Because today is World Pesto Day, it would be negligent not to talk about the testaroli from Lunigiana, which are often, but not always, served with pesto. Of course, the pesto is from Liguria, which often lays claim to testaroli as well. So is testaroli from Lunigiana or Liguria? According to Slow Food, the traditional version is from the area where the Lunigiana region of Tuscany meets Liguria and Emilia-Romagna with its origins in the towns of Pontremoli, Mulazzo, Zeri, Filattera, Bagnone and Villafranca in Lunigiana.
Testaroli are named after the pan in which they are made, a testo, which has a flat base with a domed lid that transforms it into a mini oven. It was originally made from terracotta although now it is manufactured in cast iron. The testo was the cooking implement of choice for those farmers who traditionally spent the summer with livestock in the high pastures because it was easily transportable.
Testaroli resemble a thin, soft and light pancake made from wheat flour, salt and water. It is considered to be a type of pasta. Three farmers in the Zeri area have started growing the indigenous flour, il ventitré, which was traditionally used to make testaroli. It is hoped that this will help preserve and promote the traditional methods of making testaroli.
To cook the testaroli, both parts of the testa are first heated over a wood fire. When they have reached the correct, very hot temperature they are removed from the fire, and the batter is ladled into the base. The mixture begins to steam and bubbles form on its surface. As soon as the steam starts to subside, the base is covered with the lid, which completes the cooking process from above. The perfectly cooked testarolo has a lovely brown base with a lighter coloured top.
To finish the dish, the testaroli are cut into large diamond shapes and dropped into boiling salted water that is then taken off the heat. They are left in the water for several minutes then drained. The testaroli are usually served drizzled with olive oil, a few basil leaves and a mixture of hard cheese such as pecorino and parmesan, or with pesto.
Industrially manufactured, shrink-wrapped testaroli are available in the supermarket these days. However, they are cooked on gas without the use of a testa, and the end product tends to be heavy and rubbery. It is so much better to enjoy testaroli in one of the restaurants that still prepare them in the traditional manner.
Up until about 25 years ago, there was a small building used to make testaroli at the end of the terrace outside our and our neighbour’s houses. Indoor seating was available inside our neighbour’s house and in fine weather patrons sat outside on our terrace to eat their testaroli. I love the fact that we have this connection to one of the most typical dishes of Lunigiana.