Listen my children, and I will tell you a delightful little story. Not quite as delightful as the tale of Pinocchio, the rascally lying puppet with the telltale nose, but nearly so. This story is about Pinocchio’s friend, Pasta-nocchio, who was crafted not in Gepetto’s workshop, but in a LitWits workshop; not from wood and a carpenter’s skill, but from Italian pasta and (dare I say ever so humbly) SHEER GENIUS.
It all began during that hotbed of creativity, inspiration and optimism known in LitWits vernacular as “preparing for a workshop.” The gestation period for workshop preparation can be as long as years and as brief as moments. Ideas cure and ripen like fine cheese in a quiet French cave or erupt in the middle of a workshop with all the color and splendor of a Jules Verne volcano. This one took a bit of planning.
Would it be possible to fully experience Carlo Collodi’s masterpiece, Pinocchio, without involving a puppet? Perhaps.
Actually, no. It wouldn’t. We realized that early on. By no stretch of the imagination could we talk about what it’s like to make a puppet, to be a puppet, to feel like a puppet, without at least having a puppet in the room. Making our own would hit the happy bullseye of our LitWitty “make it real” goals. So we considered. A sock puppet? Nah. A paper-bag puppet? Oh come on. Pinocchio was a marionette, with all the deep-rooted psychological issues that implies. To talk about those with the kiddos we had to make our own marionettes!
Ultimately, after some trial and error (we won’t bore you), we determined that uncooked pasta would be the perfect medium for our little Pinocchio pals, with helpful hollow places through which to thread wires and strings. Rigatoni for the legs, ruote (wheels) for the feet, hands and knees, penne rigate for arms.
But what about the torso and head?
Hmm. No pastas at the local food mart were up for the task. In a rigatoni torso he was painfully thin, and a manicotti midsection put him all out of proportion. And absolutely nothing seemed right for his head. We were actually considering compromising his physiognomy with Styrofoam when we discovered, crammed into a Big Lots endcap, bags full of awkwardly shaped Iron Chef pastas being unloaded at bargain prices. Apparently, making the family casserole out of flanged and fluted alien-helmet-shaped shells requires Food Network-level cooking skills.
Making marionette heads out of them, however, requires just a little bit of LitWits magic. Just a little. And a Sharpie.
And some yarn.
(Not unlike a young Jay Leno!)
Next to the lumaconi heads were, logically, the paccheri torsos.
Here’s a fun fact off the Inter-Web we loved sharing with our little puppeteers: According to honestfoods.com, paccheri were designed during the Middle Ages to smuggle fat Sicilian garlic cloves over the Alps into what is now Austria, where Italian garlic had been outlawed in order to protect the local market of the weak, skinny, Prussian variety. Our kids agreed: A garlic-smuggling torso is a boon to any self-respecting Italian marionette!
And so our little Pasta-nocchio, once a disjointed collection of odd shapes made from duram wheat, became a real puppet! Children from far and near came to assemble his little appendages and attach them to strings while learning about authenticity and selflessness and unconditional love and truth and politics and international trade regulations.
Months later, during the five-PM pantry scan for something quick to make for dinner, I unearthed a left over half-bag of lumaconi and a few handfuls of paccheri. Now, I’m a compassionate person with pretty solid food ethics, but did I hesitate to cook up a delicious bowl of Pasta-nocchio heads and torsos stuffed with ricotta and tossed in a nice marinara? I did not.
Instead I served and ate them with gusto, secure in the knowledge that across the county happy, real Pasta-nocchios were living out their tiny lives in the hands of clever LitWitters who had experienced a “field trip inside the book” they would never forget. And who would be inspired to go on to read MORE great books and learn MORE great things. Which is, after all, the ultimate bullseye of all our LitWitty “make-it-real” goals.