Saturday, October 10, 2009

Not All Pasta is Created Equal

I promised you a piece about pasta and here it comes....
We were treated to an amazing pasta class from 2 young ladies, Francesca and Martina.  They have started a small business called  Manimpasta, where they teach the traditional Bolognese method of pasta making.  No, machines, no gimmicks, just good ingredients, a rolling pin and a lot of elbow grease.
Before I forget, you can reach them at  The classes are taught either in English or Italian, your choice.  If you will be in Bologna, I suggest you book in advance, as the classes are kept small and will fill up once the word is out.  It is nice to see young people with such great passion for their work.

I have made my own pasta before to decent results.  But this pasta was something very different indeed. We used the freshest of eggs, with extremely yellow yolks, and the perfect flour.  The only flour to use is 00 (doppio zero)...but it is difficult to find in the States. If you have an Italian market that will supply you with this flour, then you are lucky indeed.  If not, you can order from King Arthur, but the price is pretty high.  I was also told by Francesca that she found cake flour to be the best alternative if you can't find the real thing.

Where I have been going completely wrong, in my pasta making, is that I use a machine to roll out the dough. I have to admit, it was a bit challenging at times because it is hard to crank the machine, and pass the dough through the rollers without creasing it.  If I am to be honest, rolling it by hand ends up being less frustrating, if a bit more work.  Also, when making the tagliatelle, you get nice long and even strands when you roll and cut by hand.  I am a convert. I am a convert because the results are so extraordinary.  The difference is remarkable.   Here is a short video of Francesca and Martina rolling out dough for tagliatelle.
See how easy they make it look?  Trust me, it's not that easy...but it is not impossible either

The tortellini we made were so small, I was ready to flag down a small child to help me.  My hands were like a catcher's mitt in comparison to F and M.  They were zip, zip, zipping through the folding process and I was like superman holding kryptonite. For the first 10 or 15, I couldn't even fathom how to fold the dough.  Then, after watching Francesca enough times,  I was able to do it.  And then, I looked down and I had a table full of tortellini.  Each piece was about the size of a penny and was filled with an amazing combination of ground pork (pork loin, mortadella, and prosciutto) and ready to be served in tortellini en brodo (chicken broth with tortellini).
The tagliatelle were cut and formed into "nests" and left to dry.  Once dried, they can be covered and stored for months to come.  I can tell you that we have eaten quite a few dishes of tagliatelle with ragu bolognese while here, and it is a perfect combination. YUM!

Here are a few recipes courtesy of Francesca and Martina.  This is just a sampling of what I learned and  just a primer to what I intend to learn.
 What I now know, is that living a rich life is as much about the effort as the result.
Pasta Dough
3 cups 00 or cake flour
5 extra large eggs 
Put the flour on your counter and make a well in the middle.  Break the eggs inside the well and using a fork, stir the eggs as if you are making an omelet.  Using the fork, bring the flour into the eggs to begin forming a dough. Continue bringing the flour in until you have a sticky mixture.  Begin working the rest of the flour in by hand and knead for at least 10 minutes.  The dough must be very smooth and well kneaded before leaving it to rest for 10 minutes.  Cover the dough with plastic or a towel or something to discourage a "skin" from forming.  When ready, use a bit of flour so the dough does not stick and roll very thin.  Cut or shape as desired.

Filling for the tortellini
2/3 cup good mortadella
1/3 cup pork loin
1/2 lb prosciutto
1 1/4 cup parmesan cheese
3 eggs
salt and pepper to taste
pinch of nutmeg
grind together very fine and keep in the refrigerator until ready to use.


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