Last summer marked many new beginnings for me. The first time I visited Berlin and Prague, the first time I worked on a farm, the first time I entered Pia’s kitchen and tasted her testaroli (small crêpes containing pesto sauce). While in Tuscany for two weeks at an organic produce farm, l’Azienda Agricola Biologica Nico, I met Pia, the mother of the farm’s young owner. Not a day passed when I didn’t see her. She would wander near the farm shed to hang laundry, push her granddaughter around in a stroller or host us for the midday meal. Tuesday, her day off from work, meant that Pia cooked lunch. Tuscan traditionalism paired with contemporary innovation characterized Pia’s cuisine. Not only did her dishes make me dash to the table at noontime, but they also incited questions about ingredients followed by furious note taking of recipes.
Pia’s modest and reassuring manner made each food discussion seem a common event. Whereas to me her meals were a novelty, to her they were simply lunches prepared for the farm workers. Her slight smile and tender explanations balanced my eagerness when reaching for pen and paper. So, the Tuesday of Pia’s testaroli, I was ready with an appetite and writing tools. Having started the day early, we spent the morning bent over, weeding the rows that had been recently sown. The awaiting meal kept me working through the sweat and aches. As the lunch hour approached, we returned from the fields and gathered around the table. Pia served testaroli as the primo piatto. I had never encountered them before. At first, the crêpe seemed out of place, invading the typical dwelling of a pasta or risotto. However, the grated parmigiano and drizzle of olive oil on top were Italian ingredients that I knew only too well. The pesto escaped the soft and doughy walls of the crêpe with the first slice, reminding me of the protruding green grasses I had pulled all morning. I had a sweet and nutty tang in my mouth after the first bite. I could tell that the basil, pine nuts and olive oil of the pesto had blended. The dish was light and appropriate for the hot summer day, but still somewhat foreign since the pesto was missing its pasta companion. In that moment, I remembered refusing pasta with pesto as a child. I was glad that my palate had developed enough to make me appreciate Pia’s testaroli.
I cornered Pia after our meal to determine the preparation process for testaroli. She took me through the steps of a flour, water, salt and olive oil crêpe batter. The ingredients must be mixed so that the batter gets air. Then it is placed in the refrigerator to thicken. Once ready, the crêpes are cooked on a skillet, a spoonful of pesto is placed in each and they are finally rolled and dressed with parmigiano and olive oil. To Pia, the dish was an expression of her culture and kitchen. I wanted to be a part of both.
By the end of two weeks, Pia’s role as my culinary mentor was established. On my final evening, after Pia had allowed me to sample the antipasti for dinner, she turned to me and said, “Siccome tutte e due di noi abbiamo la passione per la cucina, questo è un regalo per te” (As we both have a passion for cooking, this gift is for you). The gift was a small book of Tuscan recipes that she had found earlier in the week and brought home for me. I told her that my next visit to the farm would involve more time in the kitchen than the fields.
Pesto sauce (basil, Pecorino cheese, pine nuts, olive oil)
Prepare the crêpe batter by combining the flour, water, salt and olive oil. (1 cup of flour to 1 cup of water)
Note: Add more water if the batter is too thick.
Mix all of the ingredients so the batter gets air.
Place the batter in the refrigerator for approx. 1 hour.
Heat a sauté pan with a little olive oil. Spoon the batter into the pan (the amount will depend on whether you want to make small or large-sized crêpes).
Be sure to cook them on both sides.
Once ready, add a spoonful of pesto to each crêpe, roll and dress with grated Parmigiano and olive oil.
Gianna Banducci is studying gastronomy through the Food Culture and Communications Master program at L’Università di Scienze Gastronomiche. She is currently writing and preparing her thesis in Berlin, Germany.
Note to readers: I welcome your feedback about my tales and would like to hear your own personal stories. I invite you to submit any comments or questions regarding travel, food or general life abroad. – Gianna