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Photo: Anna Hållams
Photo: Anna Hållams

Food & Drink

Patience makes perfect pasta

Simple, yet so delicious. These are words often spoken by Scandinavians about the homemade filled pasta dishes served in trattorias all around Italy. But if you make pasta from scratch the way mamma used to make it, is it really that simple?

One thing that isn’t so simple is ensuring that there are no pockets of air between the pasta dough and the filling. For this, you need to learn the proper way to roll it out. Use three fingers – ring finger, middle finger and index finger around the pasta to press the two sheets of pasta gently but firmly together. 

You use your middle finger to ensure that there are no sneaky air pockets left inside. If you miss any, it’s a massive failure. Your small pasta pillows will ­explode when you poach them. They actually use the word explode, as this is incredibly important and verging on the sacred. If your pasta pillows do explode, you’re left with a soggy mess of oozing filling and strips of pasta. Not a meal with aesthetic appeal.

Pasta is surprisingly fragile. Not the easiest thing to appreciate when you pick up a pack of dried pasta in a food store.

Cavazzone, a beautiful farm now run as a restaurant and hotel. Photo: Anna Hållams

We’re at a beautiful farm called Cavazzone, just outside the village of Reggio Emilia, some 70km northwest of Bologna. In its heyday in the late 19th century, it was a very large farm with plenty of land and livestock, run by an entrepreneur with a great vision who ensured the farm had a good reputation.

At that time, local aristocrats frequently came here and for many years, Cavazzone was the natural meeting place in the district. It’s still a much-appreciated meeting place for the town. And since 2001, the farm has been run as a restaurant and small hotel.

This transformation is the work of the Sidoli family who live close by. The eight rooms are comfortable with a rural charm. The restaurant looks a bit like a movie set with the added bonus that guests can help prepare their own meals. That’s why we’re here – to learn the noble art of pasta making.

Photo: Anna Hållams

We start with the dough. Luciano the chef, who teaches the cooking course, nimbly mixes the ingredients flour, eggs and olive oil. After leaving the dough to rest in the fridge, we come to the difficult stage: rolling it out.

We use a kitchen appliance that is completely new to me – a pasta machine. You feed in the dough with one hand and catch it with the other. It’s harder than it looks. After a couple of runs, the pasta is thin enough. You should be able to see the worktop surface through it, we’re told.

Photo: Anna Hållams

With the thin dough sitting there on the old well-used worktop, you need to work quickly. Too slow and the dough becomes dry. Spoon in the filling, carefully noting how much you spoon in and how close together the fillings are. Fold together, remembering your finger hold with the slight but ever so important pressure that ensures that the pasta sheets stay together and no air gets in. Finally, cut your filled pasta into individual pillows. Fast and straight, the ­pillows should be as equally sized as possible. 

We’re not as nimble fingered as we need to be so a lot of the pasta dough goes to waste since it dries quickly and loses its elasticity.

Everything looks so easy when Luciano rolls, spoons and cuts. He’s very patient and almost silent, probably because he barely speaks a word of English.

Photo: Anna Hållams

But even an amateur like me finds it incredibly easy to make the first pasta shape, tortelli. However, when we progress to cappelletti, filled pasta the size of a thumb nail and shaped like a little hat, the pressure starts to build.

To get the perfect shape, you need to fold and then wind the pasta around your little finger. A quick glance at Luciano’s deft fingers teaches you that small hands are no advantage – it’s practice, practice and practice that makes perfect.

Photo: Anna Hållams

After loads of laughter, far too much pasta dough that’s gone dry and plenty of interesting pasta shapes, we’ve produced enough for a decent lunch. Two types of filled pasta served with salad and grilled vegetables. Plenty of Parmesan cheese and naturally drizzled with balsamic vinegar from the farm. Could a meal be any simpler or more delicious?

Text: Åsa Lundqvist 

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