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 a-waiting 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.
"This is the true story of the origin of Imola garganelli, as told in the stables during the story telling sessions of the long winter evenings of Romagna," it said on the website where I found the story.
So thus, it seems, was the birth of a great little egg pasta shape that was originally served in the broth destined for the Cappelletti but today is frequently served al prosciutto e piselli which is to say with salt-cured ham and peas. The peas today may be fresh, frozen or canned, while the prosciutto can be in strips or in dice. Traiditonally it was softened in the pan with the onion and pea mixture but today I often reserve a little of it and crisp it up to use a topping, as in the first photo above and the last one at the end of the post.
But these little golden quills, golden mainly because of the deep orange colour of egg yolks in this region, are a wonderful vehicle for a great many sauces. The pasta quills, being made of soft flour, readily drink up the liquid part of the sauce, the ridges trap extra sauce and the holes at either end allow tasty tidbits to creep inside the little tube, so that the pasta and its dressing really come together, as they always should.
Some tasty variations:
Another summer condimento, the almond, basil, mint, garlic and Pecorino cheese pesto - the Italian word pesto simple means pounded - from Trapani in North West Sicily, a successful fusion of elements from two very different regional cuisines.
And there are many more possible dressings for this pasta, some traditional like mushrooms - or sliced artichokes - with pancetta or zucchini and Speck; some contemporary and creative,for example a cream of roasted sweet red peppers livened up with slivers of black olive or anchovy, or diced swordfish, ricotta and pine nuts to give you a couple of ideas.
Today, we use the little wooden riga-gnocchi tool to shape the Garganelli though I do have a weaving "comb" as well.
And I suppose I have to tell you that the name comes from a dialect word, garaganel, which means a chicken's oesophagus - they knew their chickens both inside and out, those country cooks!
The recipe for the most loved version, with prosciutto and peas, is quite straightforward and needs only a few ingredients. It follows below
Garganelli Prosciutto e Piselli
350g egg pasta Garganelli ( or Tagliatelle)
If freshly made you need - 300 g "00" or soft flour and 3 eggs of 65 g each (shell-on weight) for the pasta dough
300 g of unshelled fresh peas or 125g frozen small peas,
150 g of quite fatty Parma style ham, not too thinly sliced, the small hock end is fine
a shallot or half a small onion
25 g butter
2 tbsp. cream
2 tbsp just grated Parmigiano-Reggiano + a chunk for grating at a table
Mince the onion very fine and place in a sauté pan wide and large enough to eventually also hold the cooked pasta. Soften it in a small knob of butter on low heat with the fatty parts of the prosciutto cut up into tiny dice or even pounded using pestle and mortar.
It must slowly wilt and lose all its crunch but remain pale and not coloured, so add tiny amounts of water from time to time so that the onion simmers in a fat/water emulsion without frying at all.
Meantime cook the shelled fresh peas in boiling salted water till tender, then drain, cool under running (very cold) water and add to the onion once it is very soft and translucent. Cook a further 2 min. For frozen peas just add to the pan from frozen and cook briefly.
Add the lean parts of the prosciutto torn into strips and turn the heat off at once. The condimento can now wait until the pasta is cooked.
Cook pasta al dente (just a few minutes if it is freshly made) draining it fast and not too thoroughly - if it is fresh egg pasta it keeps absorbing liquids and can get too dry. For this reason reserve some of the pasta cooking water in case you need to “water” the minimal amount of "sauce" and make it loose enough to coat each piece of pasta.
Remove half of the prosciutto/pea "condimento" from the sautè pan to a very small saucepan on low heat.
Add the pasta to the other half of the condimento in the sauté pan and mix together fast.
Add the remaining butter and the cream and toss again to mix thoroughly but quickly. Dilute the sauce with a little pasta water if it seems necessary.
Add 2 tbsp of the grated cheese and a ladle or two of the pasta water and toss a final time.
This simple step requires a lot of skill and experience to get the desired result of a scant amount of creamy cheese "sauce" and not stringy elastic. You can just about see this in the very first photo of this post.
To get the creamy sauce it is important that the water you add to the grated cheese is not boiling - if it is it will turn the cheese into chewy, rubbery string. It is also important that the cheese is grated extremely fine so it melts fast.
You may want to add it a little at a time, for two, three or even four times, adding a little pasta water and tossing after each addition. Needless to say this needs to be done pretty fast as the pasta keeps cooking and by now you all know that over-cooked pasta is a serious crime round these parts.
Or you can avoid this step and simply pass cheese round at the table as we often do on cooking classes!
Make up indiviudal plates and spoon a little of the remaining half of condimento on top of each portion. Place the rest of it in a small bowl with serving spoon and set on the table along with a chunk of Parmigiano-Reggiano for everybody to help themselves to one or both as they prefer.