I have been dreaming of making Croxetti pasta ever since I saw it illustrated on an Italian cooking book. I never heard about Croxetti (or Corzetti) before reading that recipe, since this is a regional dish of Liguria and cannot be found outside of it. This is why I couldn't get hold of the mold required to make them, despite my previous attempts, which also involved my mother looking for them in Italy.
My trip to Liguria was an unmissable opportunity to taste the dish and find the tool required to make it. I was under the impression that these molds could be commonly found anywhere in the region, but as I asked people, I discovered that actually this dish is rarer than I thought, and there is only one carpenter left, named Pietro Picetti, who is still dedicated to maintaining the tradition. I managed to find out his location and headed off looking for him in the small town of Varese Ligure. Without a specific address, I was given a description of the site of his workshop, and with my fingers crossed, hoping that the man would be there at the time of my visit, I drove to the town determined to find him.
With great relief, as I spotted the entrance to his workshop, the door was open, displaying a large Italian welcome sign. I opened the conversation informing him that I am based in Singapore and I went all the way to Varese Ligure to buy some of his croxetti molds. He wasn't surprised at all. He humbly explained that he has a constant flow of visitors from all over the world, in particular Japan, who travel from far away to this small town to get their hands on his work. He showed me the orders from American and Japanese culinary schools, and told me how once he was handed over a business card by one of his Japanese visitors, only to realise a few days later that he was actually the ambassador of Japan.
We then spent some time designing my personalised mold, and he showed me the original wooden molds from his great grandfather, who used to be in exactly the same trade (see picture below). Some of them are cracked, others have been slightly damaged by termites, and you can sense that these pieces are over a hundred years old. His designs are still based on the original designs from his great grandfather: wheatears, stars, crosses, olive leaves, and of course the initials of the owners, or the names of the restaurants.
Besides ordering a custom made mold, I also bought a couple of ready made ones. One in beech, and the other one in walnut. The first has two different star symbols on each side. This is a reproduction of the original mold passed to him by his great grandfather. The second one represents a sun surrounded by wheatears.
I was amazed by the beautiful designs, and the richness of detail. Just looking at them brought thoughts of the middle ages, the powerful families and their attachment to their own emblems, to the extent that they used to engrave them even into their food. Such intricate patterns, once printed into the dough, make its surface uneven, enhancing its ability to absorb pasta sauce. In Liguria, croxetti are traditionally eaten with a pine nuts sauce, pesto, or a tomato sauce. The recipes for the dough and the sauces are handed over by the man to all his customers, as he is keen to spread and maintain the tradition of the original sauces.
All molds are autographed by their creator on the cutting side - it states "Pietro Picetti made this in Varese Ligure". The experience of buying an utensil directly from the artisan made me reflect on the value of what we buy. Nowadays we are all so used to shop around, find what we like, on a shelf and buy it. I must admit that buying from the artisan evokes completely different emotions. You are not just given an utensil, but also the history of it, and the passion that went into it. The value of what you buy becomes priceless, since it is not just a commercial item - it has been uniquely crafted by an artisan.
These wooden molds serve the purpose of cutting and shaping the croxetti. The bottom of each mold is very sharp, and is used to cut out a circle of dough from a 2.5 mm sheet. The circle is then placed inbetween the two pieces of wood, and compressed so that the drawings remain engraved into both sides of it - just like a coin.
Pietro also recommended a place where I could stop for lunch and have the traditional Croxetti from Varese Ligure. The restaurant is within a hotel called "Albergo Amici", located a 5 minutes walk from Pietro's workshop. I had a portion of delicious Croxetti with pine nuts sauce. I loved the texture of this pasta, very firm and rustic, paired with a flavorful nutty and herby sauce. It goes without saying that every single medallion I ate was imprinted with a drawing made by Pietro specifically for that restaurant.
A video of Pietro Picetti on the topic can be found on YouTube.