Pasta galore

As you might imagine, I came home from Italy feeling as if I'd been marinated in enthusiasm for pasta, both the making and enjoying of. My class with Maria Novella (and Elia and Leone) was such fun. It was in her kitchen, a generous space with pots lining one wall, a great view through the windows of another and a charmingly ancient oven and hearth anchoring a third. Maria Novella, henceforth known as MN, was such a warm, down to earth woman; the sort you like and feel comfortable with immediately. She spoke almost no English, and while we could have soldiered through four hours with my Italian, it was such a treat -and an infinitely more accurate learning experience- to have Elia there translating.

I told MN that while I was decently adept at making egg pasta, I felt completely fearful and inept in the face of the basic flour-and-water version. She said that under no circumstance should I be worried, that it was simple, simple and let's get to it. As hand-rolled trofie flew from between my palms (the first off the counter and onto the floor where the dog sniffed it suspiciously and all adult humans roared with laughter), my confidence grew. It was such fun, such a fine feeling of accomplishment to create from elemental ingredients a platter of beautiful food which would sate us just hours later.

The same was true as MN guided me through my first few orecchiette: cut a small knob of dough from a snake you've assuredly rolled (wet palms help); roll into a ball; using a rounded knife blade, pull one side of the ball outwards, and then shape into an "ear."

You use the same recipe for both shapes, and it's nothing but semola di grano duro (a double-milled semolina flour), a pinch of salt, a tablespoon of olive oil and some water.

For the ravioli, MN taught me to use farino tipo "00", a flour you might have seen used in pizza dough recipes. Mound it on the counter or a board, preferably wooden, dig a small well in the center, incorporate one egg at a time ("One egg per person," MN told me) and three pinches of salt, and knead like it's your job. Then roll through the pasta machine, zero through four, lay, fill, cut and scene.

Please note: MN does not recommend cooking with latex gloves. She had burned a finger and did not want to expose that to our food.

After four hours, MN and I had made quite a lot of food. A stunning amount, really.

We toasted, and then she packaged everything up for us, helped us load it onto and in Leone's stroller, and El and I headed home.

The next day, I had to find one of the butter prickers MN used on our mille foglie leaves, and I did. Perhaps you can spy it in the midst of the many bags of pasta, farro, beans and flour I schlepped home. Heh.

And last night, I tried my hand at homemade spaghetti alle vongole. I made the dough, kneaded and wrapped it, let it sit, waited until Tom got home so he could help me roll it out and, voila!

People, that is not spaghetti and I did not make it. It is Severino mafaldine, a lovely local brand that I keep in my pantry. My pasta dough would NOT roll. It was not marvelously pliable yet strong as was Maria Novella's. And I admit that after a long, first day back, I got frustrated, rewrapped my beautiful orb of dough and went for the stuff in the bag. You win some, you lose some.

I'll jump back into the eggless pasta ring soon, some of my fear having returned, but my memories of class con Maria Novella surely enough to ultimately show that dough just who the boss is!