This post covers one of the highlights of our 2012 trip to Italy. Why don't you join us next January for a week-long trip to Emilia-Romagna, Italy, to forage for porcini, and learn to make preserves, pasta, piadina and more at the hands of local artisans who do it the way it's been done for generation upon generation. Tickets are on sale now!
Note: I've taken a hiatus in writing posts about our Italy trip due to the horrific quakes that plagued northern Emilia-Romagna, killing several, displacing thousands and destroying hundreds of thousands of euros of Parmigiano-Reggiano and Grana Padano. I didn't feel it was right to effuse about our amazing trip while many were suffering. Things seem to have settled down a bit, now.
For our last day in Cesenatico, we had an unexpected gap in the agenda. When Vanessa and I built the trip, we figured the Big Pig Day would take a day and a half, but the norcino decisively said nò. And he was right -- we managed to complete the work in one day.
So, on the day before everyone else arrived, Vanessa proposed an alternative for Friday morning: We would have a pasta making session with her nonna, Fernanda, who runs the hotel, and Sandra, la sfoglina, whose job it is to make pasta for the hotel every day. Although pasta making is not really on-topic for Punk Domestics, I personally couldn't resist the opportunity to learn at the hands of these skilled women.
Boy, am I glad we chose to do this.
As we entered the hotel restaurant, we were met with a flank of tables with large wooden boards, along with bowls of flour and eggs. Straight away, Fernanda and Sandra got us started on making our doughs, starting with one for strozzapreti.
This dough is different than the typical egg pasta dough you commonly see through Emilia-Romagna, containing only one egg per pound of flour and using water to bring the dough together; regular egg pasta contains five eggs and no water. And they told us that, traditionally, strozzapreti was made with only flour and water. The eggs was a more modern addition to make the dough more pliable.
Remember how I told you that there has long been an anti-clerical sentiment in Romagna? Never is it more clear than in this pasta. Once the dough is rolled out, it's cut into strips, which you then take between your palms and give a quick, sharp twist, and then pinch off, creating curled lengths. The name strozzapreti means "strangle the priest." So, the twist-and-snap action is a metaphor for killing clergy. (More on strozzapreti here.)
Pastamaker-on-priest violence aside, this is a pretty easy pasta to make. From there we went on to make a standard pasta dough, using the traditional method of creating a well in a mound of flour and gently beating eggs into it, integrating the flour until the dough comes together. And then you roll.
And then the ladies show you how you're supposed to roll.
And then the ladies do the rolling themselves.
I've made pasta dozens of times, but never hand-rolled. I'm pleased to say that, as long as you have a big, wooden board and a long, straight rolling pin, it's not that hard. Though you probably won't quite get it thin enough to pass nonna's muster on the first try. A couple good tricks are to catch one end of it on the edge of the board so you can push the rolling pin forward, stretching the dough, and rolling the entire dough around the pin and giving it a good back and forth. (Related: A photo essay on making pasta.)
This basic dough is good for nearly all forms of pasta; it's all about how you cut it. For starters, we made cappelletti, little stuffed pastas akin to tortellini (but they are not tortellini and don't you dare mix them up!) The pasta is cut into squares, and then you wrap each square around a tiny dollop of ricotta-based filling. The trick is to fold the past into a triangle around the filling, then wrap it backwards around your fingertip to bring the corners together. Then, when you bend the tip back, it resembles a tiny hat -- a cappelletto (pictured, top).
Want something less labor-intensive? Then just roll up your dough and cut it into medium strips for tagliatelle.
Or infinitesimally thin strips for tagliolini.
And when you're just down to scraps, you can simply cut it into tiny, irregular pieces for maltagliati, excellent for soups.
Much as on the Big Pig Day, frugality was a major theme here. As I mentioned, I've made pasta plenty of times, and when I do I always end up with little piles of excess flour and pasta scraps that I invariably toss in the compost. Not these ladies. Every single grain of flour, every minute scrap of pasta was painstakingly reintegrated into the dough and used. I felt ashamed for my wasteful ways.
The major highlight for us was getting to make passatelli, a form of pasta special to Emilia-Romagna. Unlike typical pasta, which is made from flour and eggs and/or water, passatelli is more like a dumpling made from breadcrumbs, eggs, Parmigiano-Reggiano, flour and a touch of nutmeg.
We had passatelli on our first day, after learning preserves with Marzia, and we got to watch the process then. The dough is more of a stiff paste, almost like Pla-Doh. It's formed into balls, and then extruded through a special press directly over a pot of boiling stock.
The noodles are then cut directly into the stock. It's a bit similar to spaetzle, only stiffer and harder to press through.
Traditionally, passatelli are served right in the broth they're cooked in. In this state, they form a sort of thick, shaggy noodle with a slightly al dente core. Modern chefs are breaking out of the mold, though, and draining them and tossing them with sauces, or frying them up in butter. You can also create a big roll of the dough, roll it up in shrink wrap, boil it, and cut into disks. This is called salame matto -- crazy salame -- and is typically served with poached chicken and potatoes which, like the salame matto, have been boiled in the stock made from poaching the chicken. It's hearty, honest food.
Finally, of course, we ate our own handiwork, a great big gluteny pastafest that left us all sated and happy. And while I feel like my pasta-making skills were enhanced on that day, I also realize that I have a lot of years ahead of me before I get even remotely as good as Fernanda and Sandra.