The name is derived from the testo, a special pan made of terra-cotta or cast iron. Testaroli are a specialty of Lunigiana, an isolated valley area along the border of Liguria and Tuscany.
My wife and I had the pasta for the first time last summer in Milan, where we spent the first two nights of our honeymoon. We were supposed to fly into Nice after stopping over in Vienna, but a strike in France derailed our original plan, so we hastily made plans to go to Milan. We stayed in the Brera district, and on our second night we found a great little restaurant, La Latteria di Via San Marco, just a few blocks away. Danielle ordered the testaroli, which were cut into wide ribbons and served simply with a slab of butter on top.
The recipe calls for using whole wheat flour, but we didn’t have any, so I substituted all-purpose unbleached flour. Combine equal parts of flour and water in a large mixing bowl. The recipe calls for 4.5 cups of flour to serve six people. For two people, I reduced the amount to two cups, which allowed for enough of the mixture to allow for some trial-and-error during the cooking process. Whisk until the mixture is smooth and has the consistency of heavy cream.
Stab one half of an onion with a fork, dip the cut side in olive oil, and swirl it around in a heated non-stick pan to coat with olive oil (I actually skipped using onion and just used oil because we did not have any onions on hand). Pour approximately half of a cup of the dough/batter into the pan, spread it thinly across, and cook, covered, for four minutes; flip and continue cooking, covered, for three more minutes. Continue the process until the testaroli are all cooked and slice. The recipe calls for cutting them into small diamonds, but since I seem to remember the pasta being served as wide strips the one and only time I had ever had it, I sliced the testaroli into wide ribbons.
In addition to basil, garlic, and parmigiano-reggiano, the pesto recipe called for toasted pine nuts, which I lightly browned in a pan over the stove. Using a tip from Michael Chiarello, I also added a pinch of vitamin c powder (ascorbic acid) to keep the pesto from discoloring. It seemed to work and help the pesto retain the basil’s bright green color, but the pesto only sat around for a half hour or so before being eaten.
Cook the testaroli briefly in a large pot of salted boiling water for no longer than a minute. Drain the testaroli and combine with the pesto, tossing the pasta carefully so as to avoid tearing the strips.