Below Mighty Massa Castle, a Perfect Tordelli Waits.

Tordelli are Tortelli are Tortelloni.  Enjoy this Many Named Pasta at a Tordellaria. 

Eat Massa's Unique Piatto Tipico in an Authentic Local Restaurant.

Malaspina Castle, Massa, Tuscany.
Malaspina Castle still watches over  Massa, Tuscany. CC by Richard  Avery.
At the northern end of Tuscany, hard by the sea and the Apuan Alps, is an interesting provincial capital with a crazy name - Massa. It is full of history and busy people and stone industry enterprise, and has its own lovely beach community. Although some of Massa's historic areas were damaged in WWII bombing, much of the historic center, and one of the largest and fiercest castles in Italy survived. The Castle of the Malaspina, established before 1,000 AD, and first mentioned in documents in 1164, is still powerful looking and fearsome. The Malaspina ruled the area known as Lunigiana for centuries and competed fist-to-fist with all who challenged.   It's fascinating to visit the castle, and you can tour it on weekend and holiday afternoons.  Generally the tours are in Italian, but we've experienced very helpful guides who recognize perplexity in an instant. For hours and fees, see: Castello Malaspina Massa

Dining room at Abacab Ristorante & Tordelleria, Massa, Tuscany, Italy.
Dining room at Abacab Ristorante & Tordelleria, Massa, Tuscany, Italy.

If you'll be visiting the castle or are shopping in Massa, of course you'd like to know and try some of the food specialties. Well, there's a standout. Tordelli alla massese is rightly famous and it's delicious. It's made with a sturdy egg pasta, a rich and satisfying filling with a 'Massese' taste, and a sauce that's like the country cousin of bolognese: more robust, more sincere, more down to earth. The dish is so much a part of Massa that there are variations on the basic tradition, and there are both shops and restaurants devoted to tordelli.

Tordelli, called tortelli in most of Italy, are an ancient food.  According to 'Italian Cuisine: A Cultural History'* the idea of stuffed pasta may have originated from the ancient practice of making pies. In my simplified understanding, the concept of a sturdy, floury outer layer over a savory filling, which allowed for cooking on hot bricks in early ovens, was a winner, and obviously over time the crust became thinner, and the pies became smaller. In early versions of tortelli, the small “pies” were often fried in lard rather than cooked in water or broth. Whatever the origin, the tordelli, tortelli, tortelloni, and ravioli are so delicious they have stood the test of time and gluttony .

Tordelli al branzino / Tortelli al Branzino at Abacab Tordelleria, Massa, Italy
Tordelli al branzino a/k/a Tortelli at Abacab Tordelleria.

On a recent Sunday in April, we realized that the best antidote to a gray morning was a plate of tordelli, and so we headed to Massa. The 'tordelleria' we picked was Abacab just a few minutes from the castle. Yes, it's an odd name, evocative of the abracadabra magic wand, and there's certainly some magic going on in the kitchen, but it's named for a 1981 song by Genesis - the famous British rock group. Kind of sweet, really. It's easy to park in the neighborhood just out of the center, and easy to like the small, simple restaurant. Don't worry, they only had restrained music when we were there.

Abacab has a fairly complete menu, but with all due respect, we were here for the tordelli. For this pasta, you can order a 'tris': three different kinds of tordelli on one plate –  some of the traditional meat tordelli, some filled with ricotta and spinach, and some filled with porcini mushrooms. We saw lots of people eating this happily, but our hearts were set on our latest obsession - the tordelli al branzino, Since the minimum order for the tris is 2, we opted for two separate dishes, one, tordelli al branzino, the other tordelli con porcini.

Our review is simple: this was one of the best fish stuffed pastas we ever had, and we have tried an embarrassing number of fish stuffed pastas. I think this version used the perfect mix of fish and lemon and herbs in the filling, and it came with a lovely sauce - a few tablespoons of light tomato with more bits of branzino. The tordelli with porcini were a close second, the porcini fresh and smooth, the sauce chunky with them, the pasta itself tawny from the mushroom broth.

Grigliata mista di mare Mixed grill from the sea.
Grigliata mista di mare Mixed grill from the sea.
For a second course, we split an order of grigliata mista di mare (mixed grill from the sea). With only normal sparring, we negotiated the consumption of a giant shrimp; two split, open scampi; a substantial slice of swordfish; two totani; and a fillet of branzino. If that sounds like a lot, it was. Just slightly charred, everything was juicy and delicious.

Abacab is a casual neighborhood place with only about 25 seats, and it was fully booked on the Sunday when we were there, so calling ahead is a good idea.  Our lunch – two pastas, one grilled seafood plate, water, ½ liter of house wine, and coffee – was 42€ (2018). They have a nice website, and you can see the whole menu (I'm planning on an antipasto next time) at Abacab Tordelleria.

Abacab Ristorante-Pizzeria-Tordelleria
Closed Monday   
Pranzo di Lavoro offered during the week.
Via del Papino, 27   (Turano locality)  Massa    Tel. 0585 488408   or 328 8043924

* By Alberto Capatti & Massimo Montanari, Professor of Medieval History at Bologna University, translated by Aine O’Healy.

Written by Martha.

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