Discover more from Letters from Tuscany
Braised Onion Ragù from Pasta Every Day
Plus a chat with Meryl Feinstein about her upcoming cookbook
As summer is slowly coming to an end, I have another surprise for you.
It has been a season dedicated to new cookbooks: first we had a chance to explore Abruzzo and its cuisine with Domenica Marchetti’s pantry Q&A and recipes from her Everyday Italian Cookbook, then we moved to Liguria and its lesser known recipes thanks to Enrica Monzani and her cookbook The Flavors of Liguria, and finally we explored the fantastic world of tomatoes with Martha Holmberg and her cookbook Simply Tomato.
Meet pasta Every Day, by Meryl Feinstein
I have several books on fresh pasta, and I love them all, but I have never found a book so comprehensive, easy to use, and original as Pasta Every Day, by. , and now also in every bookstore, thanks to her upcoming cookbook, Pasta Every Day, that will be published on September 12th.
What I love about this book, is that it is not the usual pasta cookbook. As Meryl explains on her comprehensive post announcing Pasta Every Day:
The recipes are organized not as complete dishes—say, ricotta ravioli with butter and sage—but by pasta’s core components: doughs, shapes, fillings (for stuffed pastas), and sauces. These can be mixed and matched to create endless combinations so, like generations of pasta makers before us, you can make what you like with what you have. (For the more straitlaced among us, don’t worry—there are plenty of suggested dough-shape, shape-sauce, and shape-filling-sauce pairings peppered throughout.) And yes, there are gluten-free and vegan doughs, and tons of luxurious vegetarian options, too.
I spent the summer months with her book: I loved how you could get endless recipes, combining pasta dough and fillings, following your mood, taste, season, and pantry. I felt seen in my desire to explore and learn, and hold by hand in the trickier preparations.
Besides this, all the photos are beautiful, but always usueful, as they perfectly describe and illustrate each pasta technique, be it foglie d’ulivo (olive leaves) or herb-laminated pasta, one of my favourite, and most romantic, pasta options.
In today’s newsletter I had a chat with Meryl about pasta making, as I know this is a theme that is very dear to your heart, as it is to mine.
Giulia: Thank you Meryl for taking the time to answer these questions. I’d love to start by asking you which is your first memory related to fresh pasta. It must have been a show-stopping moment if that influenced the creation of your successful project dedicated to fresh pasta.
Meryl: My memories of fresh pasta are peppered throughout my childhood—as a kid, I’d order pasta at any restaurant I could. I didn’t try making fresh pasta until much later, and it was actually my husband who introduced it into our home. When he moved to the US several years ago (he’s from England), he started experimenting in the kitchen, wanting to tackle more and more ambitious projects. Fresh pasta was one of the first, and I was enlisted to help (this was well before I switched careers and went to culinary school). We made an artichoke agnolotti dish from The French Laundry cookbook without any experience, preparation, or equipment. Which means we started cooking at 5pm, sat down to our tiny bowls of pasta at 10pm, and ordered a pizza at 10:05.
I know I’m not the only one who’s had this type of experience—for those of you who have struggled, I know how you feel!—but I’ve since made it my mission to show people that making fresh pasta does not need to be complicated, and you can make pasta with what you already have in your kitchen. My more romantic story of how I fell in love with fresh pasta was in Modena, and you’ll find that in the introduction to the book!
G: When it comes to making fresh pasta for the first time, what are your top 3 tips for beginners?
You don’t need fancy tools (or even eggs!) to make fresh pasta. I think there’s a common misconception that if you’re not spending money on machines, cutters, and drying racks, then it’s not worth trying. That’s just not true. So many pastas are made without equipment or just everyday kitchen items, and those are the pasta I personally love most.
Making pasta only gets easier. It’s an activity that I love to share with family and friends, or use it as a way to de-stress on my own. Enjoy the process—as with any new skill, you’ll only get better with practice. Prepping ahead and staying organized (weighing your ingredients, gathering any tools/materials at the start, making fillings and sauces in advance if you can) also makes everything more streamlined and enjoyable. Also, keep snacks on hand because making pasta takes time!
Don’t stress; it’s just pasta! The worst that can happen is you end up with an ugly-delicious plate of food.
G: I know this is always a difficult question, but do you have a favourite pasta recipe in this book? Something that maybe took you lots of experimentation and tweaking and that makes you proud now?
M: What a great question! I’d probably say the port-braised lamb ragù with shallots and rosemary. Which is ironic, because I didn’t eat meat for about a decade before working on this book. I love this recipe because it was a challenge to create (there were many tests!) and because it brings me back to my Jewish roots—slow-cooked meat and sweet wine are hallmarks of Jewish cooking, particularly around the holidays.
G: And do you have a favourite tool to make fresh pasta?
M: I’m going to pick two: 1) a gnocchi board, because it’s inexpensive and incredibly fun to use, and 2) a hand-crank pasta machine, because if you invest in one of those (the Marcato Atlas 150 is my favorite), you can make pretty much anything. Between those two tools, I’d say you’ve got 99% of the shapes in this book covered.
G: Is there a pasta shape that you consider easy to make for beginners?
M: It would have to be our shared favorite: pici! I always recommend beginners start with pici (hand-rolled Tuscan spaghetti). You only need regular flour, water, and maybe a bit of olive oil for the dough, and no special equipment. It’s a great project for the whole family, not to mention I love their udon-like chewy texture and the way they hold pretty much any sauce. So craveable, so yummy!
G: Speaking of the recipe, we'd love for you to suggest to our readers a recipe from your book that you think is mind-blowing, either because of the ingredients, a certain step/technique, or the filling. The one that everyone should prepare at least once in their life. I've read all the recipes, and honestly, I cannot pick one! :D
M: I don’t think I can pick one either! For fillings, the Alpine cheese fondue filling is, of course, delicious, but it’s also just really cool how you can transform melty, gooey cheese into a pipeable filling that then bursts in your mouth when you cook it. For sauces, in addition to the lamb ragù, I love the braised onion ragù—such a warm and inviting sauce that’s vegetarian, too—and the smoky pumpkin sauce is one of my (and my husband’s) old favorites that’s totally unexpected, not to mention it comes together quickly!
Thank you again Meryl for taking the time to answer these questions and for sharing some insight into the process of making Pasta every Day. If you have more questions for Meryl, regarding fresh pasta or her cookbook, leave them in the comments.
In the newsletter archive you can also find another recipe from Meryl, her spiced red lentil soup with ditalini.
And, in the meantime, enjoy her recipe for Braised Onion Ragù!
RECIPE - Braised Onion Ragù
This sauce is loosely inspired by a Bolognese dish called il friggione, a flavorful combination of slow-cooked onions and tomatoes. You’ll find il friggione served with meat, as a side dish, and as an antipasto—but, of course, it works well with pasta, too. Like most oniony dishes, the key to this one is time: Traditionally, the onions are marinated in sugar for a couple of hours before being cooked down for many more. This version is entirely untraditional, but the jammy, tomatoey essence is there, and it pairs particularly well with the roasted garlic and rosemary filling on page 222.
Pair it with » Cappelletti (168) • “Classic” Ravioli (152) • Garganelli (142) • Pappardelle (131) • Potato Gnocchi (67) • Ricotta Gnocchi (60) • Tagliatelle (131) • Tortelloni (172)
Make it vegan » Swap the butter for a dairy-free alternative, skip the Parmigiano.
Serves 4 - Enough for 22 ounces fresh pasta or 16 ounces dried pasta
6 tablespoons (85 grams) unsalted butter, divided
2¼ pounds (1 kg; about 4 medium) yellow onions, thinly sliced into half moons
3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1⁄4 cup (60 grams) tomato paste
1⁄2 cup (120 ml) dry white wine like Pinot Grigio
A pinch of ground cloves
2 bay leaves
3 cups (720 ml) low-sodium vegetable or chicken stock, plus more as needed
Freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon high-quality balsamic vinegar or balsamic reduction
Finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and fresh thyme, for serving
In a Dutch oven or large, heavy-bottomed sauté pan, melt 4 tablespoons of the butter over medium heat. Add the onions, season with salt, and stir to coat. Cook until the onions are soft but not browned, stirring occasionally, 5 to 10 minutes.
Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, 1 minute. Stir in the tomato paste and cook until caramelized, 1 to 2 minutes. Pour in the wine and simmer for 2 to 3 minutes, scraping up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Add a small pinch of cloves, the bay leaves, and the stock. Bring to a simmer, then reduce to a low bubble. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the liquid is absorbed and the mixture is jammy, 1½ to 2 hours. If needed, stir in additional stock, ½ cup (120 ml) at a time, to prevent burning. Remove and discard the bay leaves. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Stir in the remaining 2 tablespoons butter and the balsamic. Turn off the heat.
To serve: Cook your pasta of choice to your liking. While the pasta cooks, return the onions to medium heat. Stir in a little pasta cooking water until saucy. Transfer the pasta directly to the sauce (if you need to drain it first, reserve a little extra cooking water in case you need it) and cook, tossing frequently, until well coated, 1 to 2 minutes.
Divide the pasta among bowls and serve with Parmigiano-Reggiano and a scattering of fresh thyme.