Maccheroni Alla Bersagliera (Pasta with Ham, Peas and Fontina Cheese)
A Historic Recipe For a Historic Trip
On their tricycle ride from Florence to Rome in 1884, Elizabeth and Joseph Pennell ate this dish in a ‘trattoria’ in Spoleto in the region of Umbria (although the dish is supposedly from the Piedmont region). They reported that in the small restaurant where they stopped for lunch there was a company of Bersaglieri, after whom the dish was named. The Alpine corps of Bersaglieri was created by General Alessandro La Marmora in 1836 to serve in the Piedmontese army, which became the Royal Army of unified Italy in 1860. The name of this military unit originates from ‘bersaglio’ or ‘target,’ since the members of this infantry unit were trained as excellent sharpshooters. They were and still are recognizable by their fast-paced march and their wide-brimmed hats decorated with long feathers.
The recipe is thought to have originated during a pause in the Crimean War (1853-56), when General La Marmora made a bet with his officers about the best pasta sauce. At that time Italy was not yet a nation, but General La Marmora served the Kingdom of Piedmont/Sardinia, which was allied with France, the United Kingdom and the Ottoman Empire against Imperial Russia for control of the Crimean peninsula. This war has been defined as “the first modern conflict with technical changes that will affect the future course of warfare.”
The dish the Pennells enjoyed in 1884 was probably similar to the one described below, although variations do exist. In their narrative about this lunch Elizabeth describes the other diners and “two dogs, a cat and a hen [that had] wandered in from the piazza, and dined on the bits of macaroni dropped by the not over-careful soldiers.”
For 3 people:
2 cups of maccheroni, sedanini or other ‘short’ pasta;
1/2 c. of diced cooked ham;
1/2 c. of diced Fontina cheese (this cheese originates in the Alpine Region of Valle d’Aosta, north of Piedmont)
1 c. of peas (if fresh cook with some butter and onion; if frozen, saute’ with butter and cooked onion)
1 1/2 c. of béchamel sauce. You can substitute this sauce with ¾ c. of heavy cream.
Cook the pasta; drain it ‘al dente’ and mix well all ingredients as they are hot. You can eat the pasta right away or put in the oven for 15 minutes at medium temperature.