What could possess me to invite seven Italians over and serve them pasta?
I should know better: I always cede the pasta cooking to the charming Italian flatmate. I make soup and muffins and quiche, but stand back for the all-important question of al dente.
But I really wanted to learn how make pasta like a nonna. And I openly want to be a member of their loud ebulliant tribe. So I weighed the flour and counted the eggs, put the water on to boil. Made some crostini in case the pasta took ages.
When they arrived, poor things, they were hustled into the kitchen a few at a time to prod the dough, add a little water, catch the pasta sheets as they rolled through the machine. And I learned a few things after last time: that the ball of dough should be firm enough not to stick to the counter, that it should rest a little before rolling. That you can sprinkle the tagliatelle with flour and stack them without worrying about sticking, you don’t have to hang them over all the cupboard doors as my mum used to.
We had made an olive and tomato sauce that was used up on the first go-round. Still hungry but more skilled, we rolled some extra pasta. In place of a sauce, we used the leftover crostini topping: mashed roquefort, a spoonful of mascarpone, a tin of artichoke hearts, diced, and a squeeze of lemon. Keep a bowl of it in the fridge for dips, for sandwiches and crostini. And if you feel like pasta, just loosen the mix with a splash of pasta water. Extra pepper, parmesan for sprinkling and that’s it.
The more you learn about Italian food, the more you learn that there is no recipe. No weight, only handfuls, pinches. (It should be a good fistful of salt in the pasta water, by the way!) No “knead for exactly 6 minutes”, only until it’s smooth.
Practice, practice, practice. Plus a large troop of Italians and a bowl of roast chickpeas to stop them from going hungry while they cut infinite strands of tagliatelle.