SHALL I DINE AT YOUR TABLE? | For Bea, cooking has always been a family affair. La Chicca (pronounce Kikka), her nanny, taught her almost everything. Together with her mum, let’s be honest. But la Chicca was always in charge of making la pasta. Don’t be misled by her small and frail demeanor; when it comes to kneading dough, she shows a herculean strength, no matter how many guests are expected. Even today, she always wants to make pasta for everyone, despite her old age and blurry vision. Italy is one of those country with a real culture of hospitality and gastronomy where you never, ever let anyone step out of your house while still hungry… I don’t know about you but I love that! 🙂
It was with great pride that Bea kindly showed me how real tagliatelle are traditionally made in her home region of Marche, and in Emilia-Romagna. No cooking robot, no fuss, just with the hands, a rolling pin, a cutting board and a knife, like in the old days. “La Chicca will be so proud when she sees me!”, she kept repeating. Indeed, dear reader, cooking is no longer an unglamorous chore like it was following the Golden Sixties and the massive import in Europe of American fridges and other kitchen appliances (thank you Marshall Plan), spreading the image of a delicate and consumption-driven modern woman
(who likes flowers and smoking pot), too sophisticated for physical tasks in the home. Today, a woman can be modern, glamorous, while enjoying cooking, gardening, knitting or crochet (Bea is a good example). Men also, but I just don’t know any of them. The time when those activities were considered antiquated and uncool is bygone forever. Nannies, grannies and mums are cool again. The only difference is that today, they often have to combine them with a full-time job and kids, who now have full schedules like ministers (music, sport, danse, theatre, etc…; personal development is the new mantra and even comes before breathing). But that’s another debate I prefer not to dive in today.
Let’s get back to Bea, and her love for cooking and gastronomy. She even gave some Italian cooking classes on some occasions in the past. “It’s very Italian, you know. All my Italian friends love cooking. We even share recipes and tricks!” Besides, she told me a touching family story linked to tagliatelle. During the war, her grandpa and her grandpa’s sister once managed to get hold of some flour. Those were extremely difficult times, and the deprivation of basic needs and lack of food were heavily felt. That flour was perceived as a blessing from heaven, so they made tagliatelle, the heart full of impatience of finally enjoying one of life’s pleasures again after such a long deprivation. But when the meal was finally ready, the siren sounded, announcing an imminent bombing threat, and ordering the population to go and hide in some basement. The siblings looked at each other, then quietly started eating like nothing had happened. During the meal, they even saw airplanes through the window, on their way to a neighbouring village, bombing and killing many. But for them, tagliatelle was more important. In that moment, the pleasure of enjoying some real food and sharing a meal meant the world to them, especially since they didn’t know when or if they would be able to enjoy such a moment again. And that was worth everything, even risking their lives.
Today, Bea gladly shares with us a recipe made with seasonal vegetables, parmigiano reggiano, olive oil, and a personal twist. “The student is surpassing the teacher”, her mum once told her. “My mum cooks SO well”, says Bea with a lot of admiration in her voice. Wow how nice! If only my mum could tell me something as sweet only once 😉
For the tagliatelle
- 6 eggs
- 600 gr wheat flour
- possibly some water
For the pesto
- a bunch of asparagus
- one red onion
- 125 gr arugula
- 60 gr parmigiano reggiano cheese
- 60 gr pecorino cheese
- 60 gr almond flakes
- 190 gr extra virgin olive oil
- 3 garlic cloves
- salt to taste
Let’s start with the dough. Firstly, set aside some flour for the working surface and rolling pin later. Place the rest of the flour on the working surface and make a well in the center. Crack the eggs one by one in the well, then gently mix them with your fingers making spiral movements starting in the center of the well to the outside.
Use your herculean strength to knead until the dough is smooth, soft and elastic. When you press softly on it with a finger, it has to get back to its original shape after releasing the pressure.
Depending on how big the eggs are and on the flour’s consistency, you may need to adjust adding more flour if the dough is too sticky, or adding a little bit of water if it’s too dry.
Once you have the right consistency, you can roll out the dough on a floured working surface using a rolling pin. Try to obtain a circular shape in order to waste as little dough as possible when cutting the tagliatelle later.
Now you will really need your herculean strength to obtain a perfect circle as thick as 1 to 2 mm edge to edge! Once you have it, you can flour the pasta circle and let it rest.
Let’s make pesto now. If like Bea, you’re lucky enough to have arugula growing in the garden, go and get 125 gr, wash it and roughly chop it.
Cut out the asparagus heads and set them aside. Chop the rest of the asparagus and chop the onion.
Heat some olive oil in a pan and cook the onion and asparagus. Set aside.
Bring a some salted water to a boil and cook the asparagus heads for 8 to 10 minutes. Once cooked, rinse under cold running water and set aside.
Place the arugula, parmigiano and pecorino cheeses, almonds, olive oil, peeled garlic cloves and some salt in a blender, and mix everything until smooth. Transfer the pesto in another container and add the cooked asparagus (not the heads) and onions. If needed, adjust the seasoning.
The pesto is ready! And the pasta has rested enough by now. Let’s cut it into tagliatelle. Roll the dough from the bottom to the middle of the circle, then from the top to the middle of the circle, until both halves touch each other.
Place the dough on a cutting board if you don’t want to cut on your working surface.
Cut the tagliatelle, unroll them, and place them on a tray. If needed, flour them so they don’t stick together.
Bring some salted water to a boil and cook your freshly made pasta. Cooking time will depend on how thick your tagliatelle are, but just remember that in Italy, pasta is cooked al dente! Mix the tagliatelle with the fresh pesto, place some asparagus heads on each plate, and you’re done!
At Bea’s, we were even served on plates shaped like books!
And before leaving, Bea kindly prepared a pesto jar for me to enjoy the next day… I’m so glad I came here! Viva Italia!
By the way, if your are looking for a reference in terms of Italian cooking, don’t hesitate to check Giallo Zafferano! According to Bea, it has all you need to know… including making you learn some Italian!
A presto amici !