Testaroli, Panigacci... Italian pancakes

If you like to “play” with your food, Your Italian Concierge knows of two very special dishes from La Cucina della Lunigiana. The Luni-what? The Lunigiana, the undiscovered corner of northwestern Tuscany. A hill, valley, castles and sea-coast conveniently wedged between the Mediterranean Sea, the majestic Apennines and the dominating peaks of the Apuane Mountains. Took the Romans 250 years to conquer the place to finally unite the Italian peninsula. Even Hannibal passed through with his army and elephants. Crossroads of Italy, 120+ castles and towers were built during the Middle Ages to insure traveller’s safety. Well, enough to stop them to pay the transit taxes. The name comes from the city of Luni, one of five principal Roman cities and now nearly submerged from view but for the last vestiges of a couple of Roman roads, a forum and an amphitheatre.t door to the arena is a wood-shed of an open-air trattoria which serves what the proprietors call panigacci. There’s nothing simpler to make or more delicious to eat… a mixture of flour, water and a bit of salt is poured onto a hot greased griddle, the pancakes are then put on a plate and smeared with your choice of fresh pesto, olio d’olivo e parmigiano grattugiato or, un sugo di carne. The recipe is antique. Dawn of Mankind stuff. The fun is how you care to eat them… immediately attacking the panigacci with your fork or, ceremoniously rolling them up and slicing the roll like salami or, cutting the stack into trapezoidal shapes, each one a perfect bite-size bit.

Hop over a hill in the Lunigiana and what the open-air shed calls panigacci are called by another name, testaroli. And, to confound the exercise still, testaroli are made like the shed’s panigacci but, are stored to be later boiled in salted water like pasta and served cut and decorated with the same fresh pesto & parmigiano.

For most Lunigiana folk, a panigacci is a hard, flat bread. To get them that way, the same batter of flour, water and salt is poured into terracotta dishes heated on an open fire. Succeeding dishes are stacked upon the first, the weight flattens the cooking batter into a panigacci… a crude & crusty bread. Platters of salami, gorgonzola and stracchino cheeses are brought out with a basket full with these disk-like breads. And here again comes the fun… in the eating… slather stracchino on a panigacci, top it with a long strip of prosciutto crudo and fold it into a half-moon sandwich. Unexpectedly, you are happily munching on the half-Moon symbol of the Lunigiana. Luna means Moon in Italian. Luna… Lunigiana… panigacci! They are the mainstay of La Cucina della Lunigiana. The village of Podenzana is devoted to them, sporting a series of panigacci ristoranti along its climbing road and, in the summer, towns across the Lunigiana host piazza festivals called sagra’s with portable grills set up to make and serve the hot panigacci… before the dancing starts at 9PM.

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