When the Cucina Conversations ladies and I decided to dedicate this month’s edition of our roundtable to dishes named after body parts, I immediately made a beeline for two books. One was Mary Taylor-Simeti’s Sicilian Food. The land of my mother’s ancestors, after all, has given us some of the more macabrely-named specialties I’ve ever come across, including Palermo’s strunzi di ancilu (‘angel turds’), Siracusa’s occhi di Santa Lucia (St. Lucy’s Eyes) and most suggestively of all, Catania’s minne di Sant’Agata (St. Agatha’s breasts).
The other was a book with a more national scope, food studies scholar Oretta Zanini de Vita’s Encyclopedia of Pasta. In the introduction to this extremely comprehensive publication, she describes the myriad shapes populating the Italian pasta universe as ‘a terminological tower of Babel’. This description is particularly apt, especially in the body parts department. I found creste di gallo (‘cockscombs’), orecchiette (‘little ears’) and ricci di donna (‘woman’s curls’), among many other pastas christened by the popular imagination over time. When reading the entry dedicated to a ‘pot-bellied’ stuffed pasta from the coastal region bordering Piedmont’s south though, I knew I had found the specialty I wanted to write about.
Unlike the richer, egg-based doughs typical of neighbouring Piedmont and Emilia-Romagna, water and white wine are often used to bind the dough of paunchy Ligurian pansotti (and many other Ligurian pastas). At most, one egg is used to give a little strength to the dough enveloping a generously-packed filling consisting of wild and cultivated greens, herbs and prescinsêua (a curd cheese typical of Liguria). The shape of this pasta can also vary in the region ranging from triangoli or triangles, mezzelune or half-moons, to the giant cappelletti-like form I’ve opted for here. This is made by bringing the edges of your triangle together (see photos and this video for more details). Lovely folds of fat are then formed at its centre or paunch, making them an amusing reminder of their namesake.
A few notes on preparing the recipe below, which is inspired by the lovely Enrica’s (author of the food blog A Small Kitchen in Genoa) and Laura Giannatempo’s. I try to be as low-tech and as special equipment-free as possible when it comes to recipe writing but I really do recommend using a hand-cranked pasta machine like this Imperia one to roll out the dough to the fine, almost transparent-like thickness (about 1-2 mm) required. It’s not impossible to do this with a simple rolling pin, but you will have your work cut out for you.
In addition, I haven’t specified the exact amount of water and wine you’ll need to bind your dough, simply because it all depends on the weight of your egg. Basically, if using 500 g of stonemilled wheat flour, you’ll need 250 g of liquid (including the beaten egg) altogether. As for the filling, some of the wild greens such as the star-flowered borage typical of the rugged and terraced slopes of the coastal region aren’t easily available in Turin. I’ve therefore opted to make my preboggion (the Ligurian word for a bunch of wild and cultivated greens that can vary with the season) with cultivated greens only (chard and spinach leaves work well). Ricotta cheese has also been used instead of the prescinsêua.
Ingredients (makes about 44 – 48 pansotti)
For the filling
- 1 kilo chard or spinach
- 150 g ricotta, firm and drained
- 50 g grated parmesan, pecorino or grana padano cheese
- 1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
- 1 sprig of marjoram, finely chopped
- breadcrumbs (optional)
For the dough
- 1 egg
- white wine
- 500 g stonemilled wheat flour, plus extra for dusting
- a pinch of salt
- semolina flour, for dusting
For the filling
Wash, dry and boil the chard or spinach in salted water for 5 minutes. Remove from heat, drain and transfer to a pasta colander with a plate and weight of some kind (I use a mortar) placed on top to remove the excess water from them. When drained of all excess liquid, transfer to a food processor. Add the firm and thoroughly drained ricotta, grated cheese, finely chopped garlic and marjoram, pepper and nutmeg and blend until obtaining a smooth puree. Taste for salt and add it if need be. If the puree has retained some water, add a spoonful of breadcrumbs so it soaks up the excess moisture.
For the dough
Crack an egg into a small bowl placed on a set of tared kitchen scales and weigh it. Transfer to a larger mixing bowl, beat the egg and add water and wine in equal amounts until you have 250 g of liquid all together. Start adding the salt and flour in a slow, steady stream using a fork or wooden spoon to bring the ingredients together. Transfer to a clean, lightly dusted work surface. Knead the dough until smooth and elastic. Leave the dough to rest for at least half an hour, covered by the mixing bowl.
Cut the dough into six equal pieces and keep 5 of them covered under the mixing bowl. Dust the remaining piece with flour and run through the widest setting of your pasta machine. Fold into three parts, dust with flour and run it through again from its shortest side at the same setting. Repeat this process at least three times or until a smooth dough with no holes is obtained. Start running the dough through at progressively narrower settings (I generally go up to the second lowest with pansotti) ensuring that both sides of your dough are well-dusted and that the shortest side is always inserted first.
Cut the sheet of pasta into squares measuring 7 x 7 cm. Transfer any leftover dough to under your mixing bowl so it can be rolled out again. Place a generously heaped teaspoon of filling at their centres and fold them in half to form a triangle. Press the dough down to envelope the filling of each square, being careful not to trap too much air inside. If the dough feels a little dry, seal the edges together with a wet fingertip. Fold the triangles of dough slightly so two creases are formed at the bottom of their bellies. Flip the points of your triangles over and press them on top of each other. Continue until you finish your dough and filling. Line your pansotti in a single layer on a tray with dusted with semolina flour.
Cook the pansotti in a large of pot of gently boiling well-salted water. Cook for about 4-5 minutes or until al dente. Your pansotti will float to the top and have a slightly puffed up appearance when ready.
Turn off heat and transfer pansotti with a slotted spoon to a warm serving bowl, ensuring that any excess water has been removed. Top with some olive oil, a Ligurian salsa di noci or walnut sauce (Enrica has a lovely recipe for making this) diluted with some reserved cooking water. Garnish with marjoram leaves. Serve immediately.
In search of more snort-inducingly funny names for Italian dishes? Well, do check out what my fellow #Cucina Conversations bloggers have written about this month:
Daniela, from La Dani Gourmet, has also been inspired by the region of Liguria this month and has made a dried-cod based dish which translates from the Ligurian dialect as ‘shaken testicles’ with her brandacujun.
Flavia, from Flavia’s Flavors, was the one who inspired us to make dishes named after body parts our topic earlier this year when she posted about the wonderful biscuits known as ‘bull’s eyes’ or occhi di bue. Once again, she has gone along the biscuit and animal body parts route with some ‘cats’ tongues’ or lingue di gatto.
Francesca, from Pancakes and Biscotti, has made something my husband adores and wishes I would make more often, ‘jump-in-the-mouth’ veal cutlets from Rome better known as saltimbocca alla romana.
Marialuisa from Marmellata di Cipolle, has made those minne or breasts from Catania prepared in the hour of martyr Saint Agatha.