In heaven, after antipasti, the first course will be pasta.
~ Steve Albini
I’ve been making pasta since I was a kid, although at the time I was learning to make it, I made a lot less than my mother and grandmother made. They could whip the strings out faster than I could break eggs into the flour. I particularly remember the first time I made gnocchi with them. Gnocchi, if you don’t know, is a pasta made simply of potatoes and flour. Some people add eggs (I’ll explain why my grandmother didn’t in a minute.), and some people use ricotta cheese in place of the potatoes (I do that a lot.)
To make gnocchi, you boil a potato, mash or rice it, and quickly add flour to it while it’s hot. Mix them together just enough to form a soft dough, and make the gnocchi. Grams did not use eggs because it made the dough too tough, and, she told me not to knead the dough too much. “It-a like bullet inna the stomach you mix-a too much.” I smile when I think of that.
I do take pizza or pasta-making classes in Italy when my guests want to learn to make something. You may remember we learned to make passatelli last week. Last night, Kelly and I took a class in making simple pasta.
Simone and Chiara held the class in a small restaurant in Frascati, a town about 30 minutes by train from Rome. Known for Frascati wine, the town is near Castel Gandolfo and has a number of former papal residences, also. Simone met the five of us in the class—two Norwegians (Kris and Ellya), and a Greek guy (Lazarus), and Kelly and I—at the train station and took us on a tour of the town on our way to the restaurant. We had a few glasses of Frascati wines and some nibbles before we got down to business.
Making pasta is relatively easy. You mix eggs and flour (and salt if you want) to form a dough. Knead it, roll it, and cut it. Using a pasta machine takes the hard work out of rolling the dough by hand, but in Italy, a lot of people still use a rolling pin to roll the dough thin, and that’s what we did last night.
Truth be told, I didn’t roll my dough because I still can’t put pressure on my right wrist. While I was able to mix the flour and eggs and knead the dough with one hand, Chiara was kind enough to roll it for me.
Once we all had the dough thin enough, we folded it over and cut it into the width of the pasta we wanted. (Side note: Simone said that they dough needed to be thin enough to see one’s hand through it. I prefer mine even thinner than that.) I chose pappardelle because it is a wider noodle than the others, and I didn’t have to cut as much.
One thing I really liked was that Simone and Chiara offered us a choice of sauces—Amatriciana, Carbonara, or Cacio e Pepe. Amatriciana is a red sauce that has guanciale (a type of “bacon”) in it. The other two are cheese-based white sauces; Carbonara has an egg and guanciale in it, too. Cacio e Pepe is bascially cheese and pepper. There is no cream or butter or milk in either one.
There is also no garlic in any of those sauces, nor are there any onions. When someone asked about garlic and onions last night, Simone almost had a stroke. “No garlic. No onions. They are simple sauces,” he said. “You do not need those to make a tasty sauce.”
I was the only one to have the red sauce because, if we’re being honest, I could eat tomato sauce on almost anything. The other sauces tend to be a little too heavy for me especially if we are eating at 6:30 or 7:00 in the evening.
One more little tidbit that I’ll add here: Fettuccine Alfredo as we know it in the US is not an Italian dish. The original contained simply fettuccine, a little butter, and parmigiano. The American version has cream and oil instead of or in addition to the butter.