Croxetti – A classic Ligurian dish, yet only two men in the region still make the traditional pasta stamps by hand. A visit to Pietro Picetti’s workshop in Varese Ligure. This story begins, like so many in Liguria, in a restaurant.
Years ago I was taken to the Osteria di Vico Palla in the old port of Genova for a perfect Ligurian lunch. The highlight was a simple dish of perfectly al dente pasta discs, about twice the size of a two-Euro coin, smothered in a rich, deep burgundy, beef and red wine ragu, laced with slivers of parmesan. These, my Ligurian host explained, were “corzetti” or “croxetti”, a typically Ligurian kind of pasta which I wouldn’t find anywhere else in Italy. Croxetti are made with a wooden stamp, but trying to find one of these traditional pieces of kitchen kit, to make my own with, proved trickier than I thought.
I crawled through the centre of Genova without any luck. The owner of a hardware store in the Galleria Mazzini finally gave me the vital clue. He knew of just two men left making the stamps by hand; Franco Casoni in Chiavari, just outside Genova, and Pietro Picetti in Varese Ligure. It was the last day of my trip and I flew home with a wooden parmesan grater instead…
Varese Ligure is a beautiful village in the province of La Spezia, at the head of the Val di Vara, known as the “Organic Valley”.
I have family in that region, and on a trip to visit them this summer, I decided to finally hunt down my croxetti stamp. But first I had to find a parking space. On market day in Varese Ligure the normally tranquil village becomes a little busier than usual. The ancient village is full of stalls spilling over with all manner of wares, from ripe, local fruit and vegetables, huge wheels of cheese and hanging salamis to hammers and watering cans, saucepans and shovels, track suits and knickers. Now all I had to do was find Pietro Picetti.
You won’t find any signs for a “Croxetti Stamp Store” in Varese Ligure. The village leather-maker told me how to get to Pietro’s workshop: Past the old castello, over the bridge and right on the little piazza. And there it was and there was Pietro, stood just inside, sorting blocks of wood on a workbench. Pietro makes his croxetti stamps from beech, pear and nutwood. The bottom part of the stamp is hollowed out to make a ring, to punch out the circles of pasta. The top part of the stamp has two flat halves, each with a carved design, used to emboss the croxetti. Wealthy Genovese families would traditionally have stamps created with their family coat-of-arms, or newlyweds serving croxetti as the first course of their wedding meal might have their initials carved into the wood.
Pietro forms the body of the stamp on a lathe, sketches the designs in pencil, then goes to work with razor-sharp chisels to produce a mini-sculpture that takes about three hours to finish. The natural wood is then polished with beeswax and is ready to use.
A lot of work for the price of €30, but clearly I was just joining a long list of satisfied clients: Pietro explained that he was busy completing a collection of croxetti stamps that had been commissioned by the Japanese ambassador in Rome.
And my croxetti stamp? I chose one with a sheaf of wheat, a chef’s hat and crossed knives on it; somehow fitting for a Liguria-loving amateur cook. I’ve only used it a couple of times, but I love knowing that I’ve got a real, hand-made, one-of-a-kind croxetti stamp sitting in my kitchen.
A little piece of Ligurian culinary culture that’s mine. Now if I could just get that ragu right…