I confess: I'm an absolute softie when it comes to old-fashioned kitchen tools. I'm no big fan of stereotyped images of Italian cuisine such as "mamma's cooking", but I admit that whenever I see an old chitarra pasta maker or a garganelli comb I give in and start musing about the old times gone, when the whole family would make pasta at home instead of buying it. Not that I ever lived in a family that made pasta every week, but it's still nice to be a sentimental sucker from time to time.
Nonetheless, since most of my family comes from Northern Italy, making fresh stuffed pasta has remained a tradition we follow on special occasions. Be our guest for Christmas and you'll be strongly encouraged to help shape hundreds of tortelli, tortelloni and anolini. It's that or washing up, you see. Having practiced for years, I can say I'm getting quite good at this. Or better at everything except cutting the pasta dough into the regularly shaped squares needed to have a batch of tortelli where each one looks identical to the next. To do this free hand you really need special skills. There are those who could cut series of equally spaced parallel lines without breaking sweat, ending up with perfect tortelli every time. I've always been in awe of these people. I, on the other hand, am one of those who would probably finish with a bunch of psychedelic curved patterns guaranteed to give you visions if you only took a moderate dose of hallucinogenic substances. And definitely crappy looking tortelli. A good reason to be on the lookout for new pasta cutting tricks and tools.
I could buy one of those neat ravioli shaping trays or, if I ever have enough money and decide to open my restaurant, one of these machines (just have a look at the size chart link at the end: Christmas tree ravioli? Please!). All nice and handy, but lacking that little romantic old-fashioned touch. Exactly what my newest pasta cutting gadget (above) instead has. I discovered this little tool at my father's uncle and aunt's place: both well over 80, they still manage to prepare some great classical Mantuan dishes. And killer tortelli, perfectly cut. In an age of electronic contraptions of all sort finding a simple tool like this one, just two parallel metal discs held together by a metal plate rotating along the wheels' axis, has a heartwarming effect. Essential, bare bones even, but perfect for the job. With each turn of the wheel a perfect square.
I tried, to no avail, to pity my relatives into handing one off as a gift. Discouraged I seeked, with little hope, to find some in a household shop in Ferrara. At first the man behind the counter gave me a strange look, then dug out a dusty box out of the recesses of the crammed storage cupboard, which upon opening contained exactly what I was looking for. He simply could not believe his ears, only the older generations still seem to know these handy cutters exist. Well, call me grandpa if you wish, I should have replied. Instead I just handed over the money and packed two differently sized cutters in my bag. Before leaving I decided to try my luck again. Any chance of a garganelli comb? The man smiled but shook his head. Next time maybe. Sure. I will be back.