This Tuscan Pasta Dish Brings Generations of My Family Together—and You Can Make It in a Cast-Iron Skillet at Home
Growing up alongside two generations of Italian families, pasta poured out of our homes weekly for years on end. So it was almost inevitable that I developed a deep admiration for it. From spaghetti to farfalle, I loved making (and eating) all types of pasta. But there was one type of pasta that I didn't get to experience until I traveled to Tuscany: testaroli.
My mother once told me a story about this mysterious pasta, which is commonly eaten in the Tuscany region of Italy, where my father's family lives. When my mother first visited Pontremoli, Tuscany, to meet my father's extended family, she was introduced to testaroli con pesto, a flat doughy pasta coated in pesto and Parmesan cheese. Hearing her tell the story, I began to imagine this dense, round pancake-like goodness and couldn't wait to experience it for myself. But because my mother never made it at home, it wasn't until I traveled to Italy for culinary school that I was finally able to taste the pasta of my dreams.
While studying in Italy, I was fortunate to take an excursion to Tuscany to meet my father's family. I arrived in the cobblestone-lined mountain village of Groppodalosio in Pontremoli and was greeted by great-aunts, uncles and cousins who could not wait to share their traditions and dishes with me. On the menu were dishes like ravioli en brodo (ravioli in broth), la bomba di riso (a stuffed rice cake) and of course, testaroli con pesto. Finally, I was in the presence of this mysterious pasta!
As my Zia Elda prepared the testaroli, it initially looked like a giant disk, thinner than a pancake but thicker than a crêpe, flat on one side and porous on the other. I watched as she sliced it, dipped it in boiling water for a minute, then spread luscious pesto and freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano over the top. My mouth watered as I waited for my first bite. It was everything I imagined it would be, tender like pasta and light, yet capable of carrying the richness of the pesto.
Determined to bring the recipe home with me, I asked my family for the secrets of the dish. Although testaroli is traditionally prepared using a testo (aka testo Romagnolo), a special heavy-bottomed pan used in Italy, I learned that I could recreate the dish at home with a cast-iron skillet. According to my grandmother and cousins, the key is to sprinkle salt on the bottom of the pan.
With this knowledge in mind, I brought the recipe home after my time in Italy ended. Now, I have my own story to tell about this famed dish in my family's history.
Francesca Zani is the culinary producer for PowerHouse Productions and has worked on various food and lifestyle series seen on Cleo TV and ABC7 NY. In addition to her career, Zani is a creative spirit who writes and produces photo and video content for her blog The Garnished Palate. Her written work has appeared in the Poughkeepsie Journal, Hudson Valley Magazine and Westchester Magazine blog. She also volunteers on the New York Women's Culinary Alliance Board as the secretary. Find her on Instagram or through her website.
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