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Pasta Around the Mediterranean

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PASTA FROM AROUND THE MEDITERRANEAN

Instructor: Adam Balic

Outline:

Introduction

What is pasta?

History of pasta in the Mediterranean region

Making pasta

Recipes

Introduction:

To most of us, pasta conjures up thoughts of a fast meal, easily prepared, with a definite Italian slant. But pasta has appeared in many cuisines over the years.

Our supermarket shelves groan under the weight of a multitude of pasta types, both fresh and dried, and their accompanying sauces. Now, this in itself is not a bad thing. The range and quality of pasta types has increased greatly in the past few years. But almost all signal "Italy". Of course, this is only natural given that around the Mediterranean region and within Europe, the Italians are the foremost producers and consumers of pasta. However, outside of Italy there are other enthusiastic consumers of pasta, who often have very different notions of how pasta is best prepared. Even within Italy itself, the forms of pasta that we are most familiar with barely hint at the true range and diversity of pasta types available.

In this class I will concentrate on the pasta from around the Mediterranean, not because I think that this region produces the best pasta, but simply because this is where my interest lies and what I am most qualified (hopefully!) to talk about. We will look at the history of pasta in this region, how to make several types of basic pasta and then I will offer recipes using these pastas. I hope, at the end of this class, you will have a better understanding of the different types of pasta, of the various pasta cooking techniques common around the Mediterranean and, more importantly, that you will be encouraged to cook them yourself.

History of Pasta in the Mediterranean Region:

In 1274 Marco Polo set off from Venice with his family for the unknown East. Twenty-four years later he returned with a bag full of loot and a head full of fabulous stories about exotic locations. One of the things that he brought back from the Far East was pasta. It is from the East via Marco Polo that Europe gained knowledge of pasta.

Well, it is an excellent story, but story it is I’m afraid. Marco Polo was an excellent observer (his notes on a Unicorn he saw is a rather good description of a rhinoceros) and a sharp businessman on the look out for new products to market back home. While Marco almost certainly did see pasta made from wheat while in China, what he brought back was a product made from starch extracted from either breadfruit or the sago palm. We would call this “tapioca” or “sago”, but we wouldn’t call it pasta. You see, the problem for Marco was that pasta already existed back home in Venice, so it was slightly pointless for him to bring it all the way back from China as a ‘new and exciting product’.

So who did introduce pasta to the Mediterranean region? Well, the truth is that there isn’t an easy answer. What is pasta after all? The distinction between pasta and other farinaceous products isn’t always great. Bread, dumplings, puddings and pasta, while being distinct in the main, blur into one another on the fringes. In fact the most primitive of extant pasta are suspiciously similar to failed bread (see Mlnici recipe). Or perhaps not ‘failed’ after all.

Many European peoples have developed methods of preserving grain products. In the cooler North where many grains will not ripen, rye, oat and barley flat-breads/biscuits dominate. In the warmer South, dried wheat breads prevail. What distinguishes pasta from these other products is the main ingredient -- wheat.

Wheat contains gluten and it is gluten that makes pasta-making possible (see “What is pasta?” section). So perhaps the best that can be concluded is that many peoples have contributed, together or in isolation, to the ‘invention’ of pasta.

Pastas around the Mediterranean can be divided into two main groups based on the type of wheat used. Pasta made from hard wheat flour (Durum wheat), the product familiar to us as dried pasta, was almost certainly introduced to the Mediterranean, and then to the rest of Europe by the Arabs, either directly or as a trade item. On the other hand, it is difficult to determine where pasta made from soft wheat flour originated. It is likely that it evolved independently in several locations.

What is clear is that the earliest mention of pasta made from Durum wheat flour can be found in Near-Eastern sources (see Tunisian steamed pasta recipe), mostly in Greek, Persian, and later in Arabic literature and that by the 13th Century pasta began to appear in European Christian literature.

One early Muslim pasta recipe, from what is now Andalusia, refers to fidawsh. The descendent of this pasta still exists in modern Spain, France and Italy (see Fideos recipe). During this time, it seems that pasta was a food for the wealthy and this remained the case for several centuries.

While the names of many of these historic pasta would be familiar to us, the recipes are not. Some pasta was fried rather than boiled (see “Barbajouan” recipe) and there was little distinction between sweet and savoury courses. Often ravioli contained fruit as well as spices such as cinnamon, cloves and mace. Over time, as the people changed, so did their food including their pasta.

As is the case today, the peoples of the Italian peninsula became the main consumers of pasta and spices disappeared from recipes in most locations, with a few exceptions (see Cialzons recipe). And what had been a food of the rich, became a food for the poor.

By the 17th Century pasta became a food for all people in the South of Italy and by the 19th Century, pasta was being made on a commercial scale in both Genoa and Naples. Today pasta is eaten all over the world and when people think of European pasta, they think of “Italy”. But, while Italy is a major part of this story, it is by no means the only part.

What is Pasta?

“Pasta” is derived from the word “paste” and so pasta is a food derived from a paste made almost exclusively from wheat flour (but see Chestnut flour papadelle recipe).

Why wheat? Well wheat flour has several components that give the paste or dough made from it ideal properties for pasta making. Although flour is made up of many different components, the most important are starch, glutenin and gliadin. Starch is a complex carbohydrate made from chains of sugar molecules. In wheat flour starch exists in the form of “tiny little balls”. Glutenin and gliadin are proteins. In flour they are separate molecules, but with the addition of liquid they link together to form a larger molecule known as gluten. Gluten forms strands and these strands interlock to form a large tangled net. This gluten net traps the starch grains (like a tangle of wire springs trapping a collection of basketballs) and gives the pasta dough elasticity so that it can be stretched and deformed without breaking.

Depending on the type of wheat, these components can vary in proportion. This is important to remember when making pasta. In fact it is the amount of gluten that can be formed in a flour that is the important point. The less gluten the harder it is for the gluten net to hold together the starch basketballs. Flour made from Durum wheat (known as hard wheat flour or semolina flour) contains more glutenin and gliadin than soft wheat flour and therefore produces a dough containing more gluten. Durum-type flour mixed with nothing but water can produce a dough that is easily formed into threads and sheets of pasta. It is also possible to extrude this type of pasta dough to give us most of the familiardried pasta shapes such as Linguine, Bucatini, Fusilli, Penne, Spaghetti. Durum wheat flour is naturally yellow and so produces a pale yellow cooked pasta.

Dough made from soft wheat flours contains less glutenin and gliadin and hence produces less gluten. While it is possible to make pasta dough from soft wheat flour and water alone, these doughs commonly have eggs added. The egg proteins take on the same function as the gluten strands. Soft wheat flour is white in colour and therefore produces a white pasta, unless copious amounts of egg yolks are added to the pasta dough. Pasta made from soft wheat flour is common in the north of Italy and is often used to make ravioli, tortellini etc.

While soft wheat flour plus egg forms a dough that is good for making fresh pasta, the dried pasta that results is very brittle. Most dried egg pasta is made of semolina flour or a blend of flours that remain more stable when dry.

While glutenin and gliadin proteinS form gluten in pasta dough, this would occur far too slowly if the flour was simply mixed with water and formed into a dough. To increase the rate of gluten formation, the dough is kneaded. The lower the amount of glutenin and gliadin protein in the flour, the more kneading will be required to form gluten. Both the gluten strands and starch grains absorb water. So once the dough has been kneaded it must be allowed to rest for a time to allow the starch grains to fully absorb water and break up. All these procedures produce a pasta with good mechanical properties and texture.

One final note on flours and pasta-making. In Italy flour is classified as “Semolina” (Durum wheat flour) or “Farina” (soft wheat flour or a blend of the two). Italian flours are further classified numerically on the basis of refinement. “00” being the most refined, “2” being the least. The level of refinement also indicates the protein levels and, for most practical purposes, these indicate the level of gluten in the pasta dough (Durum wheat flours have a protein level of approximately 15%, by way of comparison.) “00” has a minimum of 7% protein, while “2” flour contains a minimum of 10% protein. It would therefore be logical to conclude that “2” flour would be more commonly used to make pasta because it would be able to form more gluten. Wrong. In the North of Italy were most pasta is made from soft wheat flour they mostly recommend “00” flour (as do most English language recipe books). The most common reason given for this choice of flour is that it produces a “more tender a pasta with a delicate flavour” and who am I to argue with that!

Making Pasta:

Making fresh pasta is a relatively simple task, easily mastered and quite rewarding. In terms of equipment, while it is possible to roll pasta dough using a rolling pin, I recommend a simple hand-cranked pasta machine. It simplifies the pasta making process and allows the production of not only a more consistent product, but also a wider range of pasta types. Many machines have attachments for making different sized pasta ribbons and for making ravioli.

Ingredients:

3 cups of Durum flour (fine semolina flour) or

3 cups of Italian “00” flour (or “all-purpose” flour if this is not available”

1 cup of warm water (if using semolina flour) or

3 large eggs (if using “00” flour)

Semolina flour for dusting

Method:

1. Add three cups of one flour type to a large bowl. Add water if using semolina flour or eggs if using “00” flour.

2. Mix flour into liquids using a fork. When the liquid has been fully absorbed by the flour, form the dough into a ball. Start kneading the dough ball with the heel of you palm. Do this for five minutes.

3. As different flours absorb different amounts of liquid, and eggs differ in size, the dough may be either too dry or wet at this stage. The dough ball should be elastic and soft. If it is sticky, add a little more flour; if it is very stiff add a little water.

4. Knead for a further 5 minutes. If you intend to roll out the pasta by hand, most people recommend that you knead the dough for a further 5 minutes. So 10-15 minutes of kneading in total to form those gluten networks.

5. At this point wrap the dough in plastic wrap and place in a cool place for an hour. If using semolina flour it is especially important to wrap the dough in plastic wrap to exclude air. The yellow carotene compounds in the dough react with oxygen to form melanin, in effect “tanning”. These melanin products are brown in colour and can result in discoloration of the dough.

6. After the resting period, take out the dough and divide into four. Re-wrap three of the dough portions in plastic. Flatten the remaining portion and dust with flour. Set the machine to its widest setting and wind the dough through. Repeat this six times, folding the dough sheet in half and turning it 90 degrees each time. This will give you a squarish, flattened brick of dough.

7. Decrease the roller separation by a notch and crank the dough through. Repeat this process until the pasta sheet is of the desired thickness. Should the dough begin to stick, dust with a little flour. Cover pasta sheet with a clean kitchen towel and repeat the process with the other dough portions.

This method, using a pasta machine, will produce sheets 15cm wide and up to a metre of so long. I cut them down to 40 cm lengths for ease of use.

This is the basic method for producing lasagne pasta sheets. From this point you can create other pasta types as described in the following recipes.

CROATIA

Mlinci:

These are the most primitive of the pasta recipes in this course and the pasta I have the most fondness for. They are basically an early solution to the problem of storing wheat flour in a stable, easily transportable form. While variations on Mlinci exist throughout the Balkans, I am familiar with the form cooked in Croatia. Once a year at Christmas, my grandmother would unlock the “Big Room” and we would have a Balic family gathering. Under the rather ugly and prominent painting of Tomislav the Great (he was riding a horse across a field of decapitated heads), the family would gather to bicker, drink and eat. I still wonder why my grandmother had a locked room full of expensive furniture, paintings of unsavoury ancestors, but the thing I remember the most is her Mlinci with Roast Turkey at Christmas.

Ingredients

250 g of all-purpose flour

1 egg

1/2 cup of water

Extra flour for dusting

Method

1. Pre-heat oven to 150C/300 F.

2. Place flour into a large bowl. Add egg to flour and incorporate. Gradually add water and mix until a dough is formed. The dough should not be sticky at this point. If it is, add slightly more flour.

3. Knead dough on lightly floured bench for eight minutes. Allow to rest for 1 hour.

4. Roll out, using a rolling pin until very thin, about 2 mm thick. The easiest way of accomplishing this is to roll in one direction the full length of the dough, then turn the dough 45 degrees and roll again. Repeat this process until the dough is roughly circular and approximately 2 mm thick.

5. Rest pasta sheet for an hour to dry out a little, and then cut into 15 cm squares. Place these squares carefully onto baking parchment and cook in the pre-heated oven until the pasta sheets have blistered, dried and are a light tan colour, about 20 minutes. Don’t worry if there are some darker patches.

6. Leave to cool. At this point they can be stored and as long as they are moisture-free, they will remain fresh for many weeks, enough time to dispose of a few enemies...a la Tomislav the Great!

Using Mlinci

Mlinci are ‘ready to go’. Basically they can soaked in hot water for 10-15 minutes then mixed with a savoury or sweet dressing and they are ready to eat. However, the way my grandmother would prepare them would be to place the soaked Mlinci under a roasting turkey for the last hour of cooking. Or she would pour the juices from the roasting turkey over the Mlinci and bake them separately. Primitive, but good.

FRANCE

France is known for many foods but when people think of pasta it is not often that France comes to mind. Nevertheless, France does have pasta of its own. Alsace and Lorraine have noodles (“nouilles”) and small dumplings (“Spaetzli”), the former thought to have been introduced by Italians during the Thirty Years War. Provence has macaroni, gnocchi (“gnocchis”) and ravioli (“Raviolis”). Many of these pastas are made in Nice whose official language from the mid-16th Century until its incorporation into France was Italian. Garibaldi, a native of Nice, spoke a Ligurian dilect of Italian as did many other inhabitants of this region. This recipe for “Barbajouan” (“Uncle John” adapted from Colman Andrews' Flavours of the Riviera: Discovering the Real Mediterranean Cooking of France and Italy ) This recipe for “Barbajouan” (“Uncle John” adapted from Colman Andrews' Flavours of the Riviera: Discovering the Real Mediterranean Cooking of France and Italy ) echoes the some older traditions of pasta-making in regions known for their stuffed pasta, such as in Nice, where many of these early stuffed pastas were fried, rather than boiled.

"Barbajouan:

Ingredients:

Egg pasta made with Italian “00” or all-purpose flour (see Making Pasta).

1 finely chopped onion

150 gm Swiss chard/Silver beet, stalks removed and greens finely shredded.

300 gm fresh ricotta cheese

100 gm Prosciutto

50 gm Parmesan cheese, finely grated

1 egg, beaten

Salt, black pepper, nutmeg

Additional beaten egg for sealing ravioli

Vegetable or peanut oil for frying

Method:

1. Make pasta sheets as directed, cover with a clean cloth and put aside.

2. Gently fry onions until translucent and slightly coloured, but not browned. Add Swiss chard. Reduce heat and cook until Swiss chard is wilted. Allow to cool and then finely chop this mixture.

3. Mix together ricotta, prosciutto, parmesan, egg, and the Swiss chard and onion mixture. Add salt, pepper, and nutmeg to taste.

4. Place a sheet of pasta on a floured bench. Place 1 teaspoon of filling at one end of the sheet, 3 cm from the end. Place teaspoons of filling down the centre of the pasta sheet, separated by 3 cm from each other, until sheet is filled.

5. Brush gaps between fillings with beaten egg. Place second sheet of pasta over the first sheet. Carefully press down between the lumps formed by the filling, excluding all air. Cut into squares, using a ravioli cutter, stamp or a knife. Place ravioli on a floured baking sheet, ensuring that the ravioli are not touching. Refrigerate for 20-40 minutes.

6. Heat oil until 180-90C/350-375F. Fry pasta in small batches until golden brown (the pasta will puff up and expand quite a bit). Drain on kitchen paper, and eat as soon as possible. Excellent with a Rose de Provence wine.

SPAIN

If you visit the Mediterranean coast of Spain, in addition to the bland mass-produced paella, you will sometimes see the bland rice replaced with bland industrial noodles. This is sad as these noodles are “Fideos” and they are a very interesting pasta indeed. A pasta dish known as “Fidawsh” is known from medieval Muslim “Spain”. From this origin we get a class of pasta known as “Fideos” in Spain or “Fidelanza/Fedelini” in Italy. These pasta are distinguished by being cooked in their sauce. The following pasta is adapted from Colman Andrews’ excellent Catalan Cuisine: Europe's Last Great Culinary Secret

Fideos with Clams:

Ingredients:

Olive oil for frying onions and pasta

1 large onion finely chopped

400 gm of dry Fideos pasta or durum wheat vermicelli broken into 3 cm lengths (these must not contain egg)

1 (400g) can of chopped and peeled tomatoes (or equivalent of skinned, seeded and chopped fresh tomatoes)

250 ml of dry white wine

6-8 saffron threads, lightly crushed

2 Tbs of finely chopped parsley

500 gm of cleaned clams (smaller and sweeter types are best)

For allioli/aioli/garlic mayonnaise

3 large cloves of garlic, peeled

1 egg yolk

250 ml good quality olive oil

salt and pepper

Method:

1. Fry onion gently in a shallow casserole that is designed for stove-top use (or if you have an earthenware cassola, now is the perfect time to use it) until translucent.

2. In a separate pan, very gently fry pasta in a small amount of olive oil, until they turn opaque and a light tan colour. Stir constantly as they can burn if not carefully watched.

3. Add tomato, wine and saffron threads to the onion and bring to boil. Reduce to a simmer. Cook at a simmer for 20-30 minutes (this reduces the liquid and removes the ‘canned’ taste from the tomatoes. Taste at this point and correct seasoning. It will need salt and pepper and possibly a pinch of sugar, depending on the quality of the tomatoes.

4. During this time make an allioli/aioli/garlic mayonnaise from the garlic, salt and olive oil (consult your favourite recipe).

5. Add pasta and parsley to sauce and continue to simmer until pasta softens and absorbs the sauce.

6. Add washed clams to pasta and sauce. Cook until clams have opened. Discard any that are closed.

7. At this point the pasta should be soft and the dish should be a loose stew or a thick soup in consistency. Place a few tablespoons of the allioli in the centre of the dish and partially stir into sauce.

8. Serve from dish.

NORTH AFRICA

As I have mentioned previously, there are very good reasons to believe that many forms of pasta, especially the familiar dried durum wheat pasta, are derived from North African sources. Of the contemporary North African pasta, many of us know very little. When is the last time you saw a celebrity chef making an Algerian, Tunisian or Libyan pasta recipe? Although there are many types of pasta found throughout North Africa, one class of pasta cooked in this region is particularly interesting. These pasta are steamed, rather then boiled. Like their first cousin, couscous, these pasta are steamed in a kiskis (or couscousiere in French). The following Tunisian recipe is adapted from Clifford A. Wright’s award- winning: A Mediterranean Feast: The Story of the Birth of the Celebrated Cuisines of the Mediterranean from the Merchants of Venice to the Barbary Corsairs with More Than 500 Recipes.

Nawasar Mafawwra ( Steamed pasta squares with spiced lamb and chickpeas)

Ingredients:

500 gm of pasta (pasta squares called “Nawasar” in Tunisian or “Quadratini” in Italy*)

500 gm of boneless lamb shoulder, trimmed of fat and cut into 2.5 by 3.5 cm chunks (or you can use leg of lamb or even lamb shanks).

1 small onion, finely diced

2 Tbs of Harisa

1 tsp of cayenne, Aleppo or other hot chilli powder

2 Tbs of double concentrated tomato paste

2 cups of cooked chickpeas

250 gm of small potatoes or Jerusalem artichokes (the latter isn’t traditional, I just like them)

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus a few splashes more

3 Tbs of unsalted butter (the Italian Alpine butter is particularly good, its sourness contrasts well with the hot pasta sauce.

4 raw eggs in the shell (wash the shells well)

Salt and ground black pepper

Method:

1. In a large heavy-based casserole dish or kiskis, if you have one, cook the onion in a little oil until soft and translucent. Remove onion. In the same vessel, brown the lamb on all sides. Do this in small batches.

2. Add all the lamb and the onions back to the pot or kiskis base. Add red and black pepper, harisa, tomato paste and water to cover. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Add the four eggs in their shell. In the last half hour of cooking add the chickpeas and potatoes. Check seasoning at this point.

3. If you have a kiskis, mix the pasta with the remaining olive oil until well coated and add to the top section of the kiskis. When steam begins to appear, place the lid back on and steam for three hours. Yes, that’s right, three hours! Toss the pasta in the kiskis every 20-30 minutes or so to prevent sticking.

4. If you don’t have a kiskis, cook the stew for three hours in a lidded casserole pot and cook the pasta in salted boiling water as per normal. However, the pasta must be cooked to a softer stage than al dente. This is not an Italian recipe after all. When the pasta is cooked, drain and mix with butter until coated.

5. After three hours the lamb should be very tender and the sauce will be reduced somewhat. Remove the meat, potatoes and eggs from the sauce. If the sauce looks very liquid still, reduce it until it thickens. Mix this sauce with the pasta, place in a serving bowl and place the meat, peeled eggs and potatoes on top of the pasta. Serve.

* I have difficulty finding this pasta, so I tend to use 2 cm “farfalle” or “orrechiette” pasta, as I happen to like them.

** The eggs cooked in this manner, in their shells, are very good as caramel type flavours start to develop in the egg white. You can use peeled, hard- boiled eggs if you are not convinced.

ITALY

Of all the Mediterranean regions, it is Italy that most people associate with pasta with good reason. It is the Italians who not only consume the most pasta, but also have by far the greatest diversity of both pasta types and recipes. They have also been making pasta for at least 800 years.

It is known that pasta was manufactured in Sicily, on a commercial scale, from the 12th Century and by the 13th Century it was also being manufactured in Genoa and Pisa. While this is quite a pedigree, most of the pasta recipes from this period do not resemble any extant forms. Often the pasta was cooked in spiced broths rather then water and the pasta was dressed with butter, cheeses (such as parmesan and ricotta), sugar and spices such as cinnamon. From the 14th Century onward, these types of spiced and sweetened pasta dishes gradually disappeared from both recipe collections and literature. Today they are almost non-existent. Well almost so, because there are a few happy exceptions.

The town of Crema in Lombardy is famous for its tortellini stuffed with an extraordinary mixture of dried and candied fruit, amaretti biscuits, dark chocolate, Marsala, and cheese. Throughout the rest of Lombardy, a more home-style pasta stuffed with pumpkin and amaretti is common. Emilia-Romagna has a sweet pastry pie, stuffed with a mixture of macaroni or tortellini dressed with porcini mushrooms, sweetbreads, and chicken livers and bound in béchamel sauce flavoured with cinnamon and cloves. Recipes that are similar to this pie can be traced back to the Renaissance.

These recipes are an example of a few survivors from a once great clan. One indication of just how popular and widespread these spiced and sweetened pasta were, is indicated by the four recipes for ‘Tortelleti’ in Robert May’s ‘Accomplisht Cook’ (1660). These pasta were again stuffed with either veal, bone-marrow, cow udder, vegetables (such as spinach, beets or green peas) and a mixture of parmesan, curd cheese, currants, cloves, rosewater, cinnamon and nutmeg. Now, while these pasta are obviously Italian in origin, the surprising thing is that they occur in a 17th Century English cookbook for upper-class Catholic families! This is an indication of how widespread these pasta were in the courts of Europe.

The following modern recipe for Cialzons pasta is from Friuli in the north-east of modern Italy. Cialzons come in two basic forms: a meat stuffed pasta served in brodo (broth) or a meatless version containing fruit and ricotta dressed with browned sweet butter. It is this latter form, first mentioned in the 14th Century and which shows an obvious similarity to ‘Tortelletei’ of Robert May and to "Tortellini di Crema", that we will prepare.

Cialzons:

Cialzons can be stuffed with a variety of fresh fruit including, pears, apples and plums and/or dried fruit such as prunes, currants or figs. In the case of dried fruit it is often plumped up by gently pre-cooking in red wine. In this recipe I am using quinces, as quinces are not only traditional, but also utterly lovely in appearance, flavour and scent.

Ingredients:

One recipe of ‘00’ or all-purpose flour basic pasta dough (see above)

Filling:

2 large quinces

250 gm of fresh ricotta (not UHT, as it is not suitable for this recipe)

2 tsps of white sugar

pinch of salt

1/2tsp of cinnamon

1/2 Tbs of very finely chopped fresh marjoram

1 egg yolk

100 gm of sweet butter

Method:

1. Pre-heat oven to 160C/325F. Prick quince several times with a fork or skewer (to prevent the fruit from bursting), place in a baking dish and bake for one hour or until the fruit is soft. Allow fruit to cool then peel and remove the flesh into a clean bowl. Mash fruit thoughly to produce a fine puree. Weigh fruit, it should weigh 100-150 gm. Mix this pulp with the rest of the filling ingredients. Taste for salt.

2. Roll out pasta sheets as directed and stuff cialzons as directed in steps 4-5 of the Barbajouan recipe.

3. Cook cialzons in boiling, salted water, until they float, about 3-5 minutes. Test one cialzon to make sure that the pasta is cooked. When pasta is cooked, drain and place in a serving bowl. While the pasta is cooking, brown the butter in a clean pan over medium heat. As the butter heats, it will at first foam, then the milk solids will begin to brown. When these are a medium brown colour and smell ‘nutty’ pour over the pasta, carefully mix and serve.

While cialzons are ‘sweet’, rather then ‘savoury’, in modern terms, they traditionally come before the main dish, like most other Italian pasta. I have seen them offered as ‘Dolce’, but I don’t feel that there is any need for that. If one was going to be non-authentic I think that a better way of serving them would be to cook them like pot-stickers, dress them in butter and serve them as a side with roast game such as pheasant or with a roast goose or even turkey.

Chestnut Flour Pappardelle with Wild Boar:

While pasta can now be found throughout most regions in Italy, this has not always been the case. While some of the earliest medieval records of pasta in Italy come from Tuscany, in more recent times, only two types of pasta are known to be ‘traditional’ to this region.

“Pici/Pinci” are a thick spaghetti type pasta from the area around Siena, especially Pienza, while “Pappardelle” are large tagliatelle type pasta. Pappardelle is most often seen served with a meat sauce made of game, most commonly hare, but also lamb, wild duck or wild boar. Many of these game/meat sauces now contain tomato, but this is not traditional and I prefer the “no tomato” versions. The combination of caramelized sugar and vinegar, as in the following recipe, when used in Tuscan sauces is referred to as “Agrodolce”. These Agrodolce sauces are not usually served with pasta, but I think that the slight sweet/sourness contrasts well with the chestnut pasta.

Before I begin the recipe, I must confess that the pasta is not traditional at all. In fact, I have never seen this type of pasta, which makes sense since I made the recipe up.!

After one trip to Italy I bought back a bag of chestnut flour. While, there are several types of chestnut flour pasta or dumplings found throughout Italy, I came up with this recipe simply because I had a recipe for buckwheat flour pasta from Lombardy. I think that the sweet earthy flavours of the chestnut flour go very well with game. If you cannot get chestnut flour, use buckwheat flour or whole wheat flour to make the pasta. The basic sauce recipe can be used with other game meats as well as lamb or pork.

Ingredients:

Pasta:

200 gm of “00” Italian flour or all-purpose flour

100 gm of chestnut flour

2 eggs

1 tsp of salt

Sauce:

500 gm of lean wild boar shoulder (or other game meat) cut into 4 by 6 cm pieces

1/2 tsp of grated orange zest.

50 gms of finely chopped unsmoked pancetta

2 onions, one roughly chopped, one finely chopped

2 large carrots, one roughly chopped, one finely chopped

2 sticks of celery, including greens, one roughly chopped, one finely chopped

2 bay leaves, a sprig each of rosemary, thyme and sage leaves, tied in a bundle.

2 Tbs of white sugar

3 Tbs of finely chopped flat-leaf parsley

4 Tbs of good quality white wine vinegar

1 cup of dry white wine

1 cup of chicken stock

Salt and black pepper

Extra virgin olive oil

Method:

1. Take the roughly chopped vegetables and gently sauté in a little olive oil. When beginning to soften, take off the heat and add white wine. Allow to cool. Place wine and vegetables in a bowl, add meat and allow to marinate overnight in a cool place.

2. Drain meat (reserving the marinade) and pat dry. Discard the vegetables.

3. In a large flameproof casserole, sauté the finely chopped vegetables and pancetta in a little olive oil. When the vegetables soften, add orange zest and meat. Gently brown the meat. Add the reserved marinade, chicken stock and herbs. Bring to boil then reduce to a simmer and cook for 2.5 hours or until meat is tender.

4. Discard the herbs. Strain the meat and vegetables, reserving the liquid, and put both aside.

5. In a small saucepan, gently heat the sugar until it begins to dissolve and caramelize. Add the vinegar and mix until sugar is completely dissolved. Heat gently for 1 minute then add the strained liquid that you set aside in step 4. Reduce liquid to one cup. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Add the parsley and the reserved meat and vegetables. The sauce should be very slightly sweet and tangy, but the flavours of the herbs and meat should dominate. Keep sauce warm.

6. Make pasta as directed in “Making pasta” section. Roll out pasta sheets until 1-2 mm thick. Cut pasta sheets into 2.5 cm ribbons. Bring a pan of salted water to a boil, add the pasta and cook for about four minutes. Drain. Add the pasta back to pot in which it was cooked, place on low heat and add three quarters of the pasta sauce. Heat through. Place on serving dish and top with remainder of the sauce. Serve.

Pasta con Cozze:

While durum wheat pasta is now found thoughout Italy, it is in the south that it remains a staple as evidenced by the endless variety of recipes and pasta forms found in that region. Sicily, where not only has Durum wheat pasta long been made and consumed, may also be where this pasta was first introduced to Europeans.

One of the most common pasta dishes is “Pasta con le Sarde” (Pasta with fresh sardines). This is a baked pasta dish and I love it! The combination of flavours is exceptionally good. Unfortunately, since moving to Scotland I have great difficulty making this dish as fresh sardines (or even pilchards) are not very common. The following recipe is my attempt at capturing some of the better aspects of the dish. I could have used another oily fish, such as herring or mackerel, but I don’t think those fish are suitable for the recipe, whereas the excellent Scottish mussels are. As mussels dry out if baked for any period, the pasta is simply dressed.

Ingredients:

One recipe of Durum flour basic pasta dough (see above)

2 fennel bulbs, including their feathery tops.

1 finely diced onion

1 kilo of mussels in the shell (Cover them with fresh water, to which you have added the juice of half a lemon, leave for 4 hours then rinse, clean and de-beard.)

100 gm pinenuts

3 garlic cloves

20 strands of saffron (a small pinch)

1/2 cup of fruity good quality olive oil

1 cup dry white wine

salt and pepper

Zest of one lemon (or half a citron if available), cut into fine slivers, like rosemary leaves.

Method:

1. Roll out pasta sheets until 2 mm thick. Cut pasta into 4 mm ribbons using either a pasta machine or a knife. Alternatively, buy a good quality dried linguine.

2. Remove feathery tops from fennel bulbs, chop finely and set aside. Remove any discoloured outer leaves from the fennel bulbs and put them into a saucepan, cover with water, bring to boil and cook until the bulbs are easily pierced with a fork, about ten minutes. Remove from water, allow to cool and dice fennel bulbs finely. Put aside. Gently brown pinenuts in a saucepan Do not allow to burn! Put aside.

3. Place mussels into a large pot and add the white wine. Bring to boil, cover with lid and steam mussels until they open, about 4-5 minutes. Remove mussels from liquid and put the liquid aside. Discard any un-opened mussels. Strain the liquid through cheese cloth or a fine strainer to remove any debris. Remove flesh from half of the mussels and set aside.

4. Sauté onion in olive oil and when translucent, add crushed saffron and garlic. Stir for one minute, then add the strained mussel liquid. Reduce heat and simmer.

5. Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil and add pasta. Cook pasta until tender to the tooth (al dente), around five minutes for fresh pasta; 10 minutes for dried.

6. Add the diced fennel. lemon zest and toasted pine nuts to the sauce. Taste and adjust seasoning. When the pasta is cooked, add it and the shucked mussels to the sauce and combine. Place in a serving dish, top with the rest of the mussels in their shells and garnish with the finely chopped fennel fronds. Serve.

Post your questions here-->>Q&A

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