Tortellini en brodo (often misspelled in the U.S. as tortellini in brodo) is a classic Italian dish. Some Americans call it tortellini soup.
It is served as a first course—chicken broth with a few tortellini—or as a main dish packed with tortellini. It’s a cousin of dumpling and chicken soups from Jewish chicken soup with kreplach to Chinese wonton soup, not to mention American chicken-noodle soup.
While most Americans eat tortellini with a red or white sauce and grated Parmesan, en brodo is a lighter way to enjoy the little loops of pasta.
The dish, which originated in the northern Italian region of Emilia-Romagna (more about that below), is warming in cold weather, but light enough to be summer fare. You can make it from scratch or purchase the components. Both the tortellini and the broth can be made ahead and reheated.
While a flavorful bowl of chicken broth and tasty tortellini are comfort food in any season, if you don’t add veggies and herb garnishes, you’re leaving a lot off the table.
Tortellini are made by filling long strips of pasta, rolling them into tubes and cutting individual pieces, which are pinched together with the thumb and forefinger.
The famous “loop” shape is said to be based on the belly button of the Venus, the Roman goddess of love.
One of the most famous versions of the legend, written in the 14th century, tells us that that Bacchus, Mars and Venus came down to earth to intervene in a 12th century war between Bologna and Modena (in Emilia-Romagna). They spent the night at an inn in Castelfranco, a small town located between the two cities.
In the morning, Bacchus and Mars arose early to visit the battle site. When Venus awoke and could not find her companions, she called for the innkeeper, who arrived to find the goddess of love naked.
Inspired by her navel, he created a new shape of pasta. (Seriously, Mr. Innkeeper—her navel inspired you?)
 The next time you make tortellini, try it en brodo instead of with traditional sauces (photo of Randazzo’s tortellini and sauces by Elvira Kalviste | THE NIBBLE).
Tortellini are made in a size that fits easily onto a soup spoon. There is a recipe for tortelli, larger tortellini, that dates back to the 12th century. The first recipe for tortellini alla Bolognese, tomato and meat sauce, appeared in Bologna in 1550 and became a signature dish in that city. (Note that Tuscans also claim tortellini as their regional pasta.)
Tortellini en brodo was the traditional Christmas soup, made with capon broth, which was favored by the ruling classes. The broth was made rich by cooking all the meat in it. The meat was then turned into a stuffing with Parmigiano-Reggiano, prosciutto crudo and/or mortadella.
Today you can find tortellini filled with everything from cheese blends to meat and cheese to pumpkin.
February 13th is National Tortellini Day.
If you love great Italian food, consider a trip to Emilia-Romagna. In addition to tortellini, it’s the birthplace of, among other culinary pearls: