Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Making egg pasta

If you like cucina Bolognese, you will want to make your own pasta. Once you get the hang of it, you can do the whole thing in less than half an hour. Below, we explain how it’s done. All you need is a board, a rolling pin, some flour and eggs.

Egg pasta is not exclusive to Bolognese cookery but it is essential to it in a way that is not true of the other places where it is also popular, such as Venice. It is used to make the noodles or tagliatelle which accompany the famous Bolognese meat sauce, the ragù. It is also used to make stuffed pasta, especially tortellini, the little meat-filled parcels that are the highlight of Christmas Eve supper and celebrations such as weddings and communions. The meatless versions are called tortelloni or tortelli or tortellaci. Egg pasta is also used to make the small sheets of pasta which go into that other Bolognese must-eat, lasagne.

If you’re pushed for time, and decide to buy fresh egg pasta from a supermarket or deli, don’t make the mistake of overcooking it. On the other hand, if you are making lasagne, and using bought pasta, don’t make the mistake of not pre-cooking it at all (whatever it says on the label). It will not cook properly and taste raw when it’s served. Parboil the lasagne sheets for two minutes and drain them well before laying them on a tea-cloth until you are ready to make the lasagne.

Stuffed Pasta

Almost every city in north and central Italy has its own version of stuffed pasta. Ravioli, agnolotti, tortellone are variations on the same theme, using different shaped or sized envelopes and a variety of fillings.

The pasta can also be coloured and flavoured with nettles, spinach or tomato. Some of these are more robust than tortellini and can cope with a strong partner such as a meat sauce or simply cream and parmesan. Although the artisan tradition is giving way to machine made pasta, there are still places where you can see tagliatelle and tortellini being made. Often there is a special outlet, with a workshop called a laboratorio where pasta is made. And presiding over it is the sfoglina, or pasta-maker, so called because they make a pasta sheet or foglio.

Popularly invested with semi-magical powers, the sfogline carry on the skills of their trade from generation to generation. The wrinkled old lady who used to sit at the entrance to the trattoria, patiently and expertly making stuffed pasta, like the one I remember in Lagune, up in the hills near Sasso Marconi, is no more, alas, and most people these days buy their pasta from their favourite pasticceria (which also sells pastries and sweets).

One place that still has a sfoglina is Anna Maria, a restaurant in the centre of Bologna, a favourite with audiences, performers and the orchestra from the Teatro Comunale nearby.

The celebrated Anna Maria in full flow

Just down the street, behind an anonymous shop front, is the lab. where Nicoletta Bussolari makes egg pasta for the restaurant. She tells us, 'It's a creative thing. I feel a lot of passion for making pasta. Very simple, just eggs and flour'.

Nicoletta with a foglio
Just around the corner is another laboratorio run by Osteria dell Orsa where you can buy tagliatelle, tortellini and tortelloni.

Orsa: Scruffy entrance, delectable food

We watched as Roberto Gasperini– a rare male sfoglino – and Ornella Visentini rapidly made a batch of tortellini. ‘And what is the filling for this half-moon shaped pasta?, we wanted to know. ‘Ah, that’s a special one, just for the Osteria’, replied Roberto, and he paused, ‘But if you come back at lunchtime I’ll make sure there’s some set aside for you.’ And he did.

Roberto and Ornella: Orsa's Sfogline

La Locanda del Castello at Palazzo de Rossi also has a laboratorio, behind their takeaway deli, Torte e Tortelli, just up the road in Borgonuovo. This large catering kitchen is equipped with a giant mechanical pasta roller which comes into its own for large scale events like weddings. But most of the time, their sfoglina works with the same equipment as all the others: a matarello, a metre long rolling pin, a rolling table, strong arms and a good eye.

Egg pasta – how the experts make it

Nicoletta makes the whole process look very easy. First, you measure out the flour, which must be pasta flour, marked OO on the package. The rule of thumb is 100g of pasta per person, and one medium sized egg per 100g. If you make the pasta on a board, make the flour into a volcano shape with a crater in the centre.
Crack the eggs into it and mix together with a fork or your hands, as she does, until you have created a large cylinder of dough.

Above: making the flour volcano. Right: amalgamating flour and eggs
If the eggs are corn-fed, they will lend the pasta that distinctive and appealing yellowness. (Hopefully, the colour will be natural rather than an additive.)

Kneading the dough
Now, knead the pasta on a floured board by pushing it away from you with the heel of your palms, folding it over, and pushing it away again, until the pasta loses its stickiness and becomes elastic. You can do all this using a food mixer. Don’t begrudge this part of the process; it produces pasta that is more easily worked and doesn’t stick. Then, wrap it in cling film and leave it to rest for an hour.

Now you roll it out. Sfogline use a matarello but you can use an ordinary pastry rolling pin. In Marcello dall’Aglio’s lab. at Borgonuovo where the take away food is made, they have an immense rolling machine which is less romantic but very fast for large quantities. Or you can use a domestic pasta machine. Don’t skimp on the number of times you feed the pasta through the machine. Three or four times at each width setting will produce smoother, silkier pasta. Once the pasta is rolled, it can be sliced to make tagliatelle (usually 6-8mm wide), or the broader pappardelle, or cut up into rectangles for lasagne or stuffed. If you are making stuffed pasta, don’t let it go dry, otherwise it will be difficult to seal the edges together.

1 comment:

  1. grazie martin per esserti ricordato dell'osteria dell'orsa,se tornerai in italia spero che verrai a bologna per salutarci ,un abbraccio.

    roberto gasperini.