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~ About Creste di Gallo or Crest of the Rooster Pasta ~

IMG_2706Coming up on eleven years of food blogging and I've never taken-on pontificating about a pasta shape. Until now, there was no reason.  After all, there are over 400 shapes of pasta in this food world.  Some are fresh, some are dried, all took shape for a reason, and all have a purpose, with some being better suited to certain dishes or sauces than others, and, everyone has their favorite. There's never been reason for me to interfere in any of the good-spirited Italian-, Italian-American banter about the best pasta for whatever the purpose -- long strands or fork-friendly count me in.

That said, over the Memorial Day weekend I made a flank-steak pasta-salad, which I shared with my neighbors across-the-way and friends a few miles away.  While we weren't sitting at the same table this year, the after-dinner phone calls were "all about the pasta."  Even though creste di gallo has been around for centuries, it seems it was new to my friends.  It was a genuine conversation starter -- a whole new topic to discuss amongst pandemic-weary foodie friends.

D556a06a9eeb47d71f7e4868d6082dd2In Italian, the word "gallo" translates to "rooster" (a male chicken). The literal translation of creste di gallo is "coxcomb", of which the crest shape of this short, fork-friendly, ruffle-edged, tubular pasta resembles. The word coxcomb dates back to the 1500s when it referenced the handsome, regal, slightly-unruly red comb of a rooster.  Unfortunately, it was also used as a derogatory slang term for the village idiot or any random fool.  Jesters played the role of fools to entertain people, and their caps were intricately fashioned to imitate the combs of male chickens.

Similarly, this is why Yankee Doodle Dandy stuck a feather in his hat and called it macaroni.  In this time period, this British war song was their way of making fun of American colonists, who they deemed to be poor, backward, lowly, uneducated, "bumpkins" or "hicks". The British slang for idiot was "doodle", hence the name Yankee Doodle (or Yankee idiot).  It, too, was a nasty slur.

Roosters to the rescue?  This is a pasta to crow about!

IMG_2732The significance of the rooster in this legend-has-it pasta story dates back to the mid-to-latter 1400s and is tied to the Medici family* -- the most powerful family in Florence at that time.  As the story goes, another wealthy-but-jealous family, the Pazzis, came up with a plan to have the Medici brothers, Giuliano and Lorenzo, killed.  The Pazzis' hired assassins lie-in-wait for a time when the Medici brothers would throw one of their extravagant feasts -- the kind where wine flowed until the guests and guards often passed out.  When all was quiet, the killers began to sneak through the barnyard.  The plan was foiled when the roosters began to cock-a-doodle-doo with enough intensity to awaken the drunken party-participants.  In a show of gratitude, Giuliano and Lorenzo commissioned earthenware wine pitchers made in the shape of roosters, and glazed stoneware plates emblazoned with images of their cocky birds, plus, last but not least, threw a party serving a pasta resemblant of the rooster crest, to thank the angry birds for their loyalty and courage.    

While not readily found in grocery-store chains, creste di gallo pasta is easily found in specialty stores and on-line (which is where I purchase mine).  This tubular pasta with its unique ruffled edge makes it ideal for a wide-range of sauces.  Its shape will stand up to everything from a thick, hearty meat sauce, to a watery, fresh tomato sauce, to a delicate cream sauce.  It's marvelous tossed hot with something as simple as butter, salt, red pepper and a grating of cheese too.  Its resilience makes it ideal to use in hot soups or cold salads, and, it's fantastic baked in casseroles.

*FYI:  The Medici family, or House of Medici, attained political power in Florence via its success in commerce and banking starting in 1434, with the rise to power of Cosimo de’ Medici (or Cosimo the Elder).  His support of the arts and humanities turned Florence into the cradle of the Renaissance, rivaled only by ancient Greece. The Medicis produced four popes (Leo X, Clement VII, Pius IV and Leo XI), and their genes married into many of Europe’s royal families. The last Medici ruler died without a male heir in 1737, ending the family dynasty after three centuries.

Can't find rooster crest?  Substitute elbow macaroni or penne.

IMG_2719"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2020) 


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