In early 20th century Italy, particularly in the south, a large part of the population lived in extreme poverty. For a father of a family, finding a way to provide food for his relatives was a real conundrum. The wealthy classes could afford a proper and varied diet, in other words, they ate several times a day, and not infrequently, indeed I think every single day, they fed their dependents with the leftovers. Not even the miserable apple core, which represented divine grace, ended up straight in the rubbish! In other words, while the rich stuffed themselves with succulent delicacies, the poor people were forced into a daily struggle against hunger and the procurement of a few foodstuffs. And when there were so many mouths to feed, the housewives would sharpen their wits, or in my part of the world they would ‘roll up their sleeves’, that is, they would get busy, and with what little they had in the cupboards they would prepare a meal of the kind that would take a whole day to digest, since it was the only way not to feel the grumbling and wriggling of hunger until the next day. My grandmother Favorita, who had ten children, really had to be ingenious in the kitchen, my grandfather was a simple fisherman. At the beginning of the 20th century, money rarely came into the house, it was easier to bring the result of the atavistic act of bartering, the exchange of fish for flour, bread, or something else. And here we come to the main topic of the article: sagne ‘ncannulate prepared with fresh tomato sauce and topped with fried breadcrumbs instead of cheese.

Widespread throughout Italy, from Abbruzzo on down, and flavoured with various sauces and cheeses are le sagne.

This ‘homemade pasta’ speciality is one of the typical dishes of Salento’s culinary tradition and is made with simple and genuine ingredients.

The term ‘ncannulate means twisted and indicates the way in which this type of pasta is produced, i.e., by a light, rotating movement of the hand and wrist.

Ingredients and preparation of sagne

125 grams of remilled durum wheat semolina
125 grams of barley flour
125 millilitres of water

Pastry board
Rolling pin
Pasta cutter

Pour the two types of flour onto the pastry board, make a well and gradually add the water and start mixing. The dough should be compact and elastic.
Cover with a bowl and let it rest for about 15 minutes.
With a rolling pin, roll out the dough into a 2 millimetre sheet. Cut strips 20 to 30 centimetres long and about 1.5 centimetres wide.
Twist the strips onto themselves with a quick hand/wrist movement while holding the opposite end, the resulting sagna should be folded in half.
On a flour-dusted tray place your ‘ncannulate, cover them with a cloth and leave them to dry overnight.

Preparation of sagne with tomato sauce and fried breadcrumbs

  • 1 kg ripe red tomatoes, alternatively 1 litre tomato sauce
  • 1 onion
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • salt to taste
  • breadcrumbs to taste

In a non-stick pan put the oil and the sliced onion and let it brown. Then pour in the tomato sauce, adjust the salt and let it cook for about twenty minutes.
In another non-stick pan put 3 tablespoons of oil and let it heat up, add the right amount of breadcrumbs to season your dishes, and let it brown.
Cook the sagne in plenty of salted water for a few minutes, drain them when they rise to the surface, and season with the tomato sauce and fried breadcrumbs.

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