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Out of the Past


Testaroli, Cut Up

Testaroli, Cut Up

© Kyle Phillips Licensed to About.Com
Testaroli are a specialty of the Lunigiana region, a wild, isolated valley that extends inland along the border between Tuscany and Liguria. They derive their name from the testo, a flat or slightly domed cast iron or stone griddle that they're cooked on, and are quite ancient: The city of Pontremoli, Lunigiana's capital, levied a tax on testi in 1391 and reaffirmed it in 1564.

More recently, some food historians have suggested that testaroli might actually be a forerunner of the pasta that's eaten throughout the rest of the Peninsula.

Making a batch for 6 people will take about an hour, and, if you want to be traditional, will require abundant pesto sauce (at least a cup) as a seasoning. Though good hot they're also very nice served cool. You'll need:
  • 4 1/5 cups (500 g) whole wheat flour
  • 1 pint water
  • A pinch of salt
  • Pesto sauce (you may want to double this recipe)

Combine the flour, water and salt to make a batter.

Heat a broad iron skillet (commercially prepared testaroli are about 18 inches across) and lightly grease it by dipping a cut potato in olive oil and rubbing it over the surface of the skillet. Add enough batter to make a layer slightly less than a quarter-inch thick, tilting the skillet to spread the batter evenly. Cover and cook till bubbles rise to the surface (rather like a pancake), then flip the testarolo and cook the other side for a few minutes more. Alessandro Pradelli's La Cucina Ligure suggests a total time of ten minutes, though this will vary depending upon your equipment. Unless you have a large burner you may also want to use a smaller skillet that will be heated more uniformly (or two skillets on individual burners).

Once the testaroli are done lay them out, separated by cloths, to cool. You can at this point roll them up and they will keep for several days.

To use them cut them into 1 1/2 inch (4 cm) wide diamonds. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil, turn off the flame, and immerse the testaroli. Steep them for 2 minutes, drain them or remove them with a strainer, and season them with pesto sauce (have more olive oil handy for those who want it), and serve. Some like them hot, others cool, and others still cold. In preparing the pesto sauce, some cooks add minced parsley or marjoram to the basil -- feel free to experiment.

An alternative serving method is to serve them whole (like pancakes but one at a time), with olive oil and freshly grated cheese.

This is pauper's food fit for a king, and will go quite nicely with either Vermentino or Pigato.

Want sopmething not quite as pauperish? You can get fancy, as Claudio Mollo does in a little volume he wrote and published, which is entitled Del Testarolo Vizi e Virtu' (Of the Vices and Virtues of Testaroli). He does discuss the classic, traditional testaroli with pesto sauce, but also presents a number of new creations developed by the chefs participating at a meeting dedicated to testaroli in 1999. A few that caught my eye:

Lasagna Di Testarolo con Ragout di Cinghiale
An unusual, and very tasty variation on lasagna, served with a meaty game sauce.
Testaroli con Baccala' e Cipolle
Here testaroli serve as a bed for a tasty fish and onion dish.
Girelle di Testarolo al Cioccolato con Ricotta e Frutti di Bosco in Salsa di Lamponi e Miele
Chocolate in the testaroli, which which become creamy berryfruit involtini with a raspberry sauce.

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