Students Singing to their Pasta
The first time I walked into Maria Di Ciero’s kitchen, I realized I wasn’t walking. I was bopping and rocking to the music that was as much a part of her kitchen as fresh fruits, vegetables and local meats. While Maria kneaded and rolled her way through a batch of tagliatelle and instructed us in Southern Italian cooking, music filled the air. What happens in Pontelandolfo stays in Pontelandolfo – but some of the visiting women played air guitar with rolling pins and spatulas.
Maria is part of the creative duo that created “Perugini Franco Marcelleria Moderna.” She and her husband, Franco Perugini, have a butcher shop committed to selling local meats, developing recipes for sausages – fresh and dried – and torcinelli. Their torcinelli, sono fatti con budelline di agnello (made with lamb intestines), is served in restaurants all through the province. Torcinelli is a regional delicacy and theirs is top-notch.
Even though Maria works in the butcher shop, she still makes lunch for her extended family. One of the recipes that she shares with the folks who participate in Cooking in the Kitchens of Pontelandolfo is her tagliatelle. Take lots of grovin’ music, flour, eggs and a crazy fun filled kitchen and you get golden tagliatelle to sing about.
The ingredients are simply – 1.5 kilo semolina; 14 eggs – you use one egg per person you are feeding and she averages 14 people a day; and a little salt.
The first thing Maria did was plunk a HUGE pasta board down on the table. It has a lip on one end so that it hooks itself to the table and doesn’t wiggle and jiggle as you dance your way through kneading and rolling.
Here are the steps:
- Dump the flour into a pile on the wooden board,
- Using your hands dig out the center and make a bowl out of the flour.
- Crack open the eggs and dump whole eggs in the center of the flour. She does this with one hand and it looks seamless. I did it with one hand and got egg on my sleeve, the table and everywhere but the flour bowl.
- Scramble the eggs. My question was, why couldn’t I scramble them in a bowl and then dump them into the flour. Everyone in the room looked at me like I was the devil’s spawn.
- Gradually pull flour into the center with a fork. You are making the moist dough – this is not a quick process and can be messy. Well, when I did it there was a mess – my flour needed a little Dutch boy to plug the dike. Everyone else managed easily.
- Then start kneading by pushing away and pulling towards you. She used the heel of her hands and the dough folded over itself and made a little smiley face.
- If the dough is too stiff add a little water. Small eggs could be the reason the moisture to flour ratio is dry.
- Ouch, ugh, push, pull – really work the dough with your shoulders and your back. Maria doesn’t need a gym – she cooks!
- Too much to handle? Cut the dough into smaller hunks. Let one hunk rest and work another. Actually, she said this is the better way to do it.
- Knead for a minimum of 15 minutes. You cannot over knead. When your hands become warmer it is easier to work pasta. Fold and push, push and fold, dance to the rhythm of the flour.
- When you work on it, pay attention to wrinkles and folds. Make it into a ball and at the same time take all creases out.
- Do not cry. Do not admit you don’t have the stamina of an Italian homemaker. Do not whine. Drink wine and knead.
- It is done when you can feel that it is done – no holes, no strings. It is completely smooth.
- When one hunk is done wrap in plastic to keep the moisture in.
- Let dough rest a minimum of 1/2 hour.
- Take off your shoes, rub your feet and have another glass of wine.
Rolling the dough:
- Put a clean cotton cloth down somewhere to hold and dry the pasta on. Maria has another huge board that she balances between two chairs in front of a grand window. Draped in a tablecloth, the pasta alter waits for an offering.
- Roll out the dough into a circle. Constantly rotating it and using your hands from the center out – pushing on the dowel. Yes, a dowel. A really long dowel was used for this and Maria’s hands raced from the center to the ends as she rolled. Her hands were cupped and really spread the dough on the rolling pin.
- The dough is ready when it is almost transparent. She made us hold it up to see if we could do shadow puppets behind it. It was fun and relaxed our hand muscles.
- Let big circle rest for about 10 minutes. This is a good time to sneak outside of her house and stare at the mountains.
- Use a spirone– pastry cutting and ravioli wheel. Cut the pasta into thin strips. No problem if they’re not the same size exactly. This is home-made not precision machine made pasta.
- You can use the dough and wheel to cut smaller pieces – pinch the center and voilà you have a bow tie pasta.
- Or if you are in the mood for a hearty dish – cut it wider for lasagna.
- Dry whatever pasta you made on the cotton cloth.
This pasta can be frozen. Maria makes huge batches – I wonder why??? Oh yeah, she works and runs home to make a huge lunch. If you freeze the pasta do not defrost it. Just put the frozen pasta in the boiling water.
That day, we made a simple pesto – that allowed us to really taste the pasta. With a mortar and pestle we smashed together fresh basil, olive oil, garlic and pignoli nuts. Walnuts are great to use too. (This lazy author would probably pull out my food processor!)
Yummy! Come play with us!
We still have some spots left in our September 8-15th and May 12 – 19th
Cooking in the Kitchens of Pontelandolfo weeks!
You too can soon be dancing and cooking in Maria’s kitchen.
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