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Hats and Ears

March 12, 1997|CHARLES PERRY CHARLES PERRY

All stuffed pastas are at risk of coming apart as they cook. The ravioli type, made by sticking two sheets of pasta together with the filling in between, is not as sturdy as the pastas made by folding a single piece of pasta around the filling. The cappelletti shape is particularly strong. You fold a square of pasta over the filling to make a triangle, then cross the far corners over each other, making a shape like the tall hats of the British redcoats in the American Revolution. ("Cappelletti" actually means hats in Italian.) This sturdy pasta is known in a broad belt extending from Egypt to western China. It goes by such names as shushbarak (in the Arab countries), dushbera (Azerbaijan), chuchwara (Uzbekistan) and chochura (Xinjiang). They all go back to the old Persian joshparag, which meant something like "boiled piece." The Iranians themselves have halfway forgotten the old name, because they now call this pasta gush-e barreh.

The Italians apparently invented cappelletti on their own, but the Middle Eastern variety has also entered Europe. The Russians learned it from a Finnish-speaking Siberian people known as the Udmurts, who had picked it up from Persian fur traders. The modern Russian word for this pasta is pelmeni, but in the 18th century Russians were still using the original Udmurt pronunciation, pelnan.

Pelnan means "ear bread" in their language. The Udmurts evidently thought it looked like an ear, rather than a hat. So do the modern Persians, because gush-e barreh means "lamb's ear."

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