A family heirloom that’s traveled from Valdagno Italy, in the province of Vicenza to Ottawa, Canada in the 50’s. It’s handle was turned by her mother, and her mother before her. So when my neighbour Paola asked me to help her make pasta in her near-antique pasta maker my immediate response was “Hell ya!”
How often do you get to tiptoe into in a family tradition with a mild sense of expertise and a gigantic sense of curiosity?
It is a beautiful machine; cast iron and brass, on a wooden slab that was once the step that led to the family home. ‘Solid’ might be the best word to describe this piece of family history. It is designed to last; to turn hundreds of pounds of pasta, perfectly (every single time) attached to a wooden bench, to great ergonomic effect… it’s easy on the back and a great upper body workout.
This is not my first pasta. It’s my fifth! (Ha, take that!) I have a reasonable level of confidence now as it has been consistent and smooth every time.
Paola and I gathered our resources and began in the afternoon, reviewing recipes (which are all quite similar), having a glass of wine and a bit of cheese, to come to the conclusion that “winging it” might be our best approach (the wine may have helped).
Pasta is really quite simple…
2 Cups Flour
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1 Tablespoon of Olive Oil
2 Teaspoons of Water
- Mix flour and salt in a mound on your counter top.
- In a small bowl mix eggs, oil & water.
- Create a well in the center of the dry ingredients, add half the egg mixture. Mix liquid into flour with fingers or dough knife, from the centre out. Add remainder of egg mixture and mix well in the same manner until mixed well.
After the wet and dry ingredients have been combined, bring the mixture together with your hands to form a ball. If the dough seems to dry, add a little more water. If the mixture is too wet and sticks to your fingers, rub your hands with flour and form the dough into a ball.
- Kneed lightly until smooth and shiny.
- Form into a flat ball, wrap in plastic wrap and place in the fridge to rest for 30 minutes.
- Then roll (with your favorite rolling pin) or shape and pass through your favorite machine.
Pasta is a quick dough without a leavening agent, in general, try to work it as little as possible as kneading makes it tough. That half hour rest period helps the gluten to relax and keeps the dough tender. (Many cooks skip this step and charge forward with the process… nothing wrong with that, I simply prefer a more tender finished product.)
Usually I roll pasta flat into a large, thin sheet (thin enough to see the counter through), flour and fold and cut it into joyfully flat fettuccine — but not today. Today we cut and shape it like a baguette, place it in the cylinder and crank the handle down.
“It has to be a very dry pasta” says Paola “or it sticks.”
So we make it drier than I might like. It still sticks just a little as it emerges in long, pale yellow strands from the machine, we dredge with cornmeal to dry separate and dry before cutting it away from the machine to drop into the bowl.
Paola sits on the floor, separating strands of smooth round bigoli pasta, slightly thicker than spaghetti, as it passes through the spout. “This was my job as a kid” she says, beaming, and conversation turns to family and learning to cook at the knees of our mothers and grandmothers.
Those that grow up in a culture of food learn to love it from an early age, they respect the process and the kitchen. They learn fractions and multiplication tables and motor skills. But most of all they learn about connection… to one another. To the earth and to the culture we come from. Cooking builds empathy, compassion, community and GREAT COOKS!
As I sit on that bench, feeling muscles work as I crank dough; I am reminded how fortunate I am to have had a good cook in my mother and both grandmothers who embraced me in their kitchen at an early age. I am reminded of why I cook… that ‘need to feed’ that is a desire to share a simple pleasure with others.
Paola and I spread the pasta on a clean towel to allow it to air dry as we prepare the rest of the meal…
Seared Nova Scotia scallops in a garlic, rose cream sauce to start. Bigoli pasta tossed with garlic, onion, olive oil and anchovy. A light green salad in a herb vinaigrette, and for dessert chopped fruit with whole, fresh walnuts marinated in brandy (all afternoon) finished with a sweetened mascarpone cream.
Creamy. Salty. Sharp. Sweet.
Our neighbour, Daname, joins us from across the hall as she returns from a day at the office and together with Paola’s husband Ron we share a meal and talk about our day… sharing our lives and a bottle of wine.
The pasta is fresh and (nearly) perfect (we had some breakage while boiling). Our “wing it” approach pays off, Paola makes notes for her next pasta. We pat ourselves on the back… something tells me that Ron may be eating a great deal more pasta in his future. Lucky devil.