I’m slowly coming back to my (almost) normal life, after months of hard work. Coming back to the normal life to me means that, when I get out of the kitchen door, I can turn left and enjoy the view over the rolling hills that have finally worn the autumn colours. I do not need to run to the gazebo that now is my studio to take a thousand pictures before the light disappears, or before the dish gets cold. Well, this is always true, I always run to eat my food at least warm. Anyway, I just take a small imperceptible break which makes me fully appreciate the good chance I have to be able to rejoice in this view every day. You see it, you look at it, you recognize it, and then you go on lighter.
Coming back to a more human pace also implies to take my sourdough starter out of the fridge to feed it and make it bubbling again, because time has come to become friends, not just polite acquaintances. It means making butter at home, to give a noble end to half a liter of fresh cream that can not become yet another panna cotta or creme brûlée, under penalty of being banned from home for incitement to gluttony.
… because, let’s face it, what could be more good and satisfying then fresh home made bread with a thick spread of home made butter with salt flakes? perhaps fresh bread and just pressed olive oil, but that’s another story …
Coming back to a slower pace means that it is finally time to start making more down to earth plans about what will happen within a month, a wardrobe for the new house, a pantry to be built with old doors and old cupboards (God save my Dad!) in my kitchen, a new oven to buy…
It also means having time to make fresh pasta, using half an hour to mix, knead, cut and roll out to celebrate any Sunday. We all have our little quirks, mine is fresh pasta: when I need to relax, when I think at something special for someone I love, when I search for the answer to the usual question which is your favourite recipe, fresh pasta comes to my mind.
Tagliolini al cacao, cocoa tagliolini, are the most recent discovery of my fresh pasta quirk. They were born almost by accident about a year ago, during a chocolate cooking class. On the menu there were girly cupcakes, moist brownies and a sumptuous Sacher Torte, though I wanted to offer to my girls a savoury dish as well, possibly with cocoa inside. You can not live just on sweet treats, right? There are some traditional Tuscan recipes that have chocolate as a key ingredient, such as wild boar or hare in dolce forte, a legacy of the Renaissance cuisine.
Though I needed something quicker, something I could easily squeeze among baking the chocolate chip cookies and icing the Sacher Torte. It had to be festive, as Christmas was within a few weeks, as to be served during an unusual Christmas dinner in a oohh and aaahh symphony.
Tagliolini al cacao were all I could ask for, and they unexpectedly became my specialty act during my cooking classes. I am just overjoyed looking at my guests’ amazed expressions when I mention cocoa tagliolini, an amazement that soon makes way for a delighted sound as soon as they taste the pasta.
These tagliolini are not sweet, as you might expect from the ingredients, they have just a slight cocoa aftertaste, which makes them interesting. What makes the difference is to combine them with a rich savoury sauce. The easiest way to serve them is the classic cacio e pepe, grated cheese and black pepper, where cheese stands of course for a well-aged Tuscan pecorino.
- 200 g of tender wheat flour
- 200 g of semolina flour
- 2 heaping tablespoons of unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1 teaspoon of extra virgin olive oil
- 1 pinch of salt
- 4 eggs
- 200 g of aged Tuscan pecorino cheese, grated
- 2 tablespoons of sheep ricotta
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Sift the flours and the cocoa powder, pour them on a wooden board or a large working surface and make a well in the middle.
- Break in the eggs and add a pinch of salt and a teaspoon of extra virgin olive oil. Mix the flour and the eggs with a fork until crumbly, then knead the dough, adding cold water if needed.
- Keep on kneading, to develop the gluten which will give strength to the sheets of pasta. Hold the dough with one hand while you roll it from you with the other, with the heel of the palm. After a while the dough should have the right consistency: smooth, and no longer sticky.
- Wrap it in plastic film and let it stand for 30 minutes at room temperature.
- Now roll the dough. The most important thing, whether you’re using a classic long rolling pin or a pasta machine, is to roll it and stretch it as much as you can. Make a paper thin wide sheet of pasta. Leave the sheets to dry for about 15 - 20 minutes on a tablecloth dusted with semolina flour.
- Cut the pasta tiny strips with the pasta machine or by hand, rolling the sheets up and cutting them with a sharp knife into strips.
- Spread them all out on a cloth and leave them until ready to cook them.
- Bring to the boil a pot of water to cook tagliolini, when it boils add the salt.
- In a pan, add the grated pecorino toscano and let it dissolve with a few tablespoons of pasta water over low heat.
- Add two tablespoons of ricotta for make a creamy sauce.
- Cook tagliolini in boiling salted water for about 1 minute, drain al dente and pour into the pan with a few tablespoon of cooking water.
- Sprinkle with freshly ground pepper and cream the pasta quickly.
- Remove from heat and serve immediately.
How can I dress this pasta? Cacio e pepe is the easiest way to dress cocoa tagliolini (try cacio e pepe also with pici, traditional and amazingly good). If I want to serve a rich and warming first course, though, I usually choose a quick sauce made with fresh Italian sausage. Peel the sausage and crumble it in a frying pan with a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil, a sprig of rosemary and a clove of garlic. When after a few minutes the sausage is cooked and pink, remove the pan from the heat and discard the garlic and the rosemary. Crumble the sausage finely with a mixer, add the fresh cocoa tagliolini and toss the pasta to dress. You’ll distinctly feel everything: the tasty sausage, the garlic and the rosemary, surprisingly perfect with cocoa.