Food /
Italian Recipes

Strolling Along the Secret Pathways of Pasta

“After writing about the many little-known shapes pasta can take, the author shares how she brings them into her own cooking in a series of short articles with recipes.”


Episode 1: Cordelle Sabine

Any home baker knows: you cannot kill yeast. I have tried but it always comes back, sometimes weakened, sometimes malodorous, but it will always win the war no matter how valiantly you fight the battle. I know this because last November I was given 25 grams of sourdough starter and in my desire to develop a good loaf of bread I fed it in a frenzy, accumulating jar after jar of bubbling sourdough discard to up-cycle into new life.

And that’s what led me to the discovery of cordelle sabine.

Quoting from my February article: “Cordelle sabine live in Rivodutri, a tiny town outside of Rieti in the hills of the Sabina area…They are daughters of ingenuity and poverty.”

Through the times, country women got together to sublimate generational wisdom in the weekly ritual of bread making. These domestic magicians, charged with stretching meager means into nourishment for many, refused to waste even a speckle. While waiting for their loaves to spring in communal ovens, they’d head back to their madia – a wooden box on legs used to knead and rise bread – and scrape any bit of bread dough left behind. The scraps would be rolled into shortish ropes – cordelle.

Boiled in salted water, cordelle swell slightly becoming at once toothsome and spongy. A barely-there tang from the natural yeast is still detectable. A simple tomato sauce always befits them, though, in wanting to continue the zero waste theme, I used a ragù bianco – a meat sauce without tomato which I made with leftover slow roasted spare ribs. Either way top them with pecorino, the cheese of choice in the birthplace of cordelle.

Cordelle sabine have quickly become a hit with my husband and teenage son, and even now that I have learnt to feed my starter efficiently, I will still make sure that every 10 days or so I have accumulated enough discard to make a batch.

(To make Cordelle from 4 to 6 people)


  1. Place 1 pound of sourdough discard in a bowl and work in enough all purpose flour to make an elastic and soft mass that is firmer than pizza dough but not as dense as fresh pasta.
  2. Transfer it to your counter, sprinkle with flour and knead it for 3 to 4 minutes.
  3. Shape into a ball and cover with an upturned bowl to relax for about 30 minutes.
  4. Lightly flour a large wooden board. Pinch a 1 inch piece of dough and roll it with your palms into a rope with 1/4 inch diameter.
  5. Repeat until you have used all the dough. Boil in well salted boiling water, drain, dress with your favorite pasta sauce and dust generously with pecorino.