Panigacci and Testaroli, meanings and differences

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

The truth is that panigacci and testaroli are typical dishes of the most simple Lunigiana cuisine tradition. They are made with a very similar mixture (that of panigacci is just denser), but differ in terms of preparation and consumption. To make things even more confusing, some people love serving panigacci the way testaroli typically are.

The common dough

Both panigacci and testaroli are made from a simple batter prepared with

  • water;
  • flour;
  • salt.

Nothing is more straightforward to prepare. In general, the batter is denser for the preparation of panigacci and a bit more fluid for testaroli. Still, the difference between the two dishes is not in this.

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

Testaroli, cooked in cast iron

Testaroli are boiled and served plain or with pesto sauce.

Between the two specialties, testaroli are what today has more tremendous commercial success at a national level.

Therefore, it is easier to find them in supermarkets, even outside the La Spezia and Lunigiana area.

Pontremoli is the original town of Testaroli. You might find a Sarzana area version and a lower Val di Magra one. The variants differ primarily in the cooking on a cast iron called testo for the Pontremoli recipe and in the fragile texture in the lower valley versions. 

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 cooking in large testi of cast iron.

The testaroli pontremolesi are quickly boiled in water and seasoned with olive oil, Parmesan cheese, or pesto sauce. Then, they will be cut to pieces, while the Sarzana testarolo comes in a smaller, full round shape and is not boiled. 

Panigacci, made from testi of clay pots

The panigacci cooked in their “testi”.

The panigacci are widespread in almost all of Liguria and Lunigiana. Still, there is no doubt that their home is the town of Podenzana

What makes panigacci panigacci is their cooking. The preparation provides that the batter is poured into terracotta dishes. These are also called testi, but they are made in a different material, are smaller than the Testarolis’, and have a slightly raised edge. 

The testi are stacked on the edge of the oven until they get red hot. Then, the cook picks them with long iron tongs, fills them with batter and stacks them again. Each panigaccio is done in the in-between spaces by the accumulated heat of the clay dishes.

After the testi are pulled out of the oven, panigacci are detached from the cooking tool and served still warm (usually in small baskets) to eat with cold cuts and spread cheese.

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