Last week I started talking about my excellent Italian adventure in Piedmont, in the foothills of the Alps. One of the most exciting parts of the trip was a visit to the Il Melograno Cooking School in Turin where Chef Giadda Bosco presides. And I don't have to tell you, Chef JP, that taking a cooking lesson is a thoroughly enjoyable thing to do.
Although it may sound totally basic, we had a lesson in making fresh pasta from scratch, and we found it a humbling experience.
Let's start with the flour, which classically is a variety called "Tipo 00."
We sifted the flour onto a clean wooden board, mounded it up then made a spacious well in the middle. Into the well we cracked two large whole eggs, and with a fork, whipped them up and started incorporating the flour. A few minutes later we all had a big ball of rough pasta dough to work with... and work we did. We were told to spend 10 minutes kneading the dough using the proper technique. Our formidable teacher Veronica taught us to work the dough with the heels of our hands, and to imitate a kitten kneading her mother's side.
It's a workout, but the pasta dough took shape and soon we all had big golden balls of it that required a half hour's resting.
After a break we broke out the rolling pins and started creating thin sheets of pasta dough... some more successfully than others. This is where you want to have one of those Atlas Pasta Machines that literally crank out pasta of uniform thickness ready for cutting and shaping.
I'm convinced that the thinner the pasta the better for quick and thorough cooking. But a me and my rolling pin left a lot to be desired. Nevertheless, we cut out long rectangles which we folded into a tube shape then cut into strips of tagliatelle with sharp knives. Easy-peezy.
The next shape proved to be my favorite. It's called "garganelli" and it is a lot of fun to make. You'll need one of those cute little pasta paddles that have grooves cut into them and a 1/4" dowel. You cut small postage stamp sized squares of very thin pasta and place them diamond-wise on the paddle. Using the thin wooden dowel, you roll up the pasta, all the time pressing it into the grooves. What results is a lovely little tube with sauce catching ridges built in. I plan to become a master of garganelli.
While Veronica was teaching us the ins and outs of pasta, Giadda was cooking up a couple sauces. The one that captured my imagination was something called a pesto rosso... a red pesto. We're all used to the green variety which is based on basil. But this is a red variety based on sun-dried tomatoes. It couldn't be easier to make. Using a food processor, you purée 3 1/2 of sun dried tomatoes along with 2 ounces of almonds, some grated parmesan cheese, a little basil and parsley and a lot of olive oil. When the mixture becomes creamy and very smooth, you adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper. Let the sauce simmer over a low flame for at least 30 minutes to get all the ingredients well integrated. I may experiment by adding red bell peppers to the blend.
We served Giadda's pesto rosso over our garganelli and it was fabulous. A light Dolcetto would be a great match for this perfect lunch dish.
Pesto Rosso Sauce
(From Il Melograno Cooking School, Turin)
- 100 g of sun dried tomatoes
- 50 g of almonds
- 50 g grated parmesan - 1 sprig of fresh basil
- 1 sprig of parsley
- extra virgin olive oil
1. In a mixer blend the sun dried tomatoes with almonds, parmesan, basil and parsley adding olive oil until the pesto becomes creamy. Check the salt.
2. Pour the pesto into a medium sauce pan and simmer over low heat, about 20 minutes.