** This a “talk story” post. In Hawaii, to “talk story” is to share memories and tell stories. **
When I received Verena’s invitation (from “Mangia che te fa bene”) yesterday to participate in World Pasta Day, which is Thursday, October 25th, the first thing that came rushing back was our last trip to Italy in 2003. We had such fun exploring the Cinque Terra, the 5 sparkling sea cliff villages on the Italian riviera that have been designated a World Heritage site. More on that in a bit, but first the pasta.
Immediately after returning from that trip, I felt compelled to make pasta at home to take advantage of this beautiful wondrous mushroom called Ovoli we found in the markets at Chiavari (the town we stayed in). I’m sorry this picture doesn’t do it justice because it was taken 4 days after we bought it, and after a train ride, overnight in Bologna (sigh . . . Bologna), plane trip to Germany, 2-hour car ride home, etc. You can see it retained it’s lovely orange color, despite our abuse.
We were there around this time of year (October) and it was mushroom season and the markets were full of all kinds of incredible mushrooms. I don’t speak Italian besides being able to order coffee, and inquire about a price (but not understand the answer). That’s what happened with these mushrooms. I was so taken with them that I just selected 2 and handed them to the proprietor. And she handed me a receipt for . . . (gasp) 20+ Euros. The Euro-USD exchange rate was better then that it is now, but that was still about $19. This was for 260g of mushrooms — yes, that works out to about $40/lb!! I looked at her sign for the first time (I was too enthralled with the mushrooms to see it earlier) and yes, it said 80 Euros per kilo. A sane person might have said, oh, sorry, my mistake, I won’t be taking these. Instead I thought, wow, these must be good, I have to try them! I asked the proprietor (in German, it was our only semi-common language) to write down the name of the mushroom in Italian, which she was kind enough to do.
So, no dried pasta for these babies, it had to be from scratch. I also did a mad search on the web for any information on the Ovoli and recipe ideas on how to take most advantage of it’s unique flavors. I wanted a recipe as simple as possible, so the Ovoli would not be overshadowed by any other ingredient.
500g/ 4 cups durum flour (Type 00), aka “pasta flour” in the US
6 large egg yolks
1 tsp salt
Mix flour and salt. Make a mound of the flour and a well in the center. Add the egg yolks and starting from the middle, incorporate the yolks into the flour (this is messy but fun!). Gradually add flour from the sides until all flour is incorporated. Flour your hands, start kneading until the dough comes together and does not stick so much. Cover with damp towel and let rest while assembling pasta maker. We will finish the kneading with the pasta maker/roller.
Set your pasta maker on the largest setting. Sprinkle flour very generously over the pasta roller. Cut the dough into 4 equal pieces. Take the first piece and flatten it with your hands so it will fit through the rollers. (Keep the other pieces under a damp towel.) Crank it all the way through. It will look something like this.
Not very appetizing yet. Fold the dough and pass it through the rollers again. This action is actually doing the kneading for you.
After 2-3 times at the largest setting, go to the next smaller setting on your roller, and pass it through 2 times. Remember to fold the dough after it comes out of the rollers!
Set the rollers down at the third setting and roll through again. Now it’s starting to resemble pasta . . .
Roll through the third setting one more time (don’t forget to fold). This is a before and after view of the dough.
After the last roll, cut your kneaded dough again into 3 pieces. Bring your roller setting down to the last setting, and put the short end of the dough through for the final roll. This is for the thinness of the dough. (Sorry, no picture of that)
Now go to the cutting side of your roller and put the paper-thin pieces of dough through to be cut. Sprinkle with more flour, gather lightly and leave to air dry. Isn’t that beautiful? Fresh fettucine.
But wait, we’ve only made one of those bundles so far. You have to go back and finish cutting the 2 other pieces of kneaded dough. Then there are still 3 pieces of unkneaded dough that have to go through the whole process. Hard work? A bit, but it’s the kind of repetitious work, like making bread, that is meditative as well. If you’re not in the mood to be meditative, put on your favorite music, open a nice Montepulciano and have fun with your work!
Ovoli saffron Sauce (made this up after a web search)
2 Ovoli, about 250g, cleaned gently with a towel and lovingly sliced
1-2 TBL olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
2-3 TBL unsalted butter
4-5 TBL creme fraiche
pinch of Saffron
sea salt to taste
Warm creme fraiche gently and add saffron to infuse.
Sear mushroom pieces in hot pan with minimal (no more than 2 tsp) oil. You want them to brown, not lose their juices. Remove them from pan. In same pan, add rest of olive oil and lower heat. Add garlic and saute until soft. Add butter and saffron-creme fraiche, and let them warm through. Turn heat to medium high and return mushrooms to pan. Heat through. Remove from heat and season as needed with salt. Mangia!
I hope now you will indulge me the nostalgia for the lovely places that inspired this cooking. The Cinque Terre are the five villages (from south to north) of Riomaggiore, Manarola, Corniglia, Vernazza, and Monterosso. There is a cliff-side trail that connects the villages. We started first from the south, in Riomaggiore, and took our time to visit in each village. We stopped for a late lunch in Corniglia, the middle village, and took the train back to Chiavari for the night. Now a word to the wise, the trail that starts in the south, at Riomaggiore is a wide boulevard, paved and often with guard rails. We thought the whole trail was like that. But we were wrong.
View of Riomaggiore from the start of the trail
Entering Manarola from the trail, and down its main street
The only way to reach the town of Corniglia from the train station is up this switchback staircase! That’ll work up your appetite.
We started the next day at the northernmost village, Monterosso, and headed on the trail south to the village of Vernazza. The trail starts off as it did in Riomaggiore, paved and with rails, as you can see in this picture looking back at Riomaggiore from the beginning of the trail.
But it becomes this, and this. At one point, there is a narrow foot path (so narrow that my size 6 1/2, Euro 37, feet could not stand together on the trail) hugging the cliff-line for about 200 feet. We have no pictures of that because our fingers were dug into the cliff as we shuffled, crab-like, through that part!
But after 2 1/2 hours hiking you see the light at the end of this dusty tunnel. The jewel of a village that is Vernazza.
Thanks for taking that journey back with me. It’s back to Hawaii and the present day in the next post, promise.