Liguria, the Italian Riviera, that slice of glorious coastline stretching from Tuscany to France, is home to some of Italy’s most famous recipes (think pesto and focaccia), but also some of its best-kept secrets. Liguria, the Cookbook, which recently hit bookstores, introduces the reader to many of these unknown culinary treasures.
Meet corzetti (also known as croxetti), a medallion-shaped pasta that is embossed using an intricate, hand-carved wooden stamp, part of an ancient Ligurian tradition dating back to the Middle Ages.
Genoa, Liguria’s capital city, was once a powerful maritime empire and an important center of commerce and trade throughout the Middle Ages and Renaissance. The city’s aristocratic families, made rich on trade and war, developed a taste for luxurious, ornate dishes. What could be more decadent than intricately decorated, personalized pasta?
It is presumed corzetti were originally embossed using a medieval coin called a corzetto, but during the Renaissance noble families would have their coat of arms stamped into the pasta for special occasions. Visiting royalty, weddings, and affairs of state were all excellent excuses to serve this memorable dish. It is said that corzetti were even served to the King of Morocco, during a feast in his honor in Genoa in the 1700s. This tradition has survived today, and, in some parts of Liguria, the stamped pasta is still prepared for weddings, artfully embossed with the newlyweds’ initials.
The two-part wooden mold used to emboss the pasta is a work of art itself, comprised of a concave cutter and an elaborately engraved stamp. The molds are made by hand by the few local intagliatori (woodcarvers) that still meticulously engrave the custom stamps to order.
In the town of Varese Ligure, where the tradition of corzetti is still alive and well, you’ll find the sawdust-carpeted workshop of the renowned woodcarver, Paolo Picetti. Unfortunately, Paolo passed away in 2020, but his workshop lives on in the care of his daughters, who proudly continue to make the stamps in his memory today. If you can’t make it to Italy but still want to try your hand at corzetti, you can buy the stamps on Etsy or eBay or at specialty kitchen and Italian import stores.
The recipe, which you’ll find in Liguria, The Cookbook, is straightforward: a simple egg and flour dough with a splash of white wine, is gently rolled out and then cut into disks with the concave part of the wooden tool before being embossed with the desired design. The disks are then cooked in boiling, salted water for 5 to 7 minutes, and dressed with the sauce of choice.
Corzetti are typically served three ways: au tuccu (with a meat sauce), in giancu (in a pine nut sauce with marjoram), or au pestu (with the region’s world-famous basil pesto).
No matter how you dress your corzetti, or where you buy your stamps, you are certain to have fun making them. And when you sit down in front of a beautiful dish of this historic pasta, you can’t help but feel a little bit like royalty yourself.