Tortelli with pumpkin from Mantua

The gourmet dish that conquered the legendary Isabella D’Este

by Rebecca Foscarini
Tortelli with pumpkin from Mantua — Lombardia Secrets

A recipe that was born at the end of the 15th-century and which, thanks to its unique flavor, conquered the Gonzagas, becoming the protagonist of the famous banquets of the "First Woman of the Renaissance", Isabella d’Este.

Pumpkin tortelli, a symbolic recipe of Mantua that has its roots in the late 1400s, are a pasta dish traditionally made of egg puff pastry stuffed with pumpkin, amaretti biscuits, apple mustard, and Grana Padano.

The main ingredient is the Mantuan Pumpkin, a product that arrived in these territories after the discovery of America, characterized by a compact and sweet pulp. Two varieties are distinguished, the Delica and the Cappello del Prete, so-called for its characteristic shape that recalls the cap worn in the past by the religious. Once considered a poor product, the pumpkin was ennobled at the court of the Gonzaga, one of the most powerful dynasties in Europe from the 14th to the 18th century, where the chefs of the palace began to use it in various preparations, experimenting and developing new recipes.

Tortelli with pumpkin from Mantua — Lombardia Secrets
Tortelli with pumpkin from Mantua — Lombardia Secrets

The story links the fame of tortelli to Isabella D’Este, one of the most famous women of the Renaissance, who from 1490, the date of her marriage to Francesco II Gonzaga, changed the fate of Mantua, making it one of the main intellectual centers of the time.
Of profound culture, a lover of arts, poetry, and music, she was a much-admired, influential and influencer woman, so much so that she inspired the greats of the time: Ludovico Ariosto and Nicolò da Correggio dedicated heartfelt verses to her, while Titian and Leonardo Da Vinci portrayed her in their works.

A great patron, she was, in fact, the first woman in history to have a “study”, intended in the Renaissance as a place to exercise the arts and exhibit personal collections of art and precious objects, and at her sumptuous banquets, you could meet all the celebrities of the time, such as Andrea Mantegna, Raffaello Sanzio, Giovanni Bellini, Giorgione, Pietro Perugino, and the same Leonardo Da Vinci and Tiziano Vecellio.

Tortelli with pumpkin from Mantua — Lombardia Secrets

She also dictated style in the field of fashion – Leonardo will even be her “stylist” – of perfumery and cosmetics, launching trends such as the famous hairstyle-headdress made up of extensions, silk fabrics, and precious gems.

Originally from Ferrara, the Marchesa Isabella brought with her much of the Emilian culinary tradition. When important guests arrived in Mantua, she called her trusted cook Cristoforo di Messisbugo, master of ceremonies, famous for setting up spectacular banquets, to court. And it was Messisbugo himself who gave us the first written testimony, in his recipe book, of the tortelli, which he called “turtell” or “riturtell”.
In addition to the tortelli recipe, in his book, he describes how to set up the table to best represent the power of a royal family. Just think that even the (large) distance between the guests was calculated to the centimeter, and in addition to gigantic painted sugar statues, crystal vases, silver, gold cups, brocade fabrics, each course was accompanied by very elaborate music and theatrical performances.

Why you will love them
One of the rare recipes that have remained unchanged for centuries, which has won the hearts of emperors, dukes and marquis.

Where to taste them
At the Il Cigno dei Martini restaurant in Piazza d’Arco in Mantua, located inside a 16th-century noble palace, which will allow you to savor the Renaissance atmosphere.

The perfect pairing
According to tradition,  they are served with a dressing of melted butter, sage, and a sprinkling of Grana Padano, accompanied by a glass of Lambrusco Mantovano DOC.

Discover the Secret Places closest to you