Ciriole alla Ternana

September 28th, 2011
Ciriole alla Ternana

By all rights, recipes with short ingredient lists should only need a few words of explanation, but obviously there are exceptions. Who could be surprised that pasta, the iconic dish of Italy, would need more than a few short paragraphs to do it honor?  Making fresh pasta may seem daunting, but it’s a rewarding endeavor and we hope to inspire you to try making some yourself!

So in four parts: Ciriole alla Ternana

Part 1 – Pasta Fresca

Part 2 – The Story of this Recipe

Part 3 – Ciriole – Making the Pasta

Part 4 – Ciriole alla Ternana – The Complete Dish

Part One: Pasta Fresca

Pasta is the quintessential Italian food, one that’s had centuries to develop and grow and to acquire innumerable variations. Obvious distinctions are in the shape and size – we see a tiny microcosm of that in the U.S. grocery store pasta aisles with their selection of spaghetti, fettuccine, penne, “bowtie”, rigatoni and “elbo macaroni” to name some of the standards. It’s possible to find “fresh” pasta in the grocery store, too, but the variations are few and generally focused on the fillings of torellini or ravioli.

The Italian story, of course, is much different.  There exists the same broad division between pasta secca – the pasta made with semolina and water, mechanically extruded and dried – and pasta fresca. Pasta secca is a staple found in grocery stores and used in kitchens of every stripe. But just as you can pick up your meat from the butcher and bread from the baker, you can stop in at a pastificio and pick up fresh pasta, which means that an incredibly high quality fresh pasta is available to the average Italian cook. Still, making fresh pasta at home, by hand is very common and a rewarding skill to learn, since the results are invariably better than what any prepackaged grocery-store finding can offer.

The basic recipe is a flour and a liquid to bind it, which is kneaded to consistency and then formed using any number of techniques and tricks – sometimes filled, but often not. The most typical recipe uses regular flour and eggs only, but just about every combination of grain and liquid shows up in the panoply of recipes. This is the most basic food, after all, originally developed by the poorest classes. Regardless of geography or culture the poor tend to produce, from the basest ingredients, the most iconic and satisfying foods of their culture. Tomes have been written on all of the different variations and specialties, but for this series we’re just going to describe one: Ciriole alla Ternana

La Romita’s guests are sure to have experienced Terni’s regional variant at our table. Ciriole – little fingers – are long, thick noodles with a square cross-section, and in this dish Ciriole are generally made with flour and water only – no egg.  The sauce a mildly spiced tomato sauce, the heat generally imparted by peperoncino rosso (red pepper flakes) though not always.  Irma Cruciani, who gave us this recipe, uses spicy sausage. The lack of egg in the pasta gives it an unforgettable texture: hearty, chewy; well paired with the bold sauce which it readily absorbs.

It is a common misconception that pasta originated in China and was brought to Italy by Marco Polo. This story was originally developed as a marketing gimmick in 1938 for a trade journal. By the middle ages pasta was being produced in many Italian cities, especially Palermo where, according to a 12th century historian, many mills were churning out an arabic pasta specialty called itrya, and shipping it throughout the Mediterranean. By the time Marco Polo went off to China it was already well known on the peninsula!