I am Italian, I make pasta

Spelt pasta rolls

And after taking a stroll around the world, foodwise (I saw this lovely old movie a few nights ago), here I am, back home: back to Italy, with pasta.

Like most Italian people who cook, I often make my own. Fresh pasta is a completely different product from ‘regular’ dried durum wheat pasta, the one sold in every supermarket; and it is infinitely better  than store-bought fresh pasta, unless of course you have a good pastificio artigianale down the road. For these reasons, if you have never eaten it, you really should give this (or any other recipe) a try. Once you learn the basics, it is easy to make: I have tested this on a few friends, who asked me to teach them how to make pasta: they could not believe the sumptuous dish of pappardelle al ragù we produced after a mere couple of hours work.

(It can take less than that, with some experience; it will take more than that, if you make ragù without a pressure cooker).

Pasta does not require hi tech equipment, but it does require equipment. You can work and spread the dough entirely by hand  or using machines, but either way,  you are going to need  somewhere to put ready pasta: a clean, flat, non sticky surface that you can possibly carry around to allow the pasta to reach its cooking pot. In most modern, space limited kitchen I have worked with, I have found this to be the greatest challenge. This is also why I rarely prepare home-made pasta when inviting friends over for dinner: space limitations begin to count if you make pasta for more than four-five people. In several traditional Italian houses there is a large, lightweight spianatoia: a thin wooden board, sturdy enough to hold some weight, that can be stored in some corner when not in use, and is then arranged on top of the table, as an extension, to accommodate pasta and carry it around.  Another popular solution is to use multi-tiered trolleys covered with trays or kitchen towels.

For some reason I have never managed to implement  any of these, and have been stuck most time with make-do solutions involving cutting boards and kitchen cloths shuffled around the apartment on every available surface, ready to be chased by the cats. With my parents we even dismantled the  doors of a wardrobe and used them to carry pasta around. It was an emergency situation.

Anyway, you’ll have to display some creative flare, and make do with what you have at hand,  if you want to prepare a lot of pasta. This is a quintessentially Italian art, both in spirit and in practice. Indeed there exist Italian mamme e nonne (occasionally even some grandfather, why not) who think nothing of making pasta for ten people every Sunday lunch among three or four other courses, of course after going to Mass.

Personally, I never make pasta for more than four people, little lazy expat that I am. Most of the time I make it for two. This does not take long. I come from the Northern part of Italy, so the huge variety of hand-made tiny pasta shapes is kind of exotic to me. I am studying with every grandmother I meet, but I need more dedication. For my background, pasta is either filled ravioli and tortellini, or tagliatelle, made with soft wheat flour and a lot of eggs to guarantee some bite. I tend to move away from this and more and more include durum wheat and cut down on the eggs: the flavour of durum wheat flour is so appealing. I knead my dough by hand (actually, mostly by fork) since I don’t have a food processor, but feel free to use it if you have one. To roll the dough, I have two rolling pins I use sometimes, but I  do have a pasta maker I use regularly:

My pasta machine

it was my grandmother’s (not this one, the other one, who died when I was a child), who did not care much about cooking, anyway, so although I  think this pasta maker was produced  in the seventies, it was basically new when I started to use it, more than thirty years later. It is not a top quality one, despite the ‘tipo lusso’ engraved on it: actually a few years of regular usage are already taking their toll on it. I have used a variety of filled bottles more or less effectively in place of missing rolling pins, but while this can work for pastry, don’t try that for pasta, or you are going to hate yourself and the pasta.

I make a variety of pasta doughs that are quite my own recipes. My signature one is made with black  cuttlefish ink – but there is not a black cuttlefish in sight at least for two thousand kilometers. The one I am sharing with you today is a recent addiction to my repertoire. To my surprise, it is very easy to find in Germany ‘dinkel mehl’, spelt flour, akin to the Italian farro. Spelt flour has something earthy on it, but is subtle enough not to produce health food taste, if you know what I mean. Actually this flour has grown to be my go-to flour when I don’t need much gluten. It always works and it always adds a little something. I pair it here with semola and  eggs for bite. The result is a golden, flavourful pasta that needs a runny, greasy sauce, and will pay you back with an interesting bite and a deep flavour. Try dressing it with either version of ragù, or with an artichoke creamy sauce. As far as shape is concerned, tagliatelle are always a good option, but with many sauces I like to keep a rustic look and cut it in large and short pappardelle. They are also easier to eat for non-adept pasta eaters. Since this is an original recipe of mine, I am sending this to Creative Concoctions, a new event invented by the always creative Ivy. I’m looking forward to the upcoming roundup – I’m sure there will be a lot of interesting ideas.

Tagliatelle di farroTagliatelle di farro

For two:

100 gr durum wheat flour (semola di grano duro)

100 gr spelt flour

1 medium egg

about 5 tablespoon water

1/4 teaspoon salt

Method:

Mix well the two flours .  I find sifting non necessary, but you may want to do it if your flours are very lumpy. Put them on a very large bowl so that they look like a little volcano. Make a hole in the center and break the egg into it. Add the salt and whisk the egg with a fork until roughly uniform. Add in two tablespoons of water, at room temperature. Keep mixing with a fork and start incorporating some of the flour from the walls. Mix more and more until all the egg is absorbed by the flour. Put down the fork and start kneading by hand. You may need to add more water, a tablespoon at a time, to allow the dough to come together. Bear in mind that the resulting dough needs to be very hard, so try to add the minimum amount you need to have a uniform, but non sticky, dough. When the dough is uniform enough to make a ball of it, take it off the bowl (if you want to) and work it by kneading it for a few minutes until perfectly uniform and elastic. With a little experience you can do also this on the bowl, reducing washing.  Wrap in cling film and let rest for about half an hour. Rest is important to make the dough lose a little elasticity; it is crucial if you want to roll the dough by hand, but optional if you use a pasta machine.

If you roll the dough by hand: use a large surface with semola, and roll the dough uniformly using a rolling-pin. Make sure the dough does not stick. When it is about 1.5 mm thick (you can go even thinner if you like, or make it thicker for more bite), cut it into large strips, then roll them and cut them into the desired shape.

If you use a pasta machine: pass the dough in the largest width of the pasta maker for a few times, until the air bubbles in the pasta make it pop. This is a sign that the pasta has the right elasticity to be rolled thinly. Divide the dough in about three parts, pass each in an intermediate gauge then in the second or third smaller one, depending on the desired thickness. Dust with a bit of semola, cut into 25 cm long pieces, roll them and cut into  slices, about 2 cm high.

Unfold the slices and allow them to dry on a kitchen towel spread with semola for a while (make up to a day ahead). When ready to serve, cook the pasta for 3 minutes in plenty of salted boiling water. Drain and dress. Serve immediately.

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15 Responses to “I am Italian, I make pasta”

  1. You are not the only one wishing he had cuttlefish available. We have squid here, but it it not exactly the same thing. Space: you are totally right. If I want a board large enough to roll the pasta, I must have it custom-made. I bought the biggest one available and it is way too small. So, I also have a machine. I have never used spelt flour to make pasta. I will follow your suggestion next time. I make tagliatelle fairly often, sometimes even a single egg-worth. It’s not trouble at all, and, as you say, it makes the meal. I love the top photo.

  2. Love, love, love The Apartment. One of my fav films. Thank you for sharing this original pasta recipe! I grew up on homemade pasta…going to have to ask my father about his recipe. Would love to try your cuttlefish pasta!

  3. Thank you very much for participating at Creative Concoctions. I love homemade pasta but I have never made it using spelt flour. I also have the same problem where to put them to dry.

  4. ho fatto le mie prime tagliatelle anche io domenica (l’altro ieri) con la mitica Imperia, traslocata in Francia per l’occasione. Come prima prova ho voluto fare un imapsto senza uova e semintegrale. Son venute buonissime, e che soddisfazione, come per te immagino.

  5. Very interesting post which raises the profile of this flour which I keep reading about but have yet to try! I will next time I make pasta.

  6. delicious looking pasta home made looks healthier

  7. Hey, I was looking for an email address to ask you this, but since I couldn’t find one, I thought I’d ask you here: since you’re Italian and seem to know what you’re talking about, do you happen to know what the fundamental difference is between minestrone and pasta e fagioli? I tried making pasta e fagioli like my grandmother did, but without any recipe to follow. I used about 1 part leftover tomato sauce, 4 parts beans, 4 parts stock, 1 part pasta along with sauteed carrots, onions and garlic and some crushed red pepper flakes and dried marjoram. The result was really delicious but reminded me of what I think of as minestrone. My grandma (the only Italian immigrant from my family whose food I have eaten, everyone else is 1st, 2nd or 3rd generation American) made a pasta e fagioli that was much lighter in color but it definitely had some tomato. Anyway, just wanted to see what you had to say about all that! Thanks :)

    • Hi Nico! You’re right, I have forgotten to add my email address – I’ve added it now on the ‘about’ page. Unfortunately (or maybe, fortunately :)) there must be as many recipes of pasta e fagioli, and of minestrone, as there are families in Italy. For us minestrone includes several vegetables, depending on the season; they are cut into cubes and cooked together in vegetable broth, and at the end you can add some pasta to it. Pasta e fagioli is a staple in my family. Our version contains a lot of beans, just a few fresh tomatoes, and possibly a bit of chopped onion, carrot and celery, but very little. It is usually prepared with fresh home made tagliatelle: I’m going to send you the recipe. I think the biggest difference between the two recipes is that after cooking the beans, some of them are milled in a vegetable mill and added back, which adds a creamy consistency to the soup: it is almost thick enough to eat with a fork.

      If you know where your grandmother came from originally, maybe we can help in finding a more similar recipe: this is the typical recipe that varies considerably in every region!

      • I actually don’t know where my grandmother was from, but her husband was from Sora, outside of Rome and I think she was fairly close to that area by coincidence (they met after immigrating to the US). I remember the “broth” of her soup because very thick and pale so milling the beans would make since, and probably using less tomato and/or more beans? What do you think? I have read that pasta e fagioli is often a vessel for leftover tomato sauce, so I would imagine that there should be some in most versions (plus most family members agree with me that there was some tomato in her soup), but adding just 14 oz of tomato turned the soup much darker than I remember her’s being. Perhaps my grandmother didn’t do this with her soup and just used a couple of fresh tomatoes, like you.

  8. Lovely post!

    My grandmother used to make fresh pasta all the time. I’ve never made my own but may someday – after I tackle the garum/colatura project I’ve just embarked on . . .

    Going to China later in the year – hoping to catch some “noodle” making as well.

    Thanks,

    Laura

    • Laura, I’m looking forward to your garum project! I am so in love with fish sauce, it is a mystery that it all but disappeared from the Mediterranean. I’m sure making pasta is much easier.
      I’ve heard there are different techniques to make noodles in China, including pulling them: I’ve never found a tutorial though, or met a Chinese that made noodles at home.

  9. I’m so glad you commented on one of my blog posts, because now I’ve found yours! Absolutely beautiful photos and I share your delight in making fresh pasta (and also totally empathise about the lack of available surfaces for it!) Having just come back from northern Italy, I read this post and am already longing to return!

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