Garganelli Egg Pasta Quills

Garganelli were born in 1725, the story goes, in the country mansion of the representative of the Pope – who at that time was the ruler of the region of Romagna – specifically in the home of Cardinal Cornelio Bentivoglio d’Aragona.

His cook was busily preparing Cappelletti, the Romagna cousin of Bologna’s Tortellini, and she was either taken by surprise when a large number of extra guests arrived unexpectedly, or else, in another version of the story, the kitchen cat got at the tasty meat filling when she was not looking! Either way she had dozens of little squares of pasta all cut up and a-waiting their stuffing and not quite enough filling to go round.

Thinking on her feet and in some desperation, she decided to dispense with the filling altogether and to make little maccheroni-like rolls instead, with the aid of the pencil-sized wooden twigs used to light the kitchen fire and a tool borrowed from the weaving room: country households spun hemp and wove most of their own linen in those times.

This is the true story of the origin of Imola garganelli as told in the stables during the fireside story telling sessions of the long winter evenings of Romagna,” it said on the website where I found the story.
So thus, it seems, was the birth of a great little egg pasta shape that was originally served in the broth destined for the Cappelletti but today is frequently served al prosciutto e piselli which is to say with salt-cured ham or at times regular cooked ham and peas. The peas today may be fresh, frozen or canned, while the prosciutto can be in strips or in dice. Traditionally it was softened in the pan with the onion and pea mixture but today I often reserve a little of it and crisp it up to use a topping, as you can see in photo at the top of this post.

Today, we use the little wooden riga-gnocchi tool to shape the Garganelli though I do have a weaving “comb” that I picked up at a country market as well.

rolling small

These little golden quills, golden thanks to the deep orange colour of egg yolks in this region, are a wonderful vehicle for a great many sauces. The pasta quills, being made of soft wheat flour not the hard wheat semolina, readily drink up the slightly liquid part of the sauce, the ridges trap any sauce left and the holes at either end allow tasty tidbits to creep inside the little tube, so that the pasta and its dressing really come together and embrace each other, as they always should.

garganelli a mano pronti

Some of you won’t like this but I suppose I have to tell you that the name comes from a dialect word,garaganel, which means a chicken’s oesophagus – they knew their chickens both inside and out, those country cooks!

Eris and Mum

The recipe for the most loved version, with prosciutto and peas, is quite straightforward and like many Italian dishes, it needs only a few ingredients.I hope you’ll try it!

Garganelli Prosciutto e Piselli


350g fresh egg pasta Garganelli (or Tagliatelle)

if making it yourself, you need 300 g “00” flour (which is just finely milled plain all purpose flour) and 3 eggs of 65 g each (shell-on weight) for the pasta dough

300 g of unshelled fresh peas or 125g frozen small peas

50 g of quite fatty Parma style ham, not too thinly sliced, the small hock end is fine

a shallot or half a small onion

25 g butter

1 or 2 tbsp. cream

2 tbsp just grated Parmigiano-Reggiano plus a chunk for grating at a table


Mince the onion very fine and place in a sauté pan wide and large enough to eventually also hold the cooked pasta. Soften it in a small knob of butter on low heat with the fatty parts of the prosciutto cut up into tiny dice or even pounded using a pestle and mortar.

It must slowly wilt and lose all its crunch but remain pale and not coloured, so add tiny amounts of water from time to time so that the onion simmers in a fat/water emulsion without frying at all.

Meantime cook the shelled fresh peas in boiling salted water till tender, then drain, cool under running (very cold) water and add to the onion once it is very soft and translucent. Cook a further 2 minutes. For frozen peas just add to the pan from frozen and cook briefly.

Add the lean parts of the prosciutto torn into strips and turn the heat off at once. The condimento can now wait until the pasta is cooked.

Cook pasta al dente  which takes a very few minutes if it is freshly made, draining it fast and not too thoroughly as fresh egg egg pasta will continue to absorbing the sauce and can get too dry. For this reason, reserve some of the pasta cooking water in case you need to “water” the minimal amount of “sauce” and make it loose enough to coat each piece of pasta.

Quickly remove half of the prosciutto/pea “condimento” from the sauté pan to a very small saucepan on low heat. Add the pasta to the other half of the condimento in the sauté pan and mix together fast – you shouldn’t leave cooked pasta naked! Add the remaining butter and the cream and toss again to mix thoroughly but quickly.

Dilute the sauce with a little pasta water if it seems necessary

Add 2 tbsp of the grated cheese and a ladle or two of the pasta water and toss a final time.

This simple step of adding grated cheese to the pasta in the pan requires a lot of skill and experience to get the desired result of a scant amount of creamy cheese “sauce” and no elastic strings of cheese. You can just about see this thin creamy sauce in the very first photo of this post.

To get the creamy sauce it is important that the water you add to the grated cheese is not boiling – if it is, it will turn the cheese into chewy rubber. It is also important that the cheese is grated extremely fine so it melts fast.

You may want to add the cheese a little at a time, for say two, three or even four times, adding a little pasta water and tossing after each addition. Needless to say this needs to be done pretty fast as the pasta keeps cooking and as you know, or should know, over-cooked pasta is a serious crime round these parts. Or you can avoid this step and simply pass cheese round at the table as we sometimes do on cooking classes.

Make up individual plates and spoon a little of the remaining half of condimento on top of each portion. Place the rest of it in a small bowl with a serving spoon and set it on the table along with a chunk of Parmigiano-Reggiano for everybody to help themselves to one or both as they prefer.
Pass the cheese, please, and buon appetito!