Panigacci and Testaroli: meanings and differences

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Many food specialties in La Spezia area come from the hinterland. Two of them are Panigacci and Testaroli, made from the same dough with slight differences in preparation and traditions.

“But what is the difference between panigacci and testaroli?” You might wonder during a stay  between Deiva Marina and Lunigiana. It’s not easy to give a definite and convincing answer and you might hear different and conflicting explanations.
The truth is that panigacci and testaroli are two typical dishes of the poor cuisine of Lunigiana that arise from a very similar mixture (that of panigacci is just more dense), but differ in terms of preparation and consumption (although it must be admitted that there is someone who loves making things more confusing, serving panigacci as it is traditionally done with testaroli).

The common dough

Both panigacci and testaroli are made from a simple batter:
water;
flour;
salt.

Nothing more simple and easier to prepare than that. In general, the batter is a bit ‘more dense for the preparation of panigacci and a bit’ more fluid for testaroli, but the difference between the two dishes is definitely not in this.

The difference lies in the cooking, which requires – to prepare as per tradition – the wood oven and is what makes it difficult to replicate the recipe on home stoves.

Testaroli, cooked in cast iron

Between the two specialties, testaroli are what today has greater commercial success at a national level. It is, therefore, easier to find them in supermarkets, even outside of the La Spezia and Lunigiana area.
It’s a dish more precisely typical from Pontremoli, even if there is an original version of the Sarzana area and the lower Val di Magra (which differs primarily in the cooking on a cast iron, the so-called testo and in the very thin texture; another element of difference is that testaroli in the lower Val di Magra are not boiled).
Pontremoli’s 
Testaroli – those most known and popular – are thick disks of dough (in the market they come in large plastic and vacuum bags), easy to fold, which owe their appearance to the cooking in large testi of cast iron.

The testaroli pontremolesi are quickly boiled in water and seasoned with olive oil and Parmesan cheese, or pesto sauce. They will be cut to pieces, while Sarzana will be come in a smaller, full and round shape.

Panigacci, made from testi of clay pots

The panigacci are widespread in almost all of Liguria and Lunigiana, but there is no doubt that their home is the town of Podenzana. The difference with testaroli, however, is not only due to the common place of origin.
 

Panigacci di Podenzana, cotti a legna nei testi.

What makes panigacci panigacci is the cooking. The preparation provides that the batter is poured into small terracotta dishes called testi  and with a small raised edge. After filling, the testi are stacked one above the other, so that the batter remains squeeezed in between. For the cooking, the testi are filled with batter and placed on the edge of the oven until tey get red hot, or stacked and filled after getting red hot on a grate above the wood of the fireplace. It is the accumulated heat from the clay that make panigacci.

So crushed, the batter bakes quickly. The testi pulled out of the oven, panigacci are detached from the cooking instrument and served still warm (often in small baskets) to eat with meats, cold hams and spread cheese.

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