We had arrived at the hilltop town of Spoleto, located in central Umbria, Italy, on the first day of our seven day culinary tour to taste the local cuisine and for our cooking lesson at il Ristorante Panciolle.Since I am a first generation Italian-Canadian born to a Sicilian mother and Molisano father, I grew up eating and cooking Southern Italian food. I was enthusiastic about exploring Italy’s other regional cuisines.
The staff warmly greeted us at the door when we arrived at Il Ristorante Panciolle late afternoon for our cooking lesson on making strangozzi, the rustic home-made pasta of Umbria. They led us into the spacious kitchen where our tour guide introduced us to Chef Mirella, a master at making strangozzi. Although she was dressed in the professional attire of a white chef jacket and chef beret, she portrayed a maternal image as she greeted us with a warm smile and sparkling eyes.
Strangozzi noodles are a slightly thicker version of spaghetti. The word strangozzi is derived from the verb strangolare which means to strangle in Italian. Legend has it that this was the pasta served to the parish priests when they dined at the homes of the parishioners. They would serve the priests large quantities of strangozzi to strangle their appetite. The strangozzi noodles are a slightly thicker version of spaghetti. The word strangozzi is derived from the verb strangolare which means to strangle in Italian. Legend has it that this was the pasta served to the parish priests when they dined at the homes of the parishioners. They would serve the priests large quantities of strangozzi to strangle their appetite, but then there are several variations of this legend.
We all gathered around large wooden tables to watch Chef Mirella demonstrate her strangozzi making techniques. She first made a well in pre-measured flour and salt. Then she slowly poured water into the well and incorporated it into the flour using a fork to make a ragged looking dough. With Chef Mirella at our side to guide us, we each took turns to knead and get a feel of the dough. The dough had to rest for about one hour before it was ready to be rolled out.
Earlier in the day we had lunch at the Osteria del Trivio located at the base of the town to sample the local cuisine. The owners, a husband and wife team, were waiting for our arrival and immediately made us feel welcome. The long tables covered with white and red checkered tablecloths were part of the authentic Italian décor. The menu of day was written on a blackboard with white chalk.
Large platters of Antipasto di Trivio (salumi, bruschetta, mozzarella with black truffle and pecorino cheese) were placed at our table. This was the first time I tasted truffles and fell in love with their strong earthy scent and intense mushroom flavor.
More platters arrived at our table with braised beans, faro salad, strangozzi with fresh fava beans, pancetta and pecorino cheese followed by stuffed artichokes and zucchini while our glasses were being filled with Tebbiano and Sangiovese wines. The fava bean dish reminded me of my father. He used to love fresh fava beans and when they were in season, he would be busy blanching and shelling them to use in one of his pasta creations. Dessert was a coffee and chocolate scented tiramisu accompanied by a cup of espresso.
We had a few hours to sight-see before our cooking lesson at Il Ristorante Panciolle. Since the Osteria del Trivio was located at the base of the town, we had to climb the cobblestone roads to visit the beautiful historic monuments stopping at artisanal shops along the way to buy souvenirs.
We visited Il Ponte delle Torri, a 13th century aqueduct which was quite a beautiful sight and the Cathedral of Santa Assunta where we admired frescoes painted by Pinturicchio. By the time we got to the restaurant we were more than ready to learn how to make strangozzi.
Chef Mirella sprinkled semolina over a wooden board to prevent the dough from sticking. She used an extra-long wooden rolling pin to roll out the dough about 1/8th of an inch thick and then folded the dough over itself several times. ‘Non troppo fitto, non troppo fino, (not too thick, not too thin)’ she said as cut the dough in strips with a large knife at ¼ inch intervals. She unrolled the dough strips and placed them on clean white towels. She then sprinkled them with semolina flour to prevent the dough strips from sticking together.
We rolled up our sleeves and followed her lead. Chef Mirella made it look so easy, but we did encounter challenges as the dough stuck to the board or the dough strips were either cut too thin or too thick. Chef Mirella was always ready to step in and help if necessary. Since she hardly spoke English, she was delighted when I spoke to her in Italian. It’s times like these that I mentally thank my parents for insisting we speak Italian at home.
We had supper at Il Ristorante Panciolle that night and tasted Chef Mirella’s wonderful homemade strangozzi , cooked al dente and served with a savory truffle sauce. This simple dish made with few ingredients was bursting with flavor.
This culinary tour in Spoleto was an amazing experience for me. Not only did I have the pleasure of making pasta with a local chef, explore a beautiful historic town, I also met wonderful people some of whom became good friends. The whole experience of being in Italy brought me closer to my roots and embrace my Italian heritage.
Now, whenever I make strangozzi at home, I think of Chef Mirella with her wonderful smile cutting strips of dough, not too thick, not too thin.
- 1 ½ cups all-purpose or ‘00’ flour
- 1 1 ¼ cups semolina flour
- 1 cup water (more as needed)
- semolina flour for tossing
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 ounce flour
- 2 cups whole milk, heat to boiling stage
- salt and pepper to taste
- 2 tablespoons grated fresh truffle (or truffle oil if fresh truffles are not available)
- Combine the two flours on a large bowl or wooden working surface and make a well.
- Add the water to the well and incorporate the flour and water with your hands until the dough and water are well mixed.
- Knead the dough for about 5 minutes until the dough is smooth and pliable.
- Cover the dough with a clean cotton tea towel and let rest for 30 minutes.
- Place the dough on the wooden working surface that has been sprinkled with semolina.
- Using a floured rolling pin, roll out the dough in a rectangle or round shape until it is ⅛ thick.
- Roll up the dough into a log and cut the strangozzi ¼ to ½ inches wide (not too thin, not too thick).
- Gently unroll them and spread on a floured surface to avoid them sticking together.
- Melt the butter in a small plan. Add the flour and cover over low heat, whisking all the time for a few minutes until the flour loses its raw smell.
- Do not let the flour take on any color.
- Slowly add the warm milk, whisking all the while to avoid lumps.
- Season with salt and pepper to taste and cook until thick, about 10 minutes after it reaches a boil.
- Wisk in the grated truffle or truffle oil. Take pan off the heat.
- Fill a large pot with water.
- Bring to a boil and add 3 tablespoons of salt.
- Add the strangozzi and cook al dente (the strangozzi should be firm)
- Drain the strangozzi and add the Truffle Sauce. Mix well.
- Plate and serve with sprinkling of truffle (if using).