Winter Sunday Pasta
Mix, beat, stretch, and cut eggs and flour to get pasta. Down from the high shelf I grab the chrome pasta machine, clamping the base to my countertop, inserting the crank, and brushing off old flour. Across the counter and on the TV, a football game rolls. Sauce is bubbling on the stove. But first, the dough.
Pasta dough is a strange thing. Recipes for it often produce something else. Eggs come in many sizes, brands of flour are milled to different dimensions of dust, and variables like humidity shape the properties of the resulting ball of dough. Numbers and precision are of little use other than as starting points. Generally, I go with two eggs per one-and-a-half cups of flour, a measurement I cribbed from Leite’s Culinaria.
My great-grandmother, it is said, could measure the temperature of water with a swipe of her finger. If it was right, she added the yeast for bread. My grandmother taught me how to make pasta in half-a-dozen dinners spread out over 25 years. I have learned that the dough is ready when you think it is. Add whatever flour you please, roll to whatever thick or thinness. Touch. Does it feel ready? You’ll know after you’ve made pasta a hundred times.
The sauce simmering on my stove–its murmuring more pleasant than the din of broadcasters and human collisions–was Bolognese. The sauce is popular in Italian-American cooking. It is also popular in Bologna, Italy, where it is simply called ragú, in English, “sauce.”
I first cooked Bolognese four or five years ago from a cookbook that has become my most oil-splattered and timeworn: Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, a work of intelligence, rough aesthetic, and surgical recipes and writing. The author, Marcella Hazan, a trained biologist who was born not far from Bologna, prefaces her recipe with a galactic claim: “There is no more union more perfect in all of gastronomy than the marriage of Bolognese ragú with homemade Bolognese tagliatelle.” As the football game unfolded, I was making versions of both.
Years before, I watched the proprietor of an agritourism farm in Bologna make tagliatelle, a thick noodle revered in the region. When the dough was made, he rolled it like a crepe. With a long knife he cut a cross-section of the dough, stuck the blade into the tangle, lifted, and from the knife’s top dangled ribbons of fat yellow noodles. Here they are, uncooked:
Feeling lazy (squash and a chicken were already in the oven) and blissfully enervated from the wine I drank whenever I washed my hands of flour, I used the machine to cut the stretched dough. Actually, the hand-cut method is easier, but I was in a nice rhythm with the cranking and pulling. Soon, the taglierini noodles were ready, and right when I finished cutting them–right then–the experience of making pasta peaked, before the salt water bath, before the first taste.
Please inhale the below video of an ancient Italian woman making tagliatelle.