Monday, February 24, 2014

An Ode to Fresh Pasta: Tagliolini with Tomato Scented Butter









The first time I realized the magnificent powers of good food involved a trip to south Italy and a bowl of homemade pasta. I was about 11 years old, idling at home during a long summer break when my godparents decided to embark on a month-long Italian vacation and offered to take me with them. My parents could not join – traveling abroad was an expensive proposition for a family from an impoverished communist country – hence Mom and Dad decided to forgo their own holiday plans so that I can get a trip of a lifetime. The plan involved covering as much of Italian grounds as possible: Cuomo, Florence, Tuscany, Rome, Naples, culminating in Anzio, a small port south of Rome, where long-forgotten Italian friends of my godparents rented a villa for the summer and invited us to join for an eagerly awaited reunion.

About an hour before we arrived to Anzio, we telephoned to let our hosts know that we are getting close, “We are so excited,” I heard the voice at the other end of the wire, “and we are making a special dinner to welcome you!” And so I spent the last stretch of the trip in the back seat of the car painting the picture of the feast about to unravel, a gigantic table of Italian delicacies that grew bigger with every mile we travelled, and as we parked at the villa and our hosts ran out to greet us, hug us, kiss us, I expected nothing shorter than Nero’s feast. The beauty of the villa was lost on me, its marble floors, the statue at the vestibule, the small fountain, and I ran straight to the kitchen, only to find a pot of tomato sauce simmering on the stove and a mound of fresh pasta waiting to be boiled.

“This cannot be happening,” “what kind of hosts these people are,” “who serves pasta to a special guest,” I can still remember the train of thoughts – very angry thoughts – galloping through my head. I almost refused to eat the dinner, making a stand for all neglected guests around the globe, but then the empty stomach prevailed against the principles and grudgingly I took my bowl.

It was a dish I will never forget.

Once you get into the business or pleasure of food writing, you acquire certain vocabulary. You describe dishes as savory, gamey, thick, meaty, tangy, gooey. You may say that the flavors of fresh pasta brought out the bright acidic tang of tomatoes, and that the fragrance of fresh oregano was lingering around. But back then, I had not yet acquired such fancy words, and as I replay the tape recorder of my memories, I can recall no words to describe the dish, it is only the feeling that remained; a moment when everything stopped and I ate my pasta in silence, recognizing that it came from another world.

Over the years I tried to relive that bowl of pasta, but it never happened. Eventually, I stopped trying. Today my favorite way to eat fresh pasta is close to naked, with just a touch of parmesan and one or two simple ingredients. Sometimes it is olive oil and lemon, sometimes breadcrumbs and anchovies. Most often it is butter with a drop of a “secret sauce” that evokes the umami flavors from my childhood.

Whenever I want to treat someone for a special meal, I forgo the feast of Nero and make a bowl of fresh pasta. I hope they understand.








Tagliolini with Tomato Scented Butter



Tomato scented butter is lay person’s way of saying that we will be making beurre monté, melted butter that remains emulsified, and we will be infusing it with a drop of ketchup. Somehow I feel that the right to use term beurre monté is reserved for Thomas Keller and culinary deities alike; I prefer to stick to a more humble name. For most people ketchup means burger and fries. When I think of ketchup, I think umami, the magnificent fifth taste. Ketchup is the essence of umami. So is parmesan. When we think of pasta we think parmesan, but not really ketchup. Ketchup and pasta combination sounds like blasphemy, and perhaps it is, if you were to squeeze half a bottle of it over your pasta, or God forbid make the tomato sauce out of ketchup. But if you add a dollop of ketchup to emulsified butter, the butter will turn into beautiful saffron-like orange sauce, echoing with sweet richness and just a hint of acidity. Tossing fresh pasta with this emulsion and finishing with freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano comes closest to eating your pasta almost bare, yet tasting pure umami.


* 1 lb fresh tagliolini, spaghetti or other thin noodles (recipe below)
* 6-8 tbsp butter, cut into small pieces
* 2 tbsp water
* one scant teaspoon of ketchup
* freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano
* salt



1. Prepare beurre monté: In a small sauce pan over medium heat bring two tablespoons of water to a simmer. Reduce heat to low and begin whisking the butter into the water. Once the butter has emulsified you can continue adding the remaining pieces of butter. Make the beurre monté close to the time it will be used and keep it in a warm place. It is important to keep the temperature below 190°F, otherwise the mixture will separate. 

2. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook for about 4 minutes, until tender but not mushy. Drain the pasta and reserve about 1/2 cup of the cooking water. In a large skillet mix the pasta with the tomato butter. If needed add some of the reserved pasta cooking water to thin the sauce and cook shaking the pan for another minute. Transfer the pasta to plates, sprinkle generously with parmesan and serve.




Serves 4-6


Note: If you have any leftover tomato butter you can refrigerate it and use just as you would use regular butter. Makes for a great sandwich. With fresh baguette... Or panini... Or whatever...



Fresh Egg Pasta


* 14 oz (400 g) durum wheat flour
* 4 large eggs



1. Pour the flour into a bowl. Make a crater in the flour and crack the eggs into it. Mix the eggs with a fork until they are completely blended with the flour. Knead the mixture with your hands until it is somewhat homogenous. If the mixture is too dry, add some water; if it is too soft, add some flour. A good mixture should never stick to your fingers. Remove the mixture from the bowl and place it onto a lightly floured work surface. Knead the dough with the heel of your hand for a couple of minutes until the dough is very smooth. Wrap the dough in plastic and let it rest for about 30 minutes. Cut the dough into small pieces.

2. Make the dough sheets: Using a rolling pin flatten each piece of the dough into a rectangle thin enough to go through the rollers at the widest setting. Feed the dough through the rollers, then lay the dough down on the work surface and flour it lightly. Fold the dough into thirds lengthwise to make a rectangle, and lightly flour both sides. Flatten the dough with the rolling pin until it is ready to go through the rollers again. Repeat this process five to six times, until the dough feels smooth and silky.

3. Now you are ready to work the dough through the machine, by progressively reducing the width of the rollers. Starting at the second to widest setting, pass the dough repeatedly through the rollers, setting the rollers one notch narrower each time. For fettucine, tagliolini and angel hair, roll the pasta sheets to the second thinnest setting.

4. If you are cutting the pasta into tagliolini (thin noodles) rather than fettuccine, pappardelle or other wider noodles, dust the baking sheets with semolina flour and arrange the pasta sheets on it. Cover the sheets with plastic wrap to prevent them from drying and let them rest for about 10 minutes before cutting.

5. Attach the desired cutting attachment to the pasta machine and dust it with flour. Feed the pasta sheets through the cutter. Gently gather the pasta and dust it with semolina. Place the pasta on the drying rack. If not using the rack, carefully shape the pasta into small nested mounds on the baking sheet dusted with semolina.

6. Fresh pasta will reward you exceptionally if you cook it right away. If not, place the mounds into a bowl, cover with plastic wrap tightly and store in the fridge or freezer.



yields 1.3lb (600g) of pasta







Oregano Embossed Pasta with Tomato Scented Butter


Once you gain control over the pasta making process, you can start doing all kinds of crazy things: add herbs, spices or extra egg yolks, color it with vegetables, change flour... I’ve recently stumbled upon a wonderful post on Alessandra Zecchini’s blog, which describes a technique of embossing pasta with fresh herb leaves and flowers. The moment I read the post, I proceeded to embossed a batch of pasta with oregano leaves and served it with, well you are already guessing -- the "umami" butter.


* 12 oz oregano embossed pasta
* 6-8 tbsp butter, cut into small pieces
* 2 tbsp water
* one scant teaspoon of ketchup
* freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano
* salt



1. Prepare beurre monté: In a small sauce pan over medium heat bring two tablespoons of water to a simmer. Reduce heat to low and begin whisking the butter into the water. Once the butter has emulsified you can continue adding the remaining pieces of butter. Make the beurre monté close to the time it will be used and keep it in a warm place. It is important to keep the temperature below 190°F, otherwise the mixture will separate.

2. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook until al dente, about 3 minutes. Drain the pasta, reserving about 1/2 cup of the cooking water.

3. In a large skillet mix the pasta with the tomato butter. Add the reserved pasta cooking water and cook shaking the pan for another minute. Transfer the pasta to plates, sprinkle generously with parmesan and serve.



Serves 4


4 comments :

  1. Ciao and thank you so much for the mention and link :-), I really appreciate it when other bloggers do this! Your pasta looks super, and the photos are beautiful, pinning now!

    XX
    Alessandra

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  2. Love, love the look of the oregano embossed pasta, and the tomato butter. Home made pasta can be so much better than dried. I also like to serve fresh pasta as part of special meals, and seeing the look on guests' faces when they take the first bite! Wonderful photos.

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  3. This embossed pasta and these pictures are just astonishingly beautiful! Love this -- and your blog -- so so much. And so so much congratulations by the way on your Saveur nomination!!!! So deserved. (And, funny and embarrassing -- I'd known and admired your blog for awhile, and also known you as Queen Sashy from Food52 ... but never put two and two together until just today. Shame on me.)

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    Replies
    1. No shame, I never put any real effort to connect the dots well. Your comment made my day, because I am enamored with your blog and a regular reader. Thank you very, very much for stopping by and letting me know. And, I should be congratulating you on your super-deserved Saveur nomination, and also on something even more special right? Isn’t it nice when the stars align on all fronts...

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