Saturday, June 13, 2015

L'Arte della Sfoglia, Part 3: Tortellini

Contrary to what I had imagined, Ida did not employee an army of small children to make tortellini. The tortellini production, in fact, proceeded in much the same manner as the tortelloni production before it.

First, in a show of excellent mise en place and utilization, fluted scraps of pasta leftover from making tortelloni were used.

Sfoglia specifically for tortellini is cut with plain wheels, so they typically have straight sides.

Zoom, zoom!

I wonder if anyone ever notices the oddball tortellino with wavy edges in their bowl of brodo?

L’Arte della Sfoglia’s tortellini filling recipe is a closely guarded secret, but Claudio did divulge that it contains fresh pork “lombo”, mortadella, salsiccia, Parmegiano-Reggiano, nutmeg, white pepper, and salt.

The chicken provides sweetness, and all pork would be too strong.

Ida could not have been more opinionated on the subject and insisted that prosciutto, which is a common ingredient in tortellini filling, does not belong.

She explained that prosciutto results in a filling that's too dry and “acidic”.

According to Ida, prosciutto is not for cooking, period. She pulled a bag of filling made by a local restaurant and provided to them for contract work out of her reach-in, and an impromptu tasting proved her point.

Claudio told us that their tortellini took fourth place in the area and first place within Bologna in one contest.

My husband, an engineer inculcated by the American culture of constant improvement, innocently inquired if they would adjust the recipe and try for a higher result.

Claudio summarily rejected the idea.

They were not interested in first, second, or third place if it meant changing their recipe. They would never deviate from the traditional recipe. “If you change the taste of the tortellini, they kill you,” Claudio said.

Ida, with her nimble fingers, makes it all look so easy. She motions as if to snap and another tortellino appears. But trust me when I say that making these tiny purses of pasta is harder than it looks, even for a relatively dexterous and accomplished cook. Each time she fixed one of my ugly tortellini she said she was “restyling”. She’s a patient teacher. Only after shaping dozens of tortellini, did her instructions to “pinch and then fold” make sense.

Together we produced what must’ve been thousands of tortellini. (And this was their slow time of year!)

Then it was time for lunch. As the pasta cooked, Ida made sure we understood that tortellini must be boiled in in broth, not water. We were treated to massive portions of tortellini tossed in thickened cream and topped with Parmegiano and, as if that weren’t enough, big slabs of their rich homemade lasagna.

Before I sign off, if you missed my last appearance on Flavors radio show back in April you can hear it here (listen at the six minute mark). Also check out this feature on Marinades in The Palm Beach Post. They ran my Four-Citrus Marinade and Buffalo Wing Marinade recipes.

Previously: L'Arte della Sfoglia, Part 2: Tortelloni.
Next up: L'Arte della Sfoglia, Part 4: Other Pasta Shapes.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Coming Up

It’s time for an upcoming event update!

The winter Clark College class schedule is out. I’ll be teaching Éclairs, Cream Puffs & Choux Pastries next Saturday.

If you ever wanted to make these ethereal pastries, you simply must join me in the kitchen for this in-depth hands-on class. Only a couple of seats remain, so sign up now!

Then I’ll be doing a photography showing and book signing at the Portland West Elm on Saturday, February 21 from 1PM to 4PM.

At 12:15PM PT on Sunday, April 19 and again at 12:15PM PT on Sunday, June 7 I’ll be a guest on Flavors radio show. By the way, if you missed my last appearance back in December you can hear it here (listen at the nineteen minute mark). The topic of conversation always seems to turn to my cookbooks, which of course is perfect for me!

Please mark your calendars and join me for the foodie fun!

Saturday, December 20, 2014

L'Arte della Sfoglia, Part 2: Tortelloni

Once Ida and her assistant had enough sheeted pasta set aside for cutting into ribbons, it was time to make tortelloni. Ida mixes ricotta with parsley, salt, and nutmeg for the filling.

It’s worth noting that she does not add egg or parm.

Sfoglia is divided into fluted squares with a few zips of a wheeled pastry cutter. Ida portions the filling using two spoons, which is very home-style but surprisingly efficient.

(I’d have to use a portion scoop or pastry bag to achieve such speed and consistency.)

Meanwhile, the assistant seals and shapes the tortelloni.

He keeps up with her.

But barely.

As they work they cover unfilled pasta squares with plastic sheeting to keep them from drying out.

Before you know it, one sheet of sfoglia is transformed into tortelloni.

Then another.

And another.

The plump dumplings are arranged in rows on pasta screens.

And then placed into a drying cabinet.

Unbelievably, Claudio and Ida charge just €6 per portion for their hand-made tortelloni. That’s less than $7.50!

If you think tortelloni is labor-intensive, just wait until you see the tortellini production…

Previously: L'Arte della Sfoglia, Part 1: Mixing and Sheeting the Pasta.
Next up: L'Arte della Sfoglia, Part 3: Tortellini.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

L'Arte della Sfoglia, Part 1: Mixing and Sheeting the Pasta

There was unfinished business the first time we went to Bologna. My goal on that trip was to see a Parmegiano producer, a prosciutto producer, a balsamico producer, a mortadella producer, and a pasta producer. Though our tour covered a lot of ground, we never did visit a pasta or mortadella factory. The trays of fresh tagliatelle and tortellini in the display cases of all the gourmet shops around town captured my imagination, and over the years my desire to see where the pasta comes from only grew stronger. So I was drawn back to Bologna to finish the food tour I had started.

Once I had my husband on board for another trip to Italy and our plane tickets booked, I arranged a visit to L’Arte della Sfoglia. Of all the pasta producers I contacted, only Claudio seemed to get it when I said I wanted to watch the masters at work. He didn’t try to redirect me into a regular cooking class. And he promised lunch.

On the appointed day, I jumped out of bed as if there were no such thing as jetlag and, with my husband in tow, into a taxi for a quick five-minute drive west of the Bologna city center.

Claudio gave us a warm welcome. We hardly had a moment to look around the storefront.

Or check out the menu.

He whisked us into the pasta laboratory and introduced us to Ida the sfoglina. And then they spent the day teaching us everything they could about pasta. They made us feel right at home and like no questions were off limits.

The pasta begins with eggs with yolks as golden as the sun.

The egg farmer, who happened to stop by while we were in the kitchen, explained that the color of the yolks comes from the corn diet he feeds his hens. The other ingredient is finely milled 00 flour. It looks similar to cake flour but is closer to all-purpose flour in its gluten content. They use 10 eggs for every 1 kilogram of 00 flour, or 1 egg for every 100 grams flour (my recipe is about the same). A bit of water can be added “for humidity” during the hot months. Claudio employs the help of a machine for mixing and stops it frequently to test the dough for the right texture: smooth, silky, and elastic.

I gave the dough a poke at this point, and it felt barely sticky. Claudio mentioned that it’s important to avoid mixing air into the dough. The next step is to portion the large mass of dough into workable pieces.

The portions rest under plastic as he works.

Each one gets rounded.

And then they get wrapped and refrigerated overnight. Just look at the color of that dough!

After an overnight rest in the refrigerator, the portions are ready to be sheeted.

By hand.

This is where Ida steps in to do her magic. Working on a bench made of what I understood to be Canadian pioppo, or poplar, and using a pin that’s nearly as long as she is tall, she rolls the dough out in one direction.

Then rolls it up on the pin.

Picks the whole thing up.

Gives it a quarter turn and unrolls it on the bench again.

All in one fluid motion.

Then she proceeds to roll out the dough in the other direction.

And she repeats this process until the sfoglia’s so thin you can almost see through it. She makes it look absolutely effortless. Pasta machines? Those are for chumps.

That’s what some fifteen years of owning a pasta shop in Bologna will do for you. Ida and Claudio ran a small pasta shop in the center of Bologna for eleven years before moving to their current location in 2011. They made the change because they were looking for a larger kitchen and because it was increasingly difficult for customers to reach them in the Zona a Traffico Limitado. They said that business was better than ever in the new location.

Ida’s assistant does a lot of the sheeting as well, but somehow it doesn’t look as graceful and effortless when he does it.

It’s hard to put a finger on exactly what the difference is, but brute force seems to be more at play.

Ida sent him back to the rolling board when his sfoglia was uneven and too thick in some places, too thin in others.

Once the dough is sheeted, it can be used immediately to make pasta shapes such as tortelloni and tortellini or wrapped up and cut into noodles later.

Claudio stressed that the sfoglia will last for several days in the refrigerator if it is dried on a towel-lined board for a short time and then wrapped in the double thickness of paper from the bag the flour came in and plastic.

Next up: L'Arte della Sfoglia, Part 2: Tortelloni.
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