Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Cats, pasta and Garganelli

Every Italian food has to have a legend. A good story lends its own kind of flavour - colour, character and form. Sometimes the legends are just that – stories designed to entertain and feed the soul, as well as the appetite. Sometimes there are multiple stories - every small town in Italy, after all, has to lay claim to something. And sometimes they are grounded in something more concrete. The question is; how do you tell the difference?

Garganelli, the grooved quill-shaped pasta, is a case in point. They originated in Romagna, taking their name from the dialect word garganel, which is used to describe the cartilaginous rings around the trachea of a chicken.  They are made by rolling out squares of pasta around a pencil-like stick and then rolling the tubes over a wooden comb. This gives them their distinctive grooves.

There are a number of stories accounting for the birth of garganelli. One version has it that they appeared for the first time in 1725 in Imola in the home of the Cardinal of Aragon, Cornelio Bentivoglio, the Papal Legate of Romagna. A creative cook, so it’s claimed, had rolled out squares of pasta to make cappelleti (a stuffed ravioli-like pasta) for the Cardinal’s lunch. But when he discovered that the cat had ate the filling, he was forced to improvise. So he rolled the dough out with the tools he had at hand and served the quills in a capon broth. They were well received and the idea quickly spread to neighbouring wealthy families.

Another story attributes them to the cook of the court of Caterina Sforza (1463-1509), wife of Girolamo Riario, nephew of Pope Sixtus the IV, Lord of Forlì and Imola. Alternatively, it could be that their origins are more humble, originating in the local countryside. If so they would certainly have been reserved for Sundays and special occasions given the use of eggs and the fact that they can be quite time consuming to prepare.   

Making them by hand isn’t that difficult, if you have patience and a little time on your hands. It’s well worth the effort. However, the dried egg-pasta version sold in delis and some supermarkets are also well worth a try. As it happens, the first pasta making machine for making garganelli was invented by Edward Bacchini in 1984, a pasta maker from Romagna.

There are a number of ways for getting the best out of your garganelli. The typical classical versions from Romagna are to serve them with either a meat ragù or with a creamy sauce of peas and ham and a sprinkle of nutmeg. Prawns and courgettes in cream is also a popular combination. Ideally you want something with a sauce, the grooves in the garganelli designed for the very purpose of holding it. I’ve opted for a combination of prawns and peas. It’s a great combination. Just watch the cat doesn’t eat the prawns while you are waiting for the water to boil!    

Garganelli with Prawns and Peas in a creamy tomato sauce
Garganelli con gamberi e piselli in una salsa cremoso al pomodoro

Serves 4
Preparation time: 5 minutes
Cooking time: 10 minutes

300g garganelli
250g large fresh prawns, cleaned
200g fresh peas
200ml tomato pasta sauce
100g mascarpone cheese

Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil and add the garganelli.  If you haven’t made them fresh, cook according to packet instructions.  Whilst the pasta is cooking warm the tomato sauce and stir in the mascarpone cheese.  In a separate pan boil the peas until just tender (about 3 minutes), drain and add to the tomato sauce.  In the meantime, cook the prawns in a large griddle pan for 2-3 minutes and then add to the tomato sauce also.  When the garganelli are cooked, drain (reserving a small ladleful of cooking water) and add to the saucepan with the sauce.  Toss everything together well, adding a little of the cooking water to loosen the sauce if necessary. Serve immediately.

1 comment:

  1. Definitely one to try Mario, and since we have a cat, I guess we will have to make sure she doesn't get to the prawns first.