We love food history. At its best, the history of a food can wind its way through countless variations and tweaks on a centuries-old recipe. In that respect, food history is like the family stories told around the dinner table. The stories may be embellished in parts but the central themes ring true. That is particularly true for this week’s featured pasta.
Italian food expert and writer Carmelita Caruana claims to have the true skinny on our pasta, the garganelli. As she tells it, the invention of garganelli revolves around a group of hungry guests, some quick thinking, and a mischievous pet.
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 awaiting 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.
Our own cat, Gus Gus (seen here taking a break from similar mischief) has also had his share of kitchen adventures, so we feel for that creative cook. But the real star of the story is the garganelli comb itself.