a year ago or so, my husband and i took a train from florence to bologna, the heartland of emilia romagna, and found ourselves making pasta at the “bologna cooking school.” we had our misgivings at first.
we wandered up and down via c. boldrini–a rather nondescript street filled with office buildings and mostly closed shops–looking for building #6, or anything that looked like it could be a school for that matter. we found #8 and #4 but were at a lost as to where #6 might be. there was an iron gate between #8 and #4, and through the cracks we thought we could see a courtyard with an apartment building behind it. it most definitely did not look anything like a cooking school. we were about to head back to our hotel, which was fortunately nearby, when an elderly gentleman, tall, bearded and bespectacled, appeared around the corner. he asked us, in a very thick italian accented english, if we were looking for the cooking school. why yes, we were! if my memory serves me correctly, his name was carlos, and for the past few weeks prior to our trip, i had been corresponding with him via email through his website to coordinate the evening.
C. lead us back down to via c. boldrini and through the very iron gate that we had walked past a half a dozen times. we did in fact cross a small courtyard and into an apartment building that looked like it was built in the earlier part of the 20th century. as we squeezed into the old-fashioned elevator, i half wondered if i had made a giant mistake; if in fact, i should have bolted right then and there. but my curiosity and desire to learn the secrets of pasta got the better of good sense. as the elevator stopped, we hopped out, turned left on the landing, and entered C’s home. he lived there with his sister luciana. they invited a close family friend, gabriella, over to teach us pasta making. we had arrived to learn bolognese pasta making in a real bolognese home kitchen.
through the course of the evening, we learned how to make tagliatelle, tortellini, tortelloni, piadinia and ragù alla bolognese. gabriella showed us how to do so with only our hands and mattarello (a wooden rolling pin). the pastas we made were all shaped from a dough called sfoglia, or fresh egg pasta. the recipe is simple enough: 1 egg (~60g) to 100g of flour. mastering pasta making takes a bit more; gabriella told us that with practice, we will feel the right consistency with our hands and know the adjustments to make. we do notice, as well, that the egg yolks in bologna are orange, not yellow — like the egg yolks that you’d find from a plucky organic free range chicken grazing in the berkshires. i wonder if C and G would find our yellow american egg yolks an oddity as well.
making the sfoglia is easy. rolling it out into sheets that are almost paper thin is more of a battle. even after resting, the dough is elastic and rubbery. this is dough to be tamed. this is dough that after kneading, rolling, and shaping, becomes a pasta infused with perseverance, determination and at the bottom of all things, love.
i think that is what C meant later that evening. as we enjoyed our handmade pasta, he explained to us why he opened up the cooking school in his home. several years back, C turned the spare bedroom in his home into a bed and breakfast. an american girl, studying at another cooking school in bologna, stayed with them. one day, C, being an amateur cook himself, asked her what they taught at the school. she said pasta, which they made using pasta machines. even when recounting the story to us, C was noticeably aghast at the prospect of pasta milled through machines. tragic pasta education aside, C got the idea to start his own cooking school to teach pasta as he had learned it, and as it had been passed down in his family through the centuries. it was a pasta, whose secret lied not so much in the two components of the recipe, or in any special technique, but rather, in the process of making it and in passing that knowledge forward through time. we would learn when making the ragù alla bolognese for how many centuries his family recipe had endured.
living in nyc, i’ve made a few adaptations to C’s pasta making process. i’m afraid he will be disappointed in what a poor student i turned out to be, but at least i’m still making fresh pasta from scratch, right?
Mostly Handmade Tagliatelle
(this recipe is easily multiplied. figure about 75-100g of flour per a single person. i used about 300g to make my batch of tagliatelle. it keeps well.)
AP Flour 100g
Egg 1 egg (~60g)
- Mix together flour and egg in the bowl of your stand mixer using a dough hook (I made my batch using 300g of flour. If you’re making a small quantity, you may find it easier to use the paddle attachment).
- Do not add water to the dough. If you need more moisture, add some more egg white.
- When the dough comes together, remove it form the bowl and continue to knead on a well floured surface. [Note: C believes that sfoglia should really be kneaded and rolled on a warm wo0den surface. A wooden cutting board can be used if you’ve got one handy.]
- The dough is ready when it is soft, smooth, and elastic. It also should not stick to the surface.
- Cover the dough and let the dough rest for 30 minutes.
- On a well floured surface, start to roll-out the dough until it is about 1/2 cm thick. You will need to change directions and help things along by slightly stretching the pastry out as your roll it. Doing so, takes me at least 20 minutes but don’t be surprised if it takes even longer if you’re doing this the first time.
- Flour the flattened dough and fold it into 1 long 3 inch wide strip.
- Cut the pasta with a knife into 1 cm long strips along the short end, such that when you unfold the strip, you’ll have one long strand of tagliatelle.
- Toss all the folded strips together with flour. The strips should unfold to reveal the freshly made tagliatelle noodles.
- Fresh pasta cooks in less time than dried pasta – figure 1.5 to 3 minutes in boiling water depending on how al dente you like it.
Note: we ate our tagliatelle with ragù alla bolognese (forthcoming post). The noodles were tossed in the sauce with some some pasta water.