Fork on one handy printable shopping list.

Recipe for Tortellini with Sage and Butter Sauce

Tortellini with Sage and Butter
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Tortellini with Sage and Butter Sauce
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A typical, simple dish from the Bologna region that is a little bit gourmet. Don't be fooled by the short list of ingredients for this dish. It's fabulous and very quick to make. Serve with some green salad.
Servings Prep Time Cook Time
4people 2minutes 5minutes
Servings Prep Time
4people 2minutes
Cook Time
Servings: people
Servings: people
  1. Bring a large pot of water to the boil and then add some salt. Carefully place the fresh tortellini into the pot and cook until al dente. This will only take a few minutes. Drain carefully or remove with a slotted spoon (tortellini can be delicate).
  2. Melt the butter over a medium heat and cook for about 2 minutes or until light brown. Add the sage leaves and cook for a further minute or until crisp. Carefully add the cooked tortellini, season with black pepper and sea salt and toss gently to combine.In the pan - Tortellini with Sage and Butter Sauce
  3. Serve onto plates and sprinkle good parmesan over the top.
Recipe Notes

If you can, try and get fresh tortellini.  You can buy fresh tortellini (often hand-made) at better delicatessens.  From better supermarkets, you can also generally purchase fresh tortellini in the refrigerated section.  It also comes frozen or dried (will take longer to cook so follow the cooking directions on the package).

You can buy Parmigiano Reggiano from here or better delicatessens.


4 Responses

  1. Tanja
    | Reply

    Hi! great post. I love Bologna and Italian food 🙂

    • Editor

      Bologna seems to be a great place for food, and in Italy where the food is good that is saying a lot!

  2. Donna
    | Reply

    Oh I LOVED reading the ‘history’ behind the food 🙂 Italy is on the top of my ‘must visit’ list…one day. These tortellini sound delicious, and there is nothing better than a simple sage and butter sauce to accentuate the flavours!

    • Editor

      Thanks for your comment Donna. Quite a funny story behind the history of tortellini, isn’t it? Italy is definitely worth visiting. Not just for the food but the history and culture as well. Cheers….Mark

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