There are certain dishes that live out of sight. They might nourish whole peoples, they might tingle the palates and tell fascinating stories, yet they manage to remain unknown to all but a few, even when it’s right under their very noses. Dishes like scarpinòcc, the traditional Bergamascan recipe which – almost paradoxically – isn’t even famous in Bergamo.
It’s hard to believe, but it’s true. When people talk about the culinary heritage of Bergamo, they focus on casoncelli to the exclusion of all else. These meat-filled ravioli are regarded as the flagship of Bergamascan cuisine, but few know that scarpinòcc is the real representative of the city. It’s a food that speaks of its people, of exile, of hardship and survival.
Again, we’re talking about a form of stuffed pasta, but scarpinòcc contain no meat: only cheese, breadcrumbs, milk, egg and spices. They are the “healthy” option, relative to casoncelli. Cheese is a sacred product in that strip of land that comprises Bergamo, Brescia and Lodi – not just any cheese, but specifically Grana Padano.
Legend has it that scarpinòcc were invented around the beginning of the twentieth century in Parre, a little town of the Seriana valley, when the locals began trying out Grana Padano in a slightly different way. Back then, the local cheesemakers produced Grana in vast quantities, and inevitably, there was always some that remained unsold. Stuffed pasta seemed like a good place to put it.
So, as we have said, cheese takes centre stage in this ravioli. But to give a bit of extra heft, we also add breadcrumbs, and to bind everything together, egg. The liquid element is provided by fresh milk, while spices add a hint of surprise. These would be cloves, star anise, garlic, cinnamon and nutmeg – and plenty of them. There are those that add chopped parsley, and we can’t fault them for that.
As for the pasta itself, we’re a long way from the egg-heavy stuff you find in Emilia-Romagna. Here, we only need three eggs for one kilogram of flour. Once the pasta’s made, and once we’ve closed it around the filling in some vaguely boat-like shapes (almost exactly identical to casonelli, in fact), we then plunge them into boiling water until they’re cooked. Then it’s time to serve them up and cover them with a good grating of more Grana Padano and a great dollop of molten butter. Another essential is crunchy sage, which should be fried in the butter immediately before it goes on.
And what about the name? Myths, legends and tall stories swirl around it, but the most credible account is that the word scarpinòcc was coined by a child, who saw the similarity between these ravioli and a type of footwear that was common at the time. Scarpa means “shoe” in Italian.
"images: ph. Sonia and Caravia"