If one were to ask me what my favourite dishes are, I would answer first courses in all their infinite forms and interpretations, so here is my proposal for the national festival of first courses: Passatelli with pappa al pomodoro and crispy prosciutto.

The national festival of first courses

In the heart of Italy, from 27 to 30 September, the entire historic centre of Foligno will be colonised by fans of this symbol of Italian cuisine, the national festival of first course: I Primi d’Italia


The verb ‘colonise’ is certainly the most appropriate to define what is happening in the Umbrian village, which is divided into no less than 14 villages of first courses, including, which fills me with joy, also one dedicated to gluten free.

Armed with a healthy appetite and, above all, an insatiable curiosity, it is worth getting lost in the streets and discovering not only the more than 100 recipes for first courses served non-stop, but also the cooking classes, tastings, cooking shows, markets, conferences as well as entertainment and music.

A first course featuring the Emilia Romagna region

To celebrate 20 years of this exquisite event, I welcomed with pleasure and honour the opportunity to represent my own region, Emilia Romagna, through a traditional dish, but with a touch of innovation and freshness through some ingredients that at home, in Parma, are really the masters, namely Parmigiano Reggiano, Prosciutto di Parma and tomato. This is what I have decided to propose to you: Passatelli with pappa al pomodoro and crispy prosciutto.

Why Passatelli? Because I have never found anyone who didn’t like them, because they require only very few ingredients, because they are perfect for reusing leftover bread and hardened Parmesan cheese, because they are suitable for all seasons, and because they are so easy and quick to prepare.

Most likely born in the countryside of Romagna, where people lived in poverty but always managed to prepare a dish like this, they soon became a symbol of the entire regional cuisine.

The tool for preparing Passatelli

The traditional tool with which they were prepared is the ancestor of the pasta die, a kind of perforated disc, slightly concave, with two handles that allow you to place it on the dough by making a forward movement while exerting a certain pressure that will cause these small cylinders of varying lengths to come out. The ingenuity of the peasants meant that the quantity of Passatelli formed in the hollow with a swipe of the iron disc on the dough corresponds to the serving for one diner, making life easy for the women of the house when calculating the quantity to prepare.

Today, the ‘Passatelli iron disc’ has become almost a collector’s item and has been replaced by the less artistic but effective potato masher with large holes, aided by the blade of a knife. When the residual dough is too little to be shaped by the disc, the leftover is generally forged between the hands to obtain an extra-large Passatello, the object of battles for children who always want to get it.

Historically, Passatelli are served in a good meat stock, perhaps capon stock, but for the hot season and, why not admit it, to avoid the time-consuming preparation of stock, I wanted to experiment with a different, tomato-based soup, which is also excellent warm or cold and not just hot (if you want a hot soup, try my Onion soup au gratin).

The proportions between ingredients is somewhat the same in all families, i.e. 1 egg for every 100g of Parmesan cheese and dry bread, with the growing wealth making housewives lean towards increasing the amount of Parmesan a little at the expense of bread. In some parts of the region, a portion of flour is also added, an operation from which I couldn’t exempt myself when preparing my gluten free Passatelli and wanting to sauté them in a pan.

Passatelli with pappa al pomodoro and crispy prosciutto

36.9 g carbohydrates per 100g of plain Passatelli


Ingredients for Passatelli for 4 servings

  • 110g Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, grated
  • 100g breadcrumbs or grated stale bread**
  • 60g flour mix for fresh pasta, brand Molino Dallagiovanna**
  • 2 eggs
  • meat or vegetable stock to blanch the bread
  • nutmeg, salt

Ingredients for Pappa al pomodoro

  • 500g tomato sauce
  • 200g low fat milk
  • 50g carrots
  • 50g onions
  • 20g celery
  • 20 g butter
  • 20g wholemeal rice flour*
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • chopped coriander seeds, chilli pepper, salt and pepper

Ingredients to complete

  • 50g Parma ham
  • some basil leaves
  • extra virgin olive oil

**Ingredients specific for celiacs

*Ingredients whose labels must read “gluten-free” (or, in Italy, present on  Prontuario AIC)

Preparation of Pappa al pomodoro

Start preparing Pappa al pomodoro in this version without bread. Chop the onion, carrot and celery and brown them in a low, wide pan with a little extra virgin olive oil and 2 cloves of garlic. When they are well caramelised, add the tomato sauce and a pinch of salt; cover and cook for 20 minutes.

La pentola Agnelli dedicata ai Primi d'Italia

The Agnelli pot dedicated to Primi d’Italia

  1. In the meantime, prepare a béchamel sauce by melting 20g of butter in a pan, add the rice flour, stirring with a whisk to obtain a cream, then dilute with milk and put on the heat, stirring continuously until it thickens into a béchamel sauce; add salt to taste.
  2. When the tomato sauce is ready, remove the garlic cloves and incorporate the béchamel sauce, stirring well. Put everything in a blender and blend until smooth and even. Add chopped coriander seeds, chilli, salt and pepper to taste.

Preparation of Passatelli

  1. Heat the stock. Put the breadcrumbs in a bowl and scald them with the boiling stock, taking care not to pour too much: the bread should be slightly moist and sticky. Once cold, add the other ingredients, namely flour, Parmesan cheese, nutmeg and eggs. Mix well until you obtain a firm compound. Let it rest in the refrigerator for 15 minutes.
  2. Prepare the crispy ham. Lay the ham slices on a plate and place the plate in the microwave oven on low power for about twenty seconds: if the ham has not become crispy, repeat the operation until the desired texture is reached.
  3. Put a pot of water on the stove and bring it to the boil, then add salt.
  4. For Passatelli we have two options: we can form them and lay them on a tray to keep for later, or we can throw them directly into boiling water or stock. Put about half the Passatelli mixture into the potato masher, press the potato masher directly over the boiling water and when the Passatelli are the desired length, about 4-5 cm, cut them with a knife dropping them directly into the water. Stir them with a skimmer and let them boil for a few minutes.
  5. Put 2 tablespoons of Pappa al pomodoro in the sauce pan with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and half a ladle of cooking water; with a skimmer, remove the Passatelli from the water and throw them into the pan with the sauce, sautéing them over high heat for a few minutes.
  6. Serve a ladleful of Pappa al pomodoro in each serving dish, place the sautéed Passatelli on top, the crispy chopped prosciutto, two basil leaves, a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and serve.


Version with gluten of Passatelli with pappa al pomodoro and crispy prosciutto.

Do not use flour or very little for preparing Passatelli.