Monday, May 23, 2011

Pasta, Made in Italy

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In the kitchen of the average Roman of my generation you will likely find boxed pasta and jars of store bought pasta sauce. People are busy. They work, they fight the city's chaos to and from work, they have personal lives. Their mothers and some fathers may be excellent cooks, but a lot of this knowledge did not get passed along. The Slow Food Movement may have originated here in Italy, but in modern households, handmade pasta is quickly becoming a thing of the past.

Last week, the prospect of leaving Italy having made my own pasta only once started to weigh heavily on me. So I called nonna Elena. When she came over, I was already eagerly weighing the flour. I measured out 200 grams of grano duro (ground durum wheat flour), mounded it up, and made a crater into which I cracked two eggs - one then another.

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With Elena supervising, I incorporated, kneaded, rolled, dried and cut the pasta. Then for the next three days straight, I did it all again.

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Elena taught me this trick, where you roll the pasta as I'm showing here, folding both edges in towards the center. Then cut even strands of fettuccine and slide the knife carefully underneath the pasta.

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When you lift up the knife, the long strands should unfold beautifully.

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We ate ours with a typical Roman cacio e pepe. Sharp pecorino romano cheese and black pepper, toasted in the pan for extra heat. This is on the menu of virtually every Roman hostaria; however I must admit, I've never been able to eat an entire plate full. I find it overly strong, too heavy, and overwhelmingly salty. I prefer to make it at home so I can control the amount of cheese and make it more palatable to my taste.

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Now I have graduated. I can go forth and make fresh pasta in the New World. Plates and plates of it. Friends, family, get ready!

Cacio e Pepe for spaghetti or fresh pasta
Adapted from Bon Appetit
For 2

The secret to releasing the flavor of the black pepper is to toast it in a dry pan first. Purists would probably serve their cacio e pepe with spaghetti, albeit from a box.

6 ounces of pasta (spaghetti, bucatini, tagliolini or other)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter (I used less butter and added a swig of olive oil.)
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or more, to taste
3/4 cup to 1 cup freshly grated pecorino romano cheese

Bring a large pot of water to boil for your pasta. When it starts to boil, add enough salt so that if you (bravely) dip your finger in, it tastes like the sea. Be sure to keep the pasta al dente.

Meanwhile, toast the black pepper in a dry sauté pan for about one minute. Add about 1/4 cup of your pasta water to stop the pepper from cooking, then add the butter and stir to melt. As soon as your pasta is cooked, add it to the sauté pan and turn off the heat. Coat the pasta with the butter and pepper and sprinkle in the cheese, mixing it all together gently. Add more pasta water if the sauce seems dry, and serve.

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12 comments:

  1. Great tutorial Nicole! I love making my own pasta but rarely do due to those same reasons you mention above. Busy lives do this to us all, no?

    Love the last photograph.
    Magda

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  2. Wow! I make homemade pasta just once a year right before Christmas for Anvei d'natal (small ravioli with brasato filling that's been a long-standing family tradition of ours) but I don't roll them by hand! I use the very useful gaggia stendi pasta so now I feel lazy!
    Your fettucine look awesome, now I'm hungry.

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  3. Nicole: all I can say is you graduated...cum laude!!!

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  4. Your step-by-step pictures of the pasta making process are beautiful. You make it look so easy. I tried a couple of times and I was never satisfied by the results. You will make people happy now wherever you go!
    P.S. glad to see you and Moomser have hooked up!

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  5. Magda, For sure, being busy does complicate cooking. Happens to the best of us :)

    Moomser- I'd love to learn more about your brasato filling for ravioli!!

    Amelia: I may have "graduated" but I think there will be years of post-grad study. Starting with your ravioli, which didn't turn out very well for me. I think I sort of chickened out.

    Fiona: Thank you! Try again. Sometimes the third time's the charm :)

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  6. Cacio e pepe is one of my favorite dish in the world but I cannot cook it at home.... somehow the cheese always clumps together instead of turning to a beautiful smooth cream like the one you get in restaurant... :( Will have to come to Rome next time I'm in Italy and get my fix!

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  7. That looks totally great. I'd love to make this sometime.
    Do you mind if I ask you a technical question?
    Did you use natural light or bounce a flash?
    all best,
    Aron
    www.babymine.net
    www.hitherandthither.net

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  8. Hi Aron, Glad you stopped by for a visit.
    My husband takes all the photos for the blog and he said he uses natural light plus bounce.
    Love your websites.
    -Nicole

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  9. OK, I am having major issues w/commenting on blogger!!! So let's see if this goes thru?? TEST

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  10. DesignWineandDineMay 26, 2011 at 11:34 AM

    it worked! For some reason I can not comment on blogs using my blogger goggle account? Oh well anywhoo...I am proud of you for making pasta at all even if it's only your second & now last tim making it in Rome! Your blog is wonderful, pictures, writing, food and all!

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  11. DWD- a lot of us have problems sometimes with commenting on blogger! usually works if I use my google account though!
    Thanks for reading, your blog is GREAT. :) -nicole

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  12. How gorgeous! Unfortunately, I left my pasta-making skills behind in Italy. I can never seem to get it to turn out right in the States.

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