16 Novembre 2010
I’m getting my Italian on, as is evidenced by the very authentic manner I have written the date above. But I am also experiencing something a little deeper, a sort of “marriage of two cultures” going on here, and I’m feeling it deep in my soul. Perhaps it is all the testaroli here in Luigiana that have me all a-flurry. A familiar texture with holes throughout the surface, an excellent range of uses, a history of accelerated migration fueling its creation… The most authentic and micro-specific product from Luigiano/Pontremoli, Testarolo is actually unleavened bread!
Testarolo (the fresh flatbread-like form) or Testaroli (plural, or when cut into pasta squares and served with sauce) is indeed the original unleavened bread, cooked in a Testi, aka, wrought iron fry pan. The shepherds would carry the heavy pans on their backs and use them to cook while crossing the mountains and having no time for yeast to rise. Sound familiar?
Tonight I was honored to try Podere Conti’s Pasta Testaroli al Pesto, which was made with herbs from the garden of the Agriturismo. The texture of testaroli are thin and breadlike, as opposed to that of proper pasta, and the sea-sponge-like surface lends itself to capturing pungent fresh basil, garlic, and the richness of home-farmed Podere Conti olive oil as well as an oil-clumped dusting of cheese. It was a fantastic pasta dish. In fact, one of the properties I found most refreshing was the very rustic feel to the pasta itself, less of a polished finish and more of a “get down and dirty” surface, browned, gently-burnt spots in between the crumpet-patterned holes, the direct result of pan frying.
Testarolo is so specific to the area, it is under consideration for a Slow Food qualification. Freshly made at bakeries and cheese shops, it is displayed wrapped in a cloth to keep the moisture in. In more convenience-oriented environments such as local grocery shops, they can be found in the refrigerated section wrapped very tightly in plastic, and well-labeled. Once at home, they are cut into pasta pieces with a ravioli-cutting wheel, and at a similar size to small ravioli, then boiled and sauced just as pasta is handled. I cannot emphasize enough just how ripe with the wisdom of simplicity the testarolo represents itself. Perhaps it is the ever-permanent charm of foods from a peasant origin, a truly “slow” comfort food… and that it is unleavened bread.