Susan McKenna once found a recipe for testaroli in a Ligurian cookbook, and she’d been making them for years before she “tasted the real deal.” By the real deal, she explains in her new cookbook Piano, Piano, Pieno: Authentic Food From a Tuscan Farm (The Rookery Press), she means “testaroli made for me by a Ligurian.” 

A coastal region in northwestern Italy, bordered by France to the west and Tuscany to the east, Liguria is famed for its crêpe-like pancakes cooked in terra-cotta plates. Traditionally, the plates are first heated to a very high temperature over the embers of a wood fire. After they’re removed from the heat, the testaroli batter is ladled on, and the plates are stacked on top of one another to bake.

Since the plates are very hot, the testaroli cook quickly. The round pancakes are then served warm with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkling of grated cheese or a dollop of pesto. In this adaptation, a cast-iron or nonstick frying pan can be used in place of an authentic testaroli saucer.

Recipe of the week
Testaroli col Pesto Genovese
(Ligurian Pancakes With Basil Pesto)

For the testaroli:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup water

For the pesto:
A handful of fresh basil leaves
1 garlic clove
A pinch of salt
Extra-virgin olive oil (preferably from Liguria)

To finish:
1 tbsp toasted pine nuts
Grated Parmesan cheese to pass at the table

For the testaroli:
Whisk together flour and water; let sit half an hour at room temperature. Heat a lightly oiled 8- to 10-inch nonstick or cast-iron frying pan over moderately high heat. When pan is hot, pour in about 1/3 cup of batter. Twirl pan so batter spreads evenly over bottom. You are looking for a pancake about 3 inches in diameter with a thickness somewhere between a thick crêpe and a thin griddlecake. When pancake is set on bottom and has developed a white skin slightly flecked with gold, flip it over and briefly cook other side until it is the same color. Continue to cook remaining testaroli, adding a little more oil to pan if necessary.

For each serving, place one warm testarolo on a warm plate, drizzle with some olive oil, and sprinkle some Parmesan cheese over the top, or spread with a thin layer of the pesto. Place another testarolo on top and repeat the topping.

For the pesto:
If you own a mortar and pestle, place basil, garlic, and salt in mortar and pound to a paste, gradually drizzling in enough olive oil as you work to get a fairly homogenous sauce. Alternatively, add ingredients to a blender and process to a smooth sauce. Although this recipe does not include cheese or pine nuts, two ingredients normally found in basil pesto, you can add those ingredients to suit your own taste.