Every Day is Pasta Day?
A collection of links, cookbooks, and newsletters for all the pasta lovers out there
The rumbling in my stomach is telling me is lunch time, I don’t need to check the clock hanging on my kitchen wall. A quick look in my pantry and I can see my meal coming together as the pieces of a puzzle: will it be pasta or rice?
I had planned a newsletter focused on pasta for World Pasta Day, on the 25th of October. Then I got carried away and I clearly missed the opportunity to send the newsletter when the whole food world was talking about pasta on Social Media. But you know what? I’m proudly out of fashion, out of time, a late bloomer, and so today we talk about pasta.
Everything you see I owe to spaghetti. – Sophia Loren
Have you ever thought about the idea that we Italians give of our lives abroad? Reflect for a moment on what you think is our normal daily routine in terms of eating. Meeting many foreign travellers during the cooking classes helped me realize that there is a romanticized view of what our eating and cooking habits are. Most of the time this interpretation does not correspond to the evolution that brought us, for good and evil, to live a faster and more pragmatic life.
Take for example the structure of the typical Italian meal, where an appetizer opens up a tight progression of different courses, all rigorously served on different plates. How many people nowadays eat like this? How many have really eaten like this in the past, especially in the countryside? Until a few years ago, during our weekly lunches with grandma, at her table, this traditional sequence was still kept alive: a plate of pasta was always followed by the main course based on meat or fish, one or two side dishes where vegetables were the protagonists, and some fruit. She also insisted on changing the plates at every course and she would almost apologize when she would skip the pasta on the menu: she had stamped on her DNA the ancient idea of hospitality that required feeding and cuddling, which was measured on the number of courses served, a moral obligation to tick all the boxes of a classic Italian menu.
Life is a combination of magic and pasta. – Federico Fellini
You can’t even imagine how many times during cooking classes I have been asked if we Italians eat only fresh pasta made from scratch.
Rolling out the dough with a rolling pin on a lightly floured wooden board, making pici just with your hands, folding neatly the tortelli: how much poetry lies in these gestures. These activities anchor you to your safe place, they link you to a line of country cooks, but the artisanal skills of making fresh pasta do not hide a daily routine of repeated gestures anymore.
I asked grandma, 94 years old, and she assured me that fresh pasta was not a daily matter. During the Second World War, in this village of fifty souls that I’ve always called home and where today there are just houses, vegetable gardens, and chickens coops, there used to be a ballroom, a political club, a bowling ground, and a tiny grocery store that would sell loose rice and pasta. There was little choice, just penne or spaghetti. You would choose your favourite shape and then you would bring your pasta home, neatly wrapped in yellow paper. Grandma would make homemade pasta from scratch once or twice a week, tagliolini, or tagliarini as she calls them. She would do this because living in the countryside had the pros of having daily fresh eggs from your chickens and flour stocked in your pantry, she would make fresh pasta for her family, and for the priest of the village, and she would make it to cook with homemade stock. The other days were all about soups, polenta, or dry pasta.
My mum also remembers that in the ’60s, in San Gimignano, the loose pasta was sold in a small grocery store, where you could choose your favourite shape from the wooden drawers of a large cupboard.
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Let’s talk about fresh pasta…
In my family, fresh pasta is only for special occasions (if I’m not teaching a cooking class).
Be it a holiday like Christmas or Easter, a family gathering, or a big dinner with friends, this is when you take out your wooden board, the rolling pin, and the pasta machine to make mounds of golden, silky sheets of dough.
Once you learn the basics of making fresh pasta, you have potentially endless possibilities. Tagliatelle, tagliolini, lasagne, pappardelle, tortelli, ravioli, maltagliati… you name one, and you can make it. They all start with the same versatile dough; what changes is simply the shape you cut your pasta into, and the ingredients you use to fill it—if you’re making a stuffed pasta—or layer it with—if you’re making lasagne.
Making fresh pasta is usually a family tradition, passed down from generation to generation. I learned to make it by spending hours with my grandma (my mum, on the other hand, still doesn't know how to make fresh pasta, if she needs it she asks me to prepare it, otherwise she buys dry egg pasta).
Nonna had her own rituals, a set of treasured tools: a worn-out tablecloth she would dust with semolina to arrange the sheets of pasta; a large wooden tray, built by my grandfather, where she would collect the ravioli; and even a long reed, cut years ago from along the nearby stream, that she would suspend between two chairs to hang the tagliatelle to dry.
I watched her every move, the precision with which she measured the flour, the rapid motions of her hands as they pulled, folded, stretched, and rolled out the dough with the pasta machine my granddad gave her years ago.
I learned the recipe by heart: flour, eggs, a drop of olive oil, and a pinch of salt. It’s like the beginning of a spell, a magic formula that brings together the humblest of ingredients and transforms them into a masterpiece.
I also learned from my grandma that patience is one of the key ingredients. Kneading fresh pasta is relatively quick, once you get the hang of it, but then you have to wait while the dough rests. This makes an incredible difference later in the process: the dough will be softer, and more relaxed, thus making it easier to roll it out, whether with a rolling pin or a pasta machine.
Fresh pasta recipes from the blog and newsletter archive:
Pici, thick home-made - hand-pulled and hand-rolled - spaghetti
Ravioli di ricotta, or when we prepared 1.500 ravioli for our wedding
My grandma’s lasagne, seven thin layers of deliciousness
Beetroot ravioli, a show-stopping dish where the magic lies in the pairings
Chestnut flour maltagliati with walnut sauce, a recipe from Lunigiana
Tagliatelle with dried porcini, and a seasonal squash and walnut pesto
Cocoa cappellacci with squash and walnuts, a festive dish for the upcoming holidays
…and dry pasta
Opening the pantry door and finding some packs of pasta waiting for you is reassuring, it means that in less than half an hour you can cook a good meal, choosing those ingredients that will become the dressing of your pasta inspired by tradition, creativity, seasonality or simply by what you have in your pantry and in your fridge. This has always been my favourite way of cooking, as the scarcity of available ingredients is stimulating, pushing you to create something good with what you have.
Lately, I opt for lots of vegetables, good olive oil, and just a few more ingredients to turn my pasta dish into a whole meal.
Dry pasta recipes from the blog and newsletter archive:
Pasta with lentils, a filling one-pot dish
Pasta with sun-dried tomato and tuna pesto, a pantry staple
Artichoke carbonara, a rich carbonara made with artichoke stems instead of guanciale
Pasta alla puttanesca, a punchy pasta dish that you can whip up in less than 20 minutes
Pasta, fagioli, e cozze, Bean, pasta, and mussel soup (paywalled recipe)
Pasta related links
Books (affiliated links)
Pasta Grannies: Comfort Cooking: Traditional Family Recipes From Italy’s Best Home Cooks, by Viki Bennison. I cooked several recipes from this book, all turned out great. When I showed the book to my grandma, she said: these nonne are brave, I wouldn’t do it!
American Sfoglino: A Master Class in Handmade Pasta, by Evan Funke. Evan Funke learnt all the secrets of pasta making by Alessandra Spisni, in his words a teacher, a mother, a cook, and Emilia-Romagna’s preeminent sfoglina, pasta maker. This books gives you the basic techniques and recipes, ideas for fillings, shapes, and dressing. It is a comprehensive guide to the world of fresh pasta. The photography is stunning, by the talented Eric Wolfinger (I fell in love with his photos with Tartine Bread).
“Much like the traditions passed on here, pasta making is cumulative. This book is a distillation of my time in Bologna, followed by 10 years of trial and error, curiosity, and repetition. The skills and stories in these pages represent hundreds of years of practical knowledge and the people and philosophies that have shaped my understanding of bolognese traditions.”
American Sfoglino - Evan Funke
Pasta: The Spirit and Craft of Italy's Greatest Food, with Recipes, by Missy Robbins and Talia Baiocchi. Another beautiful book, both for the recipes and the photography. This book goes behind the basics, and includes recipes for Italian American classics (from fettuccine Alfredo to Penne alla Vodka) and Regional Italian dishes (canederli, agnolotti, pappardelle, bucatini, orecchiette…)
@pastaetal, a father and son who make pasta
@mateo.zielonka, a Polish guy in London who makes extraordinary fresh pasta.
Pasta Social Club, the newsletter written by the one and only Meryl Feinstein. If you already fell in love with her IG profile and recipes, you have to subscribe to her newsletter.
Pasta Sunday, where I fond a recipe for pici with guanciale and tomato butter that made me run immediately in the kitchen.
Let me know in the comments which are your favorite books about pasta, IG profiles and newsletters. Let’s build up a comprehensive list!
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