As a family we have said no to Sunday Roasts.
We’ve turned our backs. No overdone slices of beef, no gravy, no roast potatoes, none of those sorry-looking over-boiled carrots or broccoli, and definitely no Yorkshire puddings.
We're all about pasta.
As part of a Big Italian Family, I grew up spending Sundays at my Papa’s house. Six aunts and uncles meant that my Mum and her siblings would be on a cooking rotation to each make a gigantic pot of pasta once every six weeks, large enough to feed a sprawling, extended family of brothers, sisters, children, grandparents, in-laws, cousins, and anyone else who happened to stop by. After my Nonna died in 2000 we all rallied round and began a happy tradition of big Sunday family meals. In the summer we’d end up playing Sardines or football after dinner, while the cold winter necessitated we take our plans indoors, so we ended up at the cinema.
For dinner the cousins would eat in the living room while adults would sit at the dining room table, crammed in and balancing their plate on a table also showcasing a small mountain of parmesan cheese, breads, salad, and some platter of meat for ‘il secondo’ – the second plate. My Aunt Ann Marie’s breaded chicken, my Aunt Ellen’s ham, my Aunt Helen’s roast beef in tomato sauce… We ate well.
Oh... hello accidental self-portrait.
This follows the pattern of normal Italian menus. An antipasti to begin, which I guess was eating slices of salami as family slowly arrived throughout the late afternoon, followed by the pasta dish, ‘il primo’, and then the second plate of meat and salad. Dessert was simple vanilla ice cream with a Cadbury’s Flake crumbled over the top, though for special occasions my Mum would wheel out her legendary Tiramisu. We’ll get to that specialty in time, guys.
Red wine was drunk from small tumbler glasses, and even now it feels more comfortable for me to be clutching a squat little container than a spindly wine stem. And the meal would draw to a close with a big pot of espresso poured into dinky cups and enjoyed alongside a decent glug of Sambucca.
Just like that, every week, for years.
And now, though my Papa has gone and his house has been sold, some of us have moved further afield, and we no longer all meet weekly to reconnect and touch base; Sundays still mean pasta with my family.
Tomorrow I'll write a little about a basic Bolognese sugo. In return I expect everyone reading this to set aside a few hours on Sunday to sit around the table and have a family dinner. You don't need to make your own pasta or your own sauce by any means, though I'd be pleased if you do.
We made tagliatelle pasta for this dinner because it’s robust enough to stand up to a vibrant tomato-based sugo like Bolognese. Also because we had an pasta machine attachment to make neat even ribbons, though it’s easy to do by hand – just roll the strips of pasta dough up tightly and cut 10mm cross-sections into the roll with a sharp knife.
Tagliatelle comes from tagliare, ‘to cut.’ As with almost all ribbon pastas, these are made by rolling up a sheet of thinly rolled egg pasta dough like a roll of cloth, then cutting it across to make ribbons, curled like party streamers which can be fluffed up and laid out to dry a little. As ribbon pastas are so simple to make, and tagliatelle are of a medium size, they can be found across Italy. Their heartland, however, is Emilia-Romagna and especially Bologna, where they are de rigueur with ragu Bolognese. They were reputedly invented there by the Bolognese maestro, Zefirano – personal chef to Giovanni II de Bentivoglio, to mark the marriage of Lucrezia Borgia to Alfonso I d’Este, Duke of Ferrara. Where the other signature pasta of Bologna, tortellini, was modeled on the bride’s navel, these were inspired by her blonde, silky hair. The pasta was supposedly so thin the Basilica di San Luca could be seen through it, via the cook’s window. Both stories are likely to hold as much water as a colander, but are romantic nonetheless. [source]
Like my Mum’s tiramisu, freshly made pasta is reserved for special meals which call for a bit of extra effort and celebration. Jacob Kennedy’s The Geometryof Pasta (of Bocca di Lupo fame!) provides great summaries of a huge variety of pasta shapes and explains which sauces suit which shapes, and similarly which shapes actually taste better cooked from dry.
Some general notes:
- Whenever you’re making pasta, allow for 1 egg per 100 grams of flour.
- Some variations call for a richer dough, made using additional egg yolks. Some other recipes omit eggs altogether and use water as a binding agent, resulting in a paler dough and chewer cooked pasta. It’s quite common for orecchiette to be made this way.
- If you can’t find fine ‘00’ flour, plain all-purpose will be fine as a substitute. If you want, substitute up to a third of the flour mix with semolina flour to give pasta a little more bite (though this will be at the expense of the luxurious silky quality otherwise imparted from the 00).
- The BEST rule! Don’t wash pasta machines. They rust easily. Rather, dust off as much of the flour as possible and return to the box.
- Serves: 4-6 people as a main course, depending on greed and appetite
- Preparation time: 60 minutes, plus drying
- Cooking time: 2-3 minutes
- 400g ‘00’ flour
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 4 large eggs, room temperature
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- Pasta machine
- Remove your rings. This is the first rule of pasta-making according to my Mum, who learned from watching her Mum begin with fully accessorized digits and have to remove the rings through a sticky clag of pasta dough.
- On a clean surface or baking mat, sift flour and salt to create a well. Crack eggs in a separate bowl (so that shell can easily be removed) before pouring into the middle of the flour well alongside the tablespoon of olive oil. Mix until the dough comes together and knead for 5-10 minutes until pliable and similar in texture to Play-Doh.
- Wrap dough in clingfilm and place in the fridge for half an hour to chill. In the meantime, set up pasta machine.
- Retrieve the ball of dough from the fridge and cut off a 2cm thick section. Roll through the pasta machine on its widest setting. Fold the thinner elongated dough in on itself and put through the machine again on its widest setting. This double-rolling and folding will stretch the gluten in the flour and make the pasta nicer when cooked.
- Cut another 2cm piece of dough from the ball and repeat actions above, laying strips on pieces of parchment or baking paper.
- When all of the dough has been stretched through the pasta machine on its widest setting, turn machine down a notch and work each strip of dough through the thinner setting. Do not fold the dough this time; just roll through the machine once and set back on the baking paper.
- Turn settings to one notch thinner and roll all strips again. Repeat until pasta has been rolled through the thinnest setting. Leave to sit for 30 minutes. Make yourself a cup of tea.
- Attach the tagliatelle gadget to your pasta machine, trying hard not to swear/ give up/ throw it away. Feed the pasta strips into the machine and allow the tagliatelle ribbons to gather at the bottom. Pile the curls into a bowl and allow to dry for at least thirty minutes before cooking.
- To cook, get a large pot and fill with water and a generous amount of salt (around a tablespoon). When boiling, add the pasta. Allow to cook for 2-3 minutes, or until the ribbons rise to the surface of the water. Drain in a colander, return to the pot, and add a ladleful or two of sauce. Stir to combine and serve onto preheated plates. Add a further ladle of sauce on top and a cloud of grated Parmesan cheese.
Tomorrow, we add tomatoes!