When I do a cooking class there is one dish that never fails, fresh pasta. It is the cornerstone of the entire morning. My grandma taught me how to make fresh pasta as she would have passed down a ritual, so I try do to the same with my guests. It is through ancient and wise gestures that you can really acquire the skills to make fresh pasta at home. I take the jars of flour from the shelf, dust them and place them on a wooden board.
Here comes always the first question: why a wooden board if there is already such a beautiful marble table? Can’t we make the dough on the table? This is the moment to awake the senses. I invite them to touch both the marble and the wooden board, as hands do not lie. The marble is cold and smooth, we can make a pie crust here because you won’t overheat the butter with the work of your hands. The wooden board is instead rough and porous. The warmth of wood passes from your hands, through your skin, and it turns a few handfuls of flour and some eggs into an elastic and versatile dough.
When you cook you have to keep all your senses alert: take a pinch of the two flours, a tender wheat flour 0 and a durum wheat semolina, sniff them, rub them through your fingers to figure out the differences. In my family fresh pasta follows this rule: half and half.
My family has always imposed me just a few essential rules, and those rules were usually related to the ingredients to use in a specific recipe.
When they feel comfortable enough kneading the dough, the second question comes, as timely and granted as pumpkin in autumn. So Italians do not buy dried pasta, do you always make fresh pasta? And they look at me, with a mixture of disbelief and respect, finally understanding the effort, also physical, behind a bowl of tagliatelle with meat sauce.
I smile, I remain silent for a moment, pondering the answer, and then admit that no, we mainly buy dried pasta, which is very good, even here in Tuscany. Fresh pasta is usually left for special occasions, when you want to celebrate something.
Then I keep thinking about it within myself, as we continue with the lesson, and I realize that I do not make enough fresh pasta, that more and more of our special occasions have lost the scent of semolina flour and the large wooden tray where grandmother would neatly arrange nests of tagliatelle to dry.
So, a few Sundays ago, I pulled down the two jars of flour and I placed the wooden board onto the table. Even without an audience, I felt like making fresh pasta, my personal miracle of flour and eggs. I made potato and pumpkin tortelli for lunch, just for Tommaso and me.
Potato and pumpkin tortelli with brown butter, sage and pine nuts
When Tommaso and I started to live together, in spring, I would brag with everyone about how I managed to bring this Florentine guy to the countryside. Actually, he is not a pure city guy, his family is from Mugello, a mountainous and hilly area above Florence, and these roots emerge in his food tastes. If I have always had a soft spot for ravioli maremmani with ricotta and spinach, he would rather eat every day, for lunch and dinner, tortelli mugellani, those filled with potatoes and a hint of garlic and parsley.
So I made him tortelli, though I tried to sneak some pumpkin in, previously baked with olive oil, salt, pepper and a generous pinch of nutmeg: it is Autumn, I want every dish that I make to reflect the colours and scents of these misty days, lit by the flames of yellow and red leaves of the trees in the wood.
How then dress the tortelli? Brown butter and crispy sage are a winning, but this time I added also a handful of pine nuts. Melt the butter on low flame with sage and pine nuts and cook it until golden brown and heavenly toasted, with a slight hazelnut aroma. In the meantime the heat will turn the sage leaves into crispy bits and the pine nuts into golden nuggets.
- 150 g of tender wheat flour 0 or all purpose flour
- 150 g of durum wheat semolina
- 3 eggs
- 1 teaspoon of extra virgin olive oil
- 400 g of pumpkin
- 3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 200 g of boiled potatoes
- 2 tablespoons of of Tuscan pecorino cheese grated (or pecorino romano)
- 60 g of butter
- A dozen sage leaves
- 70 g of pine nuts
Make fresh pasta following this recipe. Wrap it in plastic film and let it stand for 30 minutes at room temperature.
Now make the filling. Preheat oven to 200°C. Peel and slice the pumpkin into 1 cm thick slices. Line a baking tray with parchment paper, arrange the pumpkin slices and brush them with olive oil, then season with salt, pepper and nutmeg.
Bake the pumpkin for about 20 minutes, until soft and slightly caramelized on the edges.
Remove it from the oven, collect it into a bowl and add the potatoes, then mash everything together, add the grated pecorino cheese and season with salt and pepper.
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 over and over again, rolling and stretching it as much as you can.
Make a paper thin wide sheet of pasta and lay it the floured wooden board.
Put little mounds of filling – about one teaspoon each - at regular intervals onto the sheet of pasta. Fold the pasta to cover the filling and press gently with your fingers all around the filling, to seal it. With a scalloped pastry cutter cut the tortelli and put them onto a floured tray in one layer.
To cook the tortelli bring a large pot of water to the boil, salt the water and pour a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil in it: this will prevent tortelli from sticking to each other.
Cook the tortelli in batches, according to the size of the pot.
Melt the butter in a pan with the sage cut into strips and the pine nuts and cook until golden and with a delicate toasty smell.
Drain the tortelli and toss them in the pan just enough to cover them evenly with the dressing. Serve them right away, possibly with more grated pecorino.
When you make tortelli you might have some leftover sheets of pasta. I usually cut in with a pizza cutter or a fluted pastry cutter wheel into small pieces which resembles tiny stamps or even confetti, and I cover them with semolina flour. Lay them on a tray and freeze them, then gather the pasta in a plastic bag and stash them in the freezer.
When I make a vegetable soup I love to add a handful of this pasta in the last minutes of cooking, then we curl up on the sofa for a cozy tv dinner night.
Let’s talk about pine nuts. Here some recipes to inspire you…
- We’re right in the perfect moment. These almond paste cookies covered in pine nuts are a fantastic idea for your Christmas gifts.
- This is another smart idea for unusual Christmas gifts, a pine nut, rosemary, sea salt brittle which Emiko mentioned when she presented Rachel‘s book, Five quarters.
- When you think about pine nuts, I say castagnaccio, a Tuscan gluten-free thin cake with with chestnut flour, water, olive oil, raisins and pine nuts.