Corzetti: A Pasta of Wealth & Fame?
A fifteenth century quotation from a collection of medical recommendations under the title Medicinalia quam
plurima preserved in the library of the University of Genoa, Italy reads "One shouldn’t overindulge in the consumption of lasagne, corzetti, taglairini, tortellini, and the like" Hard to believe a doctor would write such a thing considering pasta in Italy is like tea in China...it’s everywhere, in every shape and size. It’s an institution in Italy, as much as it is a food. One could suspect that pasta back then was not only a treat, but expensive as well.
Then there’s the reference to "corzetti". "What in the world are CORZETTI," you ask. These are a type of round lasagna, with designs on both sides, typical of the Riviera di Levante and of Genova itself. There is a lot of supposed history (most of which is fabricated) to this fresh pasta, which can be dried. It is said that a local wealthy family once made corzetti for Maria Luigia of Borbone, who was going to France to marry Napoleon. Corzetti were certainly enjoyed by aristocratic families as a display of wealth and status, yet were made my the servants in the kitchen. The earliest Genovese cook books date from the mid 1800s, and simply describe Corzetti as "round lasagne" dressed with a meat sauce. A commercial pasta maker from Liguria calls them "Croxetti" and states that they date from the time of the Crusades and were marked with crosses. (Cröxe in Genovese dialect means ‘cross.’) It is possible that they may date from the Renaissance used for weddings with the coats of arms of both bride and groom.
Corzetti are made by hand with a wooden tool, which is turned from woods that do not have properties that can flavor the pasta. Corzetti stamps are designed to cut the rolled pasta into circles by the cutting surface on the bottom. The top side of the bottom piece and the bottom side of the top piece have hand carved designs in them to emboss the cut pasta circles. There impressions hold the sauce. The carvings today are typically things like fruits, leaves, trees, and graphic patterns.
Corzetti stamps today are very hard to come by. There are a rare few in Genoa who still turn the wood and hand carve these delightful artisan tols. To celebrate Corti Brother’s 60th anniversary in the grocery business, Darrell Corti has managed to have carved for Corti Brothers sets of CORZETTI stamps with the Corti Brothers logo on one side and a traditional design on the other. These have been turned by machine, but hand carved in Genova. The wood used for this stamp is ar the traditional "faggio," beechwood.
Darrell thinks that corzetti were just another dish prepared for the upper class who had a lot of help in the kitchen. Making CORZETTI is mindless work: it takes time. There is the fact that the pasta must first be made, rolled out, next cut with the bottom of the stamp and then stamped with the top part. It can be speeded up, if you use the cutting bottom to cut one disc, and then use the top stamp to mark it while cutting the next disc. It is a pleasant task on a rainy day or an activity to keep children amused in the kitchen
SOME NOTIONS ABOUT MAKING CORZETTI
A traditional recipe for making CORZETTI. The ingredients for the pasta are for 4 persons.
A good pound of all purpose white flour.
5 egg yolks
1/4 teaspoon salt
A full glass of white wine (you choose the glass, but enough to make the dough)
Prepare the dough as for making normal egg pasta sheets. Put the flour on a kneading board, add the salt and make a well in the flour and add the egg yolks. Add half the wine and slowly incorporate the mixture into the flour. You can use a fork to do this at the beginning. As the flour is incorporated, add the remaining wine, slowly working it into the dough. When all the wine is added, knead dough vigorously until very smooth and plastic. Put into a bowl and let sit covered for ½ hour or so. Cut ball of dough into 3 pieces and begin to make sheets with it using either a rolling pin or a pasta machine. The thickness should be about 1/32 of an inch. Roll out the pasta sheets and dust with flour to prevent sticking. Cover with a cloth to prevent drying out.
Take one manageable sheet of the pasta and with the cutting end of the Corzetti stamp, cut a disk from the sheet. Then put the cut pasta disk between the engraved sides of the stamp. Pressing down on the pasta, you will emboss both sides with the design on the stamp. You now have Corzetti. Do this with the remaining pasta sheets. You will end up with a number of stamped disks. Once all of the pasta has been cut and stamped, let it dry for an hour or more on clean, floured dish towels. Fill a large pot with cold water, add salt to the water and bring to the boil. Put the Corzetti in to the water, stirring as you do, to prevent sticking. When the water comes back to a boil, check the tenderness of the Corzetti and drain when al dente. Reserve about 1 cup of the cooking water. Place into a large bowl or platter that has been covered first with what ever sauce is used. If the Corzetti are too dry, they should be moistened with a bit of the reserved cooking water. Serve. Pass grated cheese.
SAUCING THE CORZETTI
Traditional sauces for Corzetti. The simplest:
1 stick of sweet butter, melted in a sauté pan, to which are added:
1 tablespoon fresh, whole marjoram leaves
2 tablespoons Mediterranean pine nuts
Lift corzetti out of cooking water with a slotted spoon and add to the sauté pan. Keep the sauté pan on a low heat and if necessary to make the pasta less tight, add a couple of spoonfuls of the corzetti cooking water. You can also crush the marjoram and pine nuts together lightly in a mortar and then add them to the butter.
Walnut sauce: a traditional Ligurian sauce made with walnut meats. Sugo di noci (Tuccu de nuxe)
1 ½ cups walnut meats, soaked in boiling water for 15 minutes, then dried in a towel rubbing off their skin
1 medium size clove garlic (or to taste)
a hand full of bread crumbs, just the white part of a loaf or the inside of a roll, soaked in milk, squeezed dry
20 or so individual leaves of fresh marjoram
3 tablespoons grated parmigiano (or to taste)
1/4 cup light fruity olive oil (not a green oil)
a pinch of salt and some warm water if necessary
Pound all the ingredients together in a mortar or use a blender. Add oil and warm water slowly to produce a semi dense paste. The sauce is made. Dress the corzetti with it and thin with some of their cooking water if too dense.