10.02.2011

On a Tuscan Countertop

Villa Casille, our home for the week near Cortona
"Many hands make light work." Yes, it is a time-proven adage but, in the case of a recent dinner in Tuscany, "Many hands .... saved the day!"

Angela and Pasquale at work
It was a beautiful Monday, our third day in a large villa padrone near Cortona with 20 family, friends and soon-to-be-friends – a group gathered by our cousin Cathy to celebrate a special birthday for her partner Heather. After the welcome dinner on Sunday (made by locals Pasquale and Angela, above), I - for a reason only my therapist could say - offered to make homemade pasta for the house. Pasta for 20??? What was I thinking?

On our way home that day, after touring Cortona with friends Marlow, Wes and Barbara, we picked up the flour and eggs (and the requisite case of wine) and I prepared mentally for what was ahead. I had asked Angela, after Sunday's dinner (we had just had her homemade pici with wild boar sauce - Pasquale had hunted the boar himself), how on earth she makes pasta for 20 people. "Un uova per testa (one egg per head)," she said, is what I would need to make enough for the crowd.

Normally, when I make pasta at home for Mark and myself, I use one egg and 3/4 cup flour. That gives us each a small but sufficient serving. But knowing how this group loved to eat, I opted to go with Angela’s one egg per head formula.  So, I set about using a glass tumbler as my 3/4 cup measure and measured out 20 portions of flour.  I made the requisite well, sprinkled it with salt and started cracking in 20 eggs.  It all looked fine, as you can see from the photo, until I started to gently whisk the eggs with a fork to incorporate the flour.

At that moment, I actually began to understand how a dam breaks during a flood, and that shoring up one section might cause a weakness in another. The wall of flour started to bulge on one side and I fixed it only to find it breaking in two other places.  Then three.  Then four.  Then, "Aaaaagghhhhh…. heeeellllp!"  Like lightning, Cathy and Heather were by my side and we three - quickly and deftly as we could - pulled all the egg and flour together. It was a sticky, gooey, fabulous mess! (Thanks to Mark for catching this on film!) I kneaded it, smoothed it out, divided it into seven balls (an arbitrary number, for sure) and covered them with damp towels to let the dough rest.

After some additional kneading, I started to roll it out by hand, as there was no pasta machine in the kitchen. Due to the above-mentioned disaster, it was a bit denser than usual and was a lot of work to roll out, even after resting almost an hour. So, like Tom Sawyer and the whitewashing of the fence, I was able to entice others to help and join the "fun." Each the "dudes" from Heather's family took a turn, competing with one another as to who could get it thinnest and as uniform as possible. We even tried rolling each flat noodle separately, as seen above.  Miraculously, just as the water came to a boil, we had just finished rolling and cutting a mass of beautiful papparadelle to feed the crowd.

Barbara made a fantastic rag├╣ of leftover duck (from Pasquale and Angela's meal the night before) by adding some onions, tomatoes, rosemary, wine, cream and simmered duck broth. It worked beautifully with the papparadelle and there was almost none leftover.  Oh, and those 12 bottles of wine we bought??? They were never seen again. I have no idea where they went....

Homemade Pasta Dough (with or without a machine)

1 1/2 cups flour, plus extra
2 large eggs
salt

Mound the flour on your work surface (wood is my preference) and make a well in the center.  Add the eggs and a pinch of salt.  Using a fork – or your hands, as we did in Tuscany - whisk the eggs and continue whisking in a circular motion, each time getting a little larger to incorporate more of the flour.  Eventually, it will be impossible to use the fork; you must switch to your hands.  Incorporate as much of the flour as possible, then knead the dough for 10-15 minutes until firm and elastic.

The resting period is crucial for pasta dough.  Cover the dough with a damp kitchen towel and let it rest for 30-60 minutes.  This allows the gluten to develop.

After the resting period, divide the dough into four pieces.  Take one piece and cover the other three with the towel.  On a lightly floured board, knead the piece a bit and then, using a hand-cranked pasta machine, roll it through once at the thickest setting.  Fold the piece in three, as you would fold a letter, and run it through again at the thickest setting.  Repeat this step as often as necessary to make a smooth dough.  Now, begin to roll the dough thinner, going up one notch on the roller each time until your desired thickness.  You may need to dust with flour from time to time.  Repeat these steps with the other three pieces of dough.  (If you are not using a machine, simply roll the dough out as you would any other. It needs to be very thin - you should be able to see a leaf of parsley through it.)

You may then cut the pasta to whatever shape you desire, either by hand or using the crank machine.  Cook the pasta in well-salted water.  A good handful of salt is required!  Fresh pasta cooks very quickly - about 3-4 minutes maximum.
  • for fettucine, cut the dough to the desired length, then roll each piece up and cut into 1/4-inch wide noodles.  Unroll and dust lightly with flour; set aside.
  • for papparadelle, follow the directions for fettucine and cut the rolls in 1/2-inch intervals.
  • for farfalle, cut the pasta sheet into 1-inch wide strips using a pastry cutter to give the jagged edge.  Then cut each strip at 1-inch intervals using a sharp knife.  Tightly pinch the two knife-cut edges together to form the "bow-tie" shape.  Farfalle, in Italian, means butterflies.
  • for lasagne, cut the rolled pieces to the length of your pan.  The dough can be used as is, or cooked for 1-2 minutes in boiling water.

8 comments:

  1. wow... that's a lot of eggs... and flour... and wow.. just wow....

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  2. Yikes! I was laughing out loud at the picture in my head of flying hands, arms, fingers, and eggs! Bet it was a spectacular meal - they always are after a good work out!

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  3. @ Jessica: yes, it was a stunning amount and possibly the last time for that many people! But my therapist might disagree...

    @ Karin: It was, indeed, a really good meal, and oddly light. And it was lots of fun getting everyone to participate!

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  4. What a great story David. I love the sequence of photographs of all those hands trying to rescue the eggs :)

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  5. Magda - my new mantra is: "Big mess = big fun!" Hope things are still warm in The Hague!

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  6. I was there, and therefore know how delicious the result was. Thank you, David, Mark, Barbara, Heather and Cathy! Bobxo

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  7. Love the photographs.

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  8. @ Bob and Stephanie - this was a total blast, although I may never do it again for 20 people!

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Thank you for taking the time to leave me a note - I really appreciate hearing from you and welcome any ideas you may have for future posts, too. Happy Cooking!

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