This is the story of a young boy, and of a man who believed in him to no end.
He was a son of farmers, just like me. And he was a kid with a talent for music. Still, his life as a kid must not have been easy: His father ran a little restaurant in Busseto, a small village in the countryside around Parma, where life was slow and people dwelled in routines. The young boy partook one of the most important ones of those routines, and started playing the organ during mass.
One day, a man from a rich family heard him play. The man was so passionate about music, and so moved by the boy’s talent, that he endorsed his music studies and sent him off to Milan, to try for admission at the Conservatory.
He failed. He was applauded by some. But alas, he failed.
I like to imagine that, when he got back home, he was greeted by his mom’s homemade tortelli d’erbette, doused in butter and Parmigiano and stuffed with fresh ricotta and young greens. That bowl of warm, buttery pasta must have been so comforting after such a let down.
This story could be totally be set in this current day, in this very moment. But it is not.
This happened in 1831, and the boy was not admitted because, were he to move to Milan, he would have been no more than an immigrant from the Dukedom of Parma into the Austrian kingdom. He was not rich enough, relevant enough and, however remarkable, belonged to a different ‘category’ of people.
That boy was Giuseppe Verdi. The Giuseppe Verdi who authored operas like La Traviata, Il Rigoletto, Aida, Il Nabucco, and many more. He wrote some of the best arias and chorals the world knows today, and has been performed in all theaters worldwide. It is still today.
Eventually, he got into the Conservatory. But he only did because that one man kept believing in him to no end, and was willing to stake a lot of money on his talent.
I wonder how it would have been today. I wonder how his life as an immigrant could be. I wonder if he would have succeeded. I wonder what beauty the world would have failed to witness if had that man not believed in him to no end.
I am sure that, if the same were to happen today, things would not have been much different.
Come to think of it, things are not much different in Busseto, too: it still is a quiet village – exactly what you would expect from the average Italian town, with old men with a local newspaper tucked in their pockets, their heads covered in hats – likely a borsalino or a coppola (still those same from the 1800s!), sipping espresso while waiting for their favorite osteria to open for the day, or for their homes to be filled with the smell of pasta sauce and baking. The church bells toll heavily, their mighty voice echoing through the village and into the countryside, raising clouds of birds flying like dust into the air. I like to think it hasn’t changed much since the 1800s and, in fact, I am sure it has not. Verdi’s father osteria is still there, serving the best products of one of the world’s capitals of food. And the recipes they cooked then are the same they still cook today. Tortelli d’erbette are still widely served in every restaurant and it is a tradition to eat them for the summer Solstice (though this is an other story entirely).
Today, Milan’s Conservatory is called ‘Giuseppe Verdi’.
Sometimes, I find myself thinking that if a ‘me’ were to have lived in Verdi’s era, I wouldn’t have been much different, either. I am sure I would have worn the same long skirts I love wearing today. And I am sure I would have loved cooking even more, and surely would have had more time to do it (in both a good and bad way,of course, but this is, again, another story entirely). I am sure I would have found a sweet man who I could trick into taking me to the Opera, even if he didn’t like it (I wonder what could have he liked instead?). Or maybe I wouldn’t have quit singing in that life as I did in this, and would have met Verdi in some Opera theater. But then again, I surely would not have had enough money to study to become a singer, so I would have sung his Traviata alone in my kitchen, while preparing these ravioli. Maybe I would have had someone who believed in me to no end, just like I do in this life.
And I am sure that, just as I do today, I would have though that singing Verdi while making ravioli is not a bad life after all.
I covered how to make ravioli, or tortelli as they are known in the Parma area, in my last post. Now it is time to add the most traditional dressing there could ever be: butter and Parmigiano. Once you have the ravioli ready to go, this recipe comes together in a cinch. One thing I do not think I mentioned is the kind of grain I used to make them: I used a blend of local whole wheat, a little semolina flour, and some whole flour made from an ancient grain called ‘Grano del Miracolo‘ (triticum compositum), once cultivated in Parma and that has now been rediscovered in that same area. It was thus called, ‘the Miracle Grain’, because each strand would produce a double cluster of wheat grains rather than just one. Crazy, right?
Or just a little miracle, just like Verdi’s success.
IF YOU WANT TO TRY MAKING YOUR OWN RAVIOLI, CHECK OUT THIS POST.
As always, use top-quality ingredients to make these. Ancient grains aside, I used greens from the garden, local grass-fed dairy and the best Parmigiano I could source from Parma’s hills. The recipe is a mix from what my mom, Marco, and this old recipe book taught me, so three absolutely respectable sources.
- See previous post, linked above.
- 5 to 6 tablespoons butter (70 to 90 g)
- 4 to 5 tablespoons Parmigiano Reggiano, freshly grated
- Rosemary flowers to garnish (optional)
- Make the pasta according to the instructions in the link above this recipe box.
- Once the tortelli are ready, cook them straight away in plenty of boiling, salted water until cooked. It could take anywhere from 3 to 5 minutes, depending on how thin the pasta is. Do not overcook them - keep them slightly al dente.
- Melt the butter on a pot. If you like, you can make it turn slightly brown, swirling it often so that it does not brown.
- Drain them and add to a large bowl. I personally prefer to use a little less butter and add a tablespoon of olive oil at this stage. Add the butter and toss well, shaking the bowl and turning delicately with a serving spoon. Be careful not to break them. Add the grated Parmigiano and mix delicately, then serve immediately. If you have some rosemary flowers on hand, they add a lovely aroma and touch of color.
NOTE: I think that having these with extra virgin olive oil and a little less cheese could be an option, too. Maybe a little lemon zest, too. A perfect 5 minute pasta to tidy you up when you’re feeling down (or not).