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 - the Italian way

Le Trofie

Classic Pasta Twists from Liguria.

Trofie pasta on a wooden board with rolling pin and flour.

In Italy we look at a plate of trofie and think one thing: Liguria.

When I told Francesco I was writing a post on trofie, the first thing he he said was, "Mmm, trofie al pesto!" These two go hand-hand as one of Italy's great foodie region's most iconic of dishes, there is no pasta more Ligurian than this.

Like there's no Italian coastline more Ligurian than Le Cinque Terre.

Cinque Terre coloured houses seen by the bay from the cliff top.

What are Trofie?

Well firstly, how do we pronounce it? Trofie /troh-fi-eh. Almost like 'trophy' with an 'eh' at the end.

Trofie is the plural for trofia, but as pasta dishes contain multiple pasta shapes, most are automatically plural - spaghetti (one spaghetto), penne (one penna), fusilli (one fusillo).

A twist of hand-rolled pasta, shaped thinner at the ends, these have traditionally been made by the women of Genova for years. Rolled on wooden boards and bare kitchen tables, once, pasta-making was as natural as bread-making but these pasta twists have lived a longer handmade tale than any others because before1977 they were made exclusively by hand. The women of Liguria would use a long wooden needle (like a knitting needle) to help form the twist but besides that it was only flour, water and dedication.

Basil, pine nuts and olive oil to make pesto on a wooden board

The History of Trofie

These classic twists have been around for ages, recorded first during the Crusades as pasta from a very specific stretch of Ligurian coastline - the Riviera di Levante encompassing the coastal towns of Recco, Sori, Camogli and Avegno. While 17km north-west, in the busy port of Genova, trofie was the generic word for gnocchi, not pasta. Their name is reminiscent of the rolling action used to make them - strofinare, strufuggià in genovese dialect but some say the Ancient Greek word trépho, στρωφάω, seems a more plausible root, meaning twist, fold or turn.

After the war, when much of Liguria's bombed, coastal towns had to be rebuilt, the town of Recco gained importance as foodie-capital of the Riviera and suddenly trofie hit the food scene! The simple trofia was fashioned into smaller twists called trofiette which soon made a special name for themselves as trofiette di Recco, even if originally, they were from the town of Sori (says word on the Levanto street). The simpatico pasta shape caught entrepreneur pasta-maker, sig.Bacci Cavassa's eye as a popular, local food that could be commercialised... In 1977 he made a machine to mass produce them at his factory, il Pastificio Novella in Sori and continues to this day.

It's wonderful that they lasted so long as a homemade product and sad that they lost their artisan qualities but order trofie al pesto in Liguria and most likely they're still handmade.

White bowl with green pesto and trofie on a stone table

Trofie in Liguria

When wheat flour became a elusive commodity during the war, farmers turned to chestnut flour to make their beloved pasta nevertheless. This was known as 'bastardo' and can still be found in mountain trattorie or agriturismi where local products are prized.

The most classic of accompaniments is naturally pesto genovese but at the yearly Trofie Sagra in Sori, all kinds of sauces are on the menu, including walnut cream, fish sauce and black, squid ink!

Just to be picky, there's a local debate along the shorelines and in the osterie in the Golfo Paradiso! 'Do you or do you not put runner beans in your trofie?'

Pesto genovese is a very precise recipe using local basil and pine nuts (see our blog post This is Pesto for all the details) but it is also served with runner beans and/or boiled potatoes in Liguria as a classically regional dish. Yet some say the trofia, as pasta corta, MUST be mixed solely with pesto where as trenette, as pasta lunga (similar to linguine), can be cooked in the runner bean and potato pot, stirring pesto in minutes before serving.

It seems there's only one way to settle this debate - we'll have to try both and see!

Buon appetito amici.

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