I know, I know, there is no such thing as Venetian pasta. I just mean to say that Venice is where (at Giovanni’s insistence) I learned to make pasta from grano duro and only the rossi (yolks) of the eggs.
I am in no way a cook or connoisseur, but I certainly do like to eat, and swoon regularly (accompanied by numerous umm’s and ahh’s) over the sumptuous dishes that I’ve the good fortune to consume, in-house and fuori. My singular culinary claim to fame, however, is my pasta. I love making it, having learned from my favorite cooks, Mimma and Giuseppina, and I scramble to to whip it up whenever I have the occasion…and the time.
When I first told Giovanni about my enthusiasm for pasta-making, he scoffed. (Keep in mind, being Venetian and therefore skeptical by nature, combined with having certain bear-like tendencies, he scoffs at most things, especially when they’re proposed by n’Americana.) E come la fai? So how do you make it? I had a feeling this was a set-up, but I started to explain. “I start with Farina 00…”
…and that was as far as I got.
Naaaaaa…farina 00, ma stai scherzando! È la semola di grano duro che ci vuole per fare la pasta buona, credimi. Parliamo sul serio. “Farina 00? You’ve got to be kidding. It takes durum wheat flour to make good pasta, believe me. Let’s be serious.”
Thus ensued a long discorso on how to make pasta The Right Way: with durum or soft winter flour, with or without oil, with or without water, with or without egg whites, with or without salt (Sale dove? Mimma asks. Salt, where?). Who KNEW. I have come to understand that there are this many eventual variations for every Italian dish in existence, depending on the cook, the region…the time of day, for heaven’s sake.
Anyway, I agreed to try making Pasta According to Giovanni, to see for myself. And what do you know…aveva ragione, he was right. If you’ve tried, and are already comfortable with making pasta with tender winter farina 00, try this alternative. It may not be the be-all and end-all of pasta recipes, but along with a little pasta intuition, even I can make pasta that passes even the Giovanni test: credimi.
1 etto (3.5 ounces) durum flour (see below)
1 egg yolk
a pinch or two of salt
De Cecco makes a good durum flour (semola di grano duro) for this purpose; but also making sure that it’s finely ground (rimacinato) is important, as durum flour is much coarser, and thus will take more effort to blend well. As for the eggs: the fresher, the better. If you’re tentative about making pasta, try making enough for only two people until you gain confidence.
The Play-doh Phase.
Put the flour in an ample mixing bowl. Don’t worry that the amount is precise; you can always add flour or water later to compensate for the dough being too moist or too dry. Make a hole in the middle of the flour and put the egg yolks and the salt in it (don’t even think of leaving it out. You need salt).
Whisk the eggs, then begin to mix them with the flour, first with the whisk, then with your hands when the whisk no longer serves. (You can probably use an electric mixer, or the mixing end of a motorized pasta maker, but I’ve never tried it.) You’ll think the dough will never, ever be moist enough to become dough, and won’t be yet, but mix the ingredients as well as you can in the bowl, then dump the contents on a large work space or plastic sheet. Keep scooping, working, and kneading. Add a bit of water if you need to, or even another yolk. If it’s too moist (it won’t be) add more flour.
Pazienza; this will take more time than if you were working with tender wheat flour, but it will stick to your fingers and itself a lot less, too. In any case your goal is to turn the flour, egg, and water into a doughy mass that adheres to itself, that’s amalgamato. (For me this is sensory, zen-like, and almost magical process; superbly satisfying for someone who spends entirely too much time in a digital world.)
When you finally have something that resembles the blob in the photo, cover it with the mixing bowl and let is rest for 15 minutes or more. I’m not sure this is necessary, but it seems like a nice thing to do, and gives me time to convert the rest of the kitchen into a pasta-production facility. I pull out the pasta machine and the tablecloth reserved for this process (a sheet will do nicely, by the way), clearing all the horizontal space I can lay my hands on…so to speak.
(A curious aside: only Americans ever ask if I use a matterello (rolling pin) to make pasta. Italians, never. Call me a cucina cop-out, but no, I don’t, because a) I am not in a movie; b) I am not a masochist; c) I am not being compensated monetarily to do so; d) I’m doing well to find the time to devote to get it done with the aid of a pasta machine; and e) finally, I’m sure it wouldn’t turn out nearly so well. If any or all of the above don’t apply to you however…roll on!)
Slicing the Loaf.
Now, uncover the pasta mass and roll it into a loaf, cutting off one slice at a time, just as you would a baguette. Set the pasta machine at its widest setting (7), and send the first slice through. If it’s a little moist, add a bit of flour to one side or the other to keep it from sticking. Also, run your fingers periodically underneath the machine rollers as they spin to remove any dough you find adhering there.
The first pasta sheet will likely come out craggy, looking something like the middle one in the photo. The trick with winter wheat pasta is to let the machine work the dough for you (a motor-driven machine is a big plus here), until all traces of flour disappear and it becomes the cool, smooth, silky sheet like the one next to Mr. Craggy, and those in the next photo.
To achieve this, fold the sheet in half and pass it through again (without changing the setting on the pasta machine). Fold it in half length-wise. Again. Long-ways, pass it through again. And again. You’ll work each slice till it reaches the desired consistency — all the while resisting the temptation to drape them over your shoulders and wear them like a stole. Drape them instead off the edge of the table or workspace, exposing as much as possible of each strip to the air, without it becoming too bottom-heavy and sliding off. If you have a pasta hanger, all the better.
(Having fun yet? I forgot to suggest, if you don’t think it’s going over the top, to select a favorite Verdi or Puccini opera to accompany you. Don’t tell anybody, but Bonnie Raitt works pretty well, too.)
Slicing but no dicing.
Once you’ve converted each baguette slice into a long, golden, slick strip of pasta, all that remains is to reduce the thickness of the rollers one setting at a time, passing all the strips through each respective width, until you’ve reached the thinnest you’ll need for the pasta your making. For tagliatelle, you can stop at 3, or even 4. If as they become thinner the strips begin to become long and unwieldy, just cut them in half to make them easier to manage. Your goal, however, is to get the length of each strip as close as possible to the full width of the roller.
Mount the appropriate attachment on the machine to produce the type of pasta you’d like (Giovanni says tagliatelle, as it’s the most forgiving), and pass each slice through. Spread the resulting ribbons onto a tablecloth (or a pasta hanger), giving them plenty of space to air, adding a bit of flour if needed to keep them from sticking to each other. Leave the pasta there until it’s time to buttarla giù, throw it in boiling water (it will cook in about two minutes),or until it’s dry enough to store without any danger of glomming up.
Ecco la pasta!
Serve with anything from a hearty ragù to the simplest combo of aglio, olio and parmegiano reggiano.
I’m now a confirmed convert to durum flour pasta. If you try it, and it works out…let me know. Giovanni will va fuori testa (be beside himself)!