05 November 2013

Living Ligurian History: The Croxetti Stamp

A Specialty Pasta is Heritage

Pichetti family's 300 year old croxetti stampi.
First, we have to get this funny word out of the way: croxetti are a special kind of pasta from Liguria. As an accommodating gesture to poor spellers, they can also be called corzetti, crozetti, corzeti, croseti, crosetti, or cruxettu. While they are served either with pesto or a meat sauce or a white nut sauce, they always come with history. Round and thin they are, and embossed with a symbol. Way back in time, the symbol traditionally embossed was a Crusader cross, which imitated a Genovese gold coin introduced around 1250 AD, and that's how they got their name. Or they got their name because in ancient times monasteries would put a cross on pasta made for special occasions.* Subsequently, some clever crozetti maker fueled the appetite of Ligurian noble families by putting their scudo (heraldic shield) on the croxetti instead of a cross, and another paragraph of Italian food history was written. Now croxetti are a proud symbol of Liguria Levante - that's the part from Genoa southeast to La Spezia province - and they deserve your attention.

Ready made artisanal croxetti, a Ligurian pasta specialty.
Now, we'd like you to believe that we knew all this as we walked through the streets of the pretty town of Varese Ligure, but that wouldn't be true. The truth is we were dawdling along toward a 600 year old arched bridge - the Ponte di Grecino or Ponte Romano** - when we were drawn to the windows of a little woodworking shop. The entry door opens to a large work area with a long tool bench and a lathe to one side. On a table near the door are odd round engraved pieces of wood, and a scratched up old cutting board that was retired from a kitchen for good reason.  On the board is a little pile of gray clay, used for demonstrations. A friendly fellow appeared and invited us in, and it is this man - Pietro Picetti - that knows everything about croxetti.

Signor Picetti explaining croxetti pasta stamps.
Signor Picetti showed how the engraved pieces of wood customize your pasta. There are two halves of a croxetti stampo, one has a hollowed out bottom, the other has a little centered handle.  You roll out your pasta – not too thin – and cut it into a round with the bottom part of the stampo. Place the round between the faces of the two pieces, and press down on the handle.  And there you have it, a round piece of pasta (or clay) that has your own mark on it.  While, in years past, this would be the emblem of the noble house, today it can be anything. Mr. Pichetti was working on some croxetti stampi for a school.  Their logo was a Greek temple, a simple symmetrical roof with several columns, and he was copying the logo on to the stamp.

Pietro Picetti carving the design on a croxetti pasta stamp in his workshop in Varese Ligure, Liguria.
When we asked him how they were made, he waved us to the back of the shop, stood by a vise that held a round piece of wood, and picked up a chisel.  Slowly, carefully, unerringly he continued his work on the elaborate wheat design he was creating.  When it’s completed, he sands it, applies a light coat of beeswax and buffs it to a finish, so the pasta won’t stick.  If you follow his advice and never wash it, it’ll last for years.  Sitting there on the display table, were some of the Picetti family stampi - over 300 years old!

The croxetti stampi are handmade in three woods – walnut, beech, and pear.  We chose a pear wood version with a circular sheaf of wheat on one side, and an elaborate snowflake looking design on the other.  Since we're from New England, we figured snow was about as close as we could come to a heraldic ‘scudo’.

Handmade pear wood crozetti stamp. 30 Euro for all you can eat.
We thought we'd better try a package of croxetti to sample the real thing before diving in blindly, and found that they're readily available.  The ones we bought had the same design on both sides of the pasta, and didn't use egg in the pasta dough.  We bought some artisanal pesto genovese, and used 150 grams of skinny green beans, cooked until just tender; 150 grams of thin sliced potato, cooked until done; and 300 grams of pasta (croxetti or similar), cooked in the same water as the vegetables.  Put the three ingredients in a big warm bowl, add pesto to taste, a spoonful or two of cooking water to loosen if needed, and you have an authentic and delicious Ligurian dish - Croxetti al Pesto - made in about half an hour.

More Info

Mr. Pietro Picetti is at 15 Via Pieve - telephone 0187/842195 - in Varese Ligure in the Ligurian province of La Spezia. It's a really pretty town and on your way. you can see Brugnato, another lovely Ligurian town. Both Varese Ligure and Brugnato are part of both  'I Borghi Piu Belli d'Italia' (The Most Beautiful Italian Villages) and the Touring Club Italiano's Bandiera Arancione initiative.

Croxetti al Pesto (w. green beans and potato)                            F.Ceragioli
Le Cinque Erbe, an excellent Italian website,  has a nice article with historic references and photos along with a recipe recommended by Mr. Picetti: Croseti con Sugo Bianco. This site is a comprehensive modern source for information on Ligurian food and recipes - the photos alone will make you hungry.

The most extensive English articles on croxetti we encountered are by the appropriately named Adri Barr Crocetti on her site Food, Family, Culture. She covers croxetti history and cooking and visited the only other stampi maker in Italy, Franco Casoni in Chiavari.

* Don't put these origin stories in your PhD thesis. The name also could have come from a silver Genovese coin from the 1700's called a croset. In the Haut Savoie of France we found a tiny buckwheat pasta called Les Crozets which had no resemblance to crozeti whatsoever. And tax records in Provence record 'crozetz' in 1397, according to the book, Pasta: The Story of a Universal Food.

** An arched bridge is called a Ponte Romano because Roman engineer/architects devised the style, not necessarily because they were built by Romans. The one in Varese Ligure was built in 1515.

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2 comments:

  1. What a wonderful post! I adore corzetti, or crusetti, or croxetti, call them what ever your dialect directs. Thank you so very much for the shout-out. How very generous of you!

    May I add that I find their history as fascinating as you. It is a long well storied path. I have always admired Sig. Picetti's work. His stamps are intricately carved works of art. Sadly, these hand carved beauties may be relegated to the category of "things of the past." The young intagliatori of Italy do not do this work. I keep hoping that someone will take it up. Perhaps that will happen as the move to the old ways gains more adherents.. These stamps are works of art. I hope you enjoy working with them in your kitchen. I have always thought of corzetti as edible art, and they always steal the show at dinners. It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance.

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  2. A really nice post. I have been living in Liguria for six years and am amazed at how much culture and back stories there are here. I joke with my husband because he is like a walking Encyclopedia and has a tale for every place we go :) i like how you told this story and the photos to go along with it.
    Ciao, Leah

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