Cooking Italian is a craftsman’s labour, the work of an Artisan of Flavour.
Fresh Egg Pasta is a tradition (and pride) of Emilia-Romagna, a region in the North-East of Italy.
Tagliatelle, ravioli, tortelloni, tortellini, cappelletti, pappardelle, fettuccine… they are all originally from the areas around Bologna. With the centuries, fresh egg pasta has earned and found a place in dishes of several other regions in the Centre and North of the country, where its popularity is still unchanged. Marche and Lombardia, but also Tuscany and Piedmont have adopted the use of fresh egg pasta for many of their primi piatti. It has then travelled further South reaching places as far as Sicily. Nowadays it is one of the most popular, most characteristic and without any doubts best expressions of Italian cuisine.
There is an impressive collection of traditional recipes with egg pasta dishes. Between Bologna and the Adriatic sea, fresh egg pasta (mainly tagliatelle and tortelloni) has a long standing tradition with ragu’ alla bolognese (the real bolognese sauce; with pork, veal and beef) but also butter, Parmesan and sage, or a creamy ham-based sauce. Around Bologna, Modena and Parma some traditional filled pasta is served cooked in capon stock – this would be tortellini and cappelletti.
In the mountains that shape the border between Tuscany and Emilia-Romagna (the Appennini) fresh egg pasta is very popular with game-based sauces, as wild boar or venison, but also with Porcini mushrooms. In the Marche region some traditional dishes serve fresh egg pasta with duck or pork sausages. In Mantova (Lombardia) it is prepared with pumpkin while in Asti and Alessandria (Piedmont) it is served with a sauce of roasted meats.
This could go on for hours and be broken down to an incredible level of details, almost as it is for wines and grapes. However, it doesn’t matter which size, format or shapes of fresh egg pasta you are preparing – everything starts with a dough and a rolling pin.
The recipe is very easy and requires just a bit of practice: there are no other ingredients than eggs, flour and a pinch of salt. Precisely 100g of durum wheat flour every egg (large). Do not let yourself down if you struggle to find durum wheat flour, the regular plain white flour also does the job.
Place the flour in a bowl or, even better, on a board. Create a well in the middle and crack the eggs content in the well. Mix the egg with the flour trying to bring together all the small pieces of dough that the egg and flour will create when they get in contact with one another. Knead patiently with the external part of your carpals (and metacarpals, for those into anatomy). This could take some time, it is important you do not stop until you are fully satisfied with the consistency, smoothness and homogeneity of your dough.
Now wrap your dough in a plastic film and leave to rest in a dry place. After around 30 minutes remove the film and roll out the pasta dough using a large, strong rolling pin, adding some flour from time to time to make sure the dough does not get stuck to the rolling pin – the quality of the rolling pin definitely makes the difference. The result will be your sfoglia, which should be round and very thin. This is the base for any fresh egg pasta.
Cooking time can vary depending on the pasta shape and filling but it is usually between 2 and 5 minutes. As usual, it has to be al dente.
For the sake of my never-ending mission against modernity in the kitchen I must add a food processor/blender and a pasta machine would make your life easier, but the taste will be a bit compromised. Skepticals are very welcome to give it a try.