More than ravioli: stuffed pasta from Liguria, Italy.

Ravioli, pansoti, zembi, turle, raviore, castellane. The Italian Riviera boasts a cornucopia of  traditional stuffed pasta with evocative names

Ravioli alla genovese: geometry and art

Grapes, grains and olives: the ancient Mediterranean triad is an icon of modern and healthy dieting (check Ancel Keys' The Seven Countries Study for detailed information). 
However, even though the earliest values of civilisation are associated to wine, oil and bread, historians are often at a loss when it comes to sources – be they archaeological or literary – fit to delineate a diachrony of food. The origins of bread, for instance, are - so to say - nebolous and linked to farming, which spread as mankind gave up nomadism and grew sedentary. The best bakers of antiquity were the Egyptians, the Greek and the Romans.   

Pasta history in the Mediterranean basin

Pasta is – most likely – an Arab creation (defined by evocative names such as itriyya and fidaws), based on durum wheat and intercepted by the Genoese in the Middle Ages (improbable legends narrate that Marco Polo imported it from China). As confirmed by accounting records, too, until the end of the 19th century dry pasta was eaten only in Southern Italy and in Liguria. The practice of boiling triticum durum (in water, broth, sweetened and spiced milk) began in the Middle Ages. Dry pasta is cheap, stores well and can be served in hundreds of ways. 

Liguria, a treasure trove of pasta (dried and stuffed)

Liguria’s abundance of sun and wind helped drying, and trading: in the 16th century powerful regional fidelari manufacturers gathered in guilds (vermicellari, lasagnari) to share expenses and compete over bakers.
Today, Ligurian traditional stuffed fresh pasta blockbusters are basically 3: ravioli, pansoti, and zembi. Local declinations include turle, raviore and castellane.
Ligurian ravioli feature lean veal and offals, 30-40% vegetables and few eggs. They are served with “töccö”, i.e. a piece of meat stewed with fried mushrooms and wine for 3 hours into a sauce.

Pansoti, originally a Lent treat of the Paradise Gul, are at their best when served with mortar walnut sauce, a magic concoction of garlic, marjoram, pine nuts, walnuts, soft inside of bread rolls soaked in milk, Parmigiano, salt, EVO). The name means “pot bellied” – though fanciful etymology accounts for a (fictional) 19th century French General Pansoit… Already cited in 1930’s guides, they were “presented” in 1961 on occasion of a Ligurian food festival in Genoa-Nervi by Signora Manuelina, a famous restaurant owner in Recco who deservedly won the context with a stuffing based on 5 different wild herbs from the promontory of Portofino. Fresh pasta is filled with fresh ricotta (once prescinsêua was used, cream is forbidden) and a local, fresh wild herbs mix called “preböggiön” bound with grated Parmigiano, eggs, walnuts, a pinch of nutmeg and salt to taste.

Zembi are big white fish ravioli served with the arzillo (i.e. verve) of tomato fish sauces. The word zembi derives from the Arabic zembil, i.e. baskets made from wrought palm leaves used to carry fresh fish. Arzillo stands for the pungent, salty scent of the seaweed by the seashore. The recipe is pleasant and complex.

Turle, Val d’Arroscia (IM), are big potato and herbs ravioli. Raviore, the pride of Montegrosso Pian Latte (IM), are small pasta “bundles” with a lean filling inclusive of bitter herbs, nettle, wild spinaches, mint…

Castellane, a specialty of Massimino (SV), are big vegetable ravioli served with butter, cream, or clabber sour milk…

Stuffed pasta & wine matching

As for wine pairing suggestions, follow these hints: Granaccia with ravioli, Pigato with pansoti, Vermentino with zembi. Turle, raviore and castellane pleasantly match Lumassina.

My English abstract of the article by Umberto Curti as published on Liguria Food in March 2018

Luisa Puppo

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