Bologna Archbishop Launches Pork-Free Tortellini to Avoid Offending Muslims

A picture shows a poster with times to cook fresh pasta and prices of tortellini and agnolotti on November 21, 2014 at the Italian historic shop "Gatti & Antonelli" in Rome. AFP PHOTO / ALBERTO PIZZOLI (Photo credit should read ALBERTO PIZZOLI/AFP/Getty Images)
ALBERTO PIZZOLI/AFP/Getty

ROME — Bologna archbishop Matteo Maria Zuppi has modified an age-old recipe for the feast of the city’s patron, San Petronio, commissioning a pork-free version of Bologna’s iconic tortellini pasta so that Muslims will feel welcome.

This Friday, which commemorates the feast of Saint Petronius, pasta makers will gather as they do every year at 11:00am in the large central square that bears the saint’s name. There they will roll out the fresh egg pasta by hand, with the variant that alongside the traditional pork-filled pasta a chicken-filled version will also be prepared at the prelate’s request.

Archbishop Zuppi, who will be made a cardinal by Pope Francis next Saturday, has dubbed the modified pasta “welcome tortellini” but many locals are referring to the alteration as “culinary blasphemy.”

“Bologna,” Zuppi has said, “has always had a great ability to welcome the other. You become a Bolognese easily!”

The original, centuries-old tortellini recipe, registered with the city’s Chamber of Commerce, contains a mixture of pork (loin, ham, and mortadella) along with Parmesan cheese, eggs, and nutmeg.

For Anna Maria Silvi, owner of Paolo Atti & Sons, a pillar of Bologna’s pasta-making tradition dating back to 1880, the archbishop’s decision borders on sacrilege.

“Tortellini are made in a certain way. If the recipe changes, they are no longer tortellini,” she declared. “If the choice is based on religious motives, then, in order not to betray the tradition, why not use another of our stuffed pasta, such as tortellone, with ricotta, parsley and parmesan?”

The archbishop is even receiving push-back from purists of the Bolognese tradition within the Catholic Church. Bishop Ernesto Vecchi, for instance, a former auxiliary bishop of Bologna and a great food lover, registered his disapproval of the move.

“I do not judge the initiative, but if you mess with tortellini you destroy it,” Bishop Vecchi said. “You need all the classic ingredients, starting with mortadella, otherwise it is no longer tortellini but something else.”

Paola Lazzari Pallotti, the chef who developed the new chicken recipe, has defended the archbishop’s decision against critics, insisting that the new tortellini “can be enjoyed by everyone, both by those who do not eat pork for religious reasons and those elderly persons who may want to eat light.”

This is not the first time that the Bolognesi have gotten their backs up over efforts to tweak their city’s premier dish.

When the Tortellini Festival was born seven years ago in the city, many people rebelled at the gastronomic heresy. Participating restaurants reinterpreted the dish most dear to Bolognese, going so far as to produce meatless or fish-based versions of tortellini. Over time, the furor has all but abated.

According to the Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Bologna, Monsignor Giovanni Silvagni, the archbishop’s move symbolizes the Church’s openness to everyone.

“By its very form, the tortellino reminds us of something that embraces everyone,” he said. “Along with becoming a cardinal, our bishop will be a close collaborator of the pope and, therefore, will have a task that extends beyond the boundaries of the archdiocese and embraces the whole world.”

“The tortellino is the sign of how Zuppi, starting from Bologna, will also take care of the Church in general,” he said.

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