Andrea Zanini turns an ancient Italian pasta stamp.
Andrea Zanini turns an ancient Italian pasta stamp
Italy and food are two words that often go together. Our culture is indeed full of high quality products such as fine wines, delicious cheese and a huge variety of pasta. But how can woodturning be related to culinary tradition? The first answer you get is, of course, rolling pins. And yes, there’s also fun projects such as lemon juicers or honey dippers, but I was looking for something deeply connected to culture and tradition. Then I remembered the story of croxetti pasta stamps.
During the Middle Ages, Italy was divided into several small counties and within each county noble families shared their influence. Liguria, the region where croxetti were invented, was particularly important because of its position on the Mediterranean Sea. It was imperative for the nobility to state clearly which portion of land they ruled over. The quickest and best way to show that was through food, which is why croxetti were invented: they cut round disks of pasta to print the insignia of the local noble family on one side and a cross on the other (that’s where the name, cross-crux-croxetti, comes from).
Initially served at balls to underline the importance of the local noble family, they were later introduced among the population and they worked improving cohesion and the sense of community. They are usually served with a nut or basil pesto and even though they’re now stripped of their social and political meaning they are still a delicious dish that belongs to our culinary culture.
Plans and equipment
Equipment and materials used
• 10mm bowl gouge
• Parting tool
• Roughing gouge
• Skew chisel
• 10mm spindle gouge
• Spring caliper
• 15mm wide leather strip
• Dremel carving tool
• 1mm ball head burr
• Abrasives from 150–240 grit
• Reclaimed beech
Drawings and how to resize them
To enlarge or reduce the size of drawings right click on the image to download it and then go HERE to watch a video on how to use paper with a grid to do exactly that.
1. First of all, you need to choose the right piece of wood. Since this is a small project so you can use reclaimed wood or a piece from your scrap pile. Though there are no precise measurements, it should be big enough to obtain a round blank of 50mm in diameter. Traditionally croxetti were made out of apple (Malus spp.) or pear (Pyrus communis) wood, but beech (Fagus sylvatica) will be just as good. Cut the blank to length using a bandsaw. You can use a manual saw if you prefer or you can cut it directly on the lathe. To obtain a two part stamp you should cut it at 120mm
2. To avoid any wood waste, be precise in finding the centre. A centre finding jig is very handy, but if you don’t have one, just use a calliper
3. Put the blank between centres and round it using a roughing gouge. Be careful not to remove too much material. Later you’ll have the option to carve your family insignia on the stamp, so you’re going to need some space for that
4. When the blank has been rounded smooth it down using a skew chisel. The finish on the blank will be great and it is a very good way to practise your smoothing skills
5. Be sure that the blank is cylindrical by measuring it with a spring calliper. This is a very important step because the two parts of the stamp must fit as best they possibly can to one another. This is the perfect moment for the final sanding of the stamp surface. If you used the skew chisel a touch of 240 grit abrasive will be enough, otherwise you can start from 150 grit to sand. Remember that this project will be a kitchen tool, so the final piece won’t have to be super smooth and shiny
“To square it you can use a sharpened parting tool or, if you want a better finish, a spindle gouge”
6. Now, take your time to figure out the measurements of the two halves of the stamp. The half with the handle should be approximately 2/3 of the blank but, again, there are no strict rules and you can improvise
7. Use a parting tool to separate the two halves of the stamp, but don’t go all the way through the blank. Leave a little bit of wood that will be removed manually with a small saw; it’s a much safer way to part two pieces from one blank
8. Cut a strip of leather from, for example, an old belt and wrap it on the side of the stamp that will be put in the chuck. The strip must not overlap at either end as it would create an off-centre effect on the stamp. If the strip is a little short round the stamp then that is also fine
9. Place the piece of wood with the leather strip as shown in the figure (see opposite). The leather will avoid any jaw marks on the smooth surface of the stamp and will assure a strong grip on the piece. It’s a neat little trick that can be used on a number of different occasions
10. An important thing to remember is to square both ends of the two halves of the stamp. On the short piece the carved sign will be present, the other piece will have a flat surface that will host another, simpler, drawing – like your initials. To square it you can use a sharpened parting tool or, if you want a better finish, a spindle gouge
11. On the short part, opposite to the flat side, you have to make a shallow depression. Start turning from the edge and keep the border sharp. This part will cut the pasta in small disks, actually making the croxetti. Use a small (10mm in this case) sharp bowl gouge to obtain a very smooth finish
12. It’s now time to turn the handle that will be placed on the bigger of the two blanks, the one without the concave shape on one of the two sides. Mark the measurements on the blank and start removing material which corresponds to the narrow part using a parting tool
13. Now, using the spindle gouge, shape the rest of the handle. Take it slowy and stop from time-to-time trying the grip until you feel it comfortable in your hand. When the shape is right, just a touch of sandpaper will make it smoother
14. It’s time to stop the lathe and start carving. On one of the two flat sides draw the more complicated design. I like to carve the complex one on the half without the handle so I can hold it firmly in my hand, but you can, of course, use a vice. Carefully draw your design with a soft pencil. The better the drawing, the better the result
15. The ball point burr is the best choice to carve curved designs. The carving doesn’t have to be deep and even a small burr will do the job in a reasonable amount of time. This being said, nothing stops you from using different types of burr and experiment with them. This is the final result. A shallow carving is enough to leave a neat and clean mark on the pasta. The design I chose is just a random one, but you can decorate however you want
16. Now that you’ve turned a croxetti stamp, you’ll need pasta to go with it. To make some delicious pasta, you will need 300g of flour, two egg yolks, and a 100ml of water. Sieve the flour first then mix all the ingredients and knead until you get a pliable, smooth dough. Form a ball with the dough and let it rest, covered in cling film for at least 30 minutes at room temprature. Roll out the dough until it’s approximately 3mm thick then use the sharp end of the croxetti stamp to cut out even discs
17. Place the disk between the two halves of the stamp and apply a firm pressure. Be sure not to shift the two halves to obtain a clear and neat design on the pasta
18. The result of a perfect croxetti. Cook the croxetti in salted water until they come up on the surface, and let them boil for no more than four/five minutes. Serve with some basil pesto for a tasty dinner!