We love food history. At its best, the history of a food can wind its way through countless variations and tweaks on a centuries-old recipe. In that respect, food history is like the family stories told around the dinner table. The stories may be embellished in parts but the central themes ring true. That is particularly true for this week’s featured pasta.
Italian food expert and writer Carmelita Caruana claims to have the true skinny on our pasta, the garganelli. As she tells it, the invention of garganelli revolves around a group of hungry guests, some quick thinking, and a mischievous pet.
Garganelli were born in 1725, the story goes, in the country mansion of the representative of the Pope – the Pope at the time ruled the region of Romagna – specifically in the home of Cardinal Cornelio Bentivoglio d’Aragona.
His cook was busily preparing Cappelletti, the Romagna cousin of Bologna’s Tortellini, and she was either taken by surprise when a large number of extra guests arrived unexpectedly, or else, in another version of the story, the kitchen cat got at the tasty meat filling when she was not looking! Either way she had dozens of little squares of pasta all cut up and awaiting their stuffing and not quite enough filling to go round.
Thinking on her feet and in some desperation, she decided to dispense with the filling altogether and to make little maccheroni-like rolls instead, with the aid of the pencil-sized wooden twigs used to light the kitchen fire and a tool borrowed from the weaving room; country households spun hemp and wove most of their own linen in those times.
Our own cat, Gus Gus (seen here taking a break from similar mischief) has also had his share of kitchen adventures, so we feel for that creative cook. But the real star of the story is the garganelli comb itself.
Just as described in the story, the original garganelli combs were handmade devices, like something out of one of those weaving rooms. Tightly-wound strands of wire imprinted ridges into the egg-and-semolina dough via the wooden dowel. Once the finished product slid off the dowel, the user was left with a rolled masterpiece.
Unfortunately, it is nearly impossible to find these handmade wire combs outside of Italy — even our former supplier stopped making the comb you see on the left below.
However, there are still plenty of options available for making garganelli. We like the wooden, ridged garganelli comb, seen below to the right.
While the new comb is not exactly what was used back in the proverbial day, we’re okay with loosening the grip on historical precedent just a bit — as long as we get to taste the delicious results.
Our dough is adapted from an fxcuisine recipe currently featured on our website. It is also versatile enough to accommodate a thinner or thicker garganelli. We should caution you, though, that thinner garganelli can be tough to roll. We used the second-to-last setting on our machine. This recipe satisfies six as a first course.
Homemade Garganelli Pasta
1 lb. of semolina flour
4 oz. finely grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
For starters, make a well in the flour on the middle of your board (if you’ve been following us this month, you should be an old pro at this by now). Crack eggs into the center, and add cheese and grated nutmeg. Gently beat the egg and cheese mixture, slowly incorporating flour from the sides, as the mixture begins to thicken.
Next, work everything together with a fork and start to knead with your hands, for about 5 or so minutes, until it forms an even dough ball. Let rest, covered under a bowl or wrapped in plastic, for 30 minutes.
Begin the next step by quartering your dough, and rolling the working piece through your pasta machine rollers. Like last week, you want to start on the widest setting first, and work your way down to the desired thickness. For garganelli, we stopped on the second-to-last setting. Once your dough sheet is ready, cut into (approximately) 2/3″ to 1″ wide strips (see below), then cut the strips into even squares.
Now you’re ready to roll! Take your dough square and place it diagonally on the ridged surface of the comb. Take the dowel and put it on top of the dough square, wrapping the corner nearest you underneath the dowel and pinching it gently onto the top of the dowel. Then just press down and roll the dowel and dough over the comb surface to create your garganelli. With very little pressure, the finished product should easily slide off your dowel. Repeat with the next three dough balls, making sure to lay finished garganelli so they are not touching (this will help them to dry evenly).
If you’re still confused, watch Sarafina — it literally is so easy a child can do it:
With your army of garganelli, you’re ready to proceed with a tasty recipe, like the aforementioned fxcuisine option, which features a cheesy, pork-y sauce.
Stick with us next week when we spike some cider, make our Butternut Squash Ravioli, and bring you our conversation with Ciao Italia’s Mary Ann Esposito!