I’m returning to my blog in the midst of a pandemic, eager to put forth a little joy in life by cooking. Who would have ever believed that we would be experiencing such a change in our lives? Particularly in the first months, I feared for my friends and family in Italy and elsewhere, stunned by the adaptations the coronavirus flung upon us. I did my worst cooking ever in the first weeks of quarantine. A clam chowder morphed into a lumpy fish chowder because I decided to use some odd scraps from my freezer. A thin, limp pizza that never rose because I mistook a biga (starter ) packet in my freezer for dough and used it. The result was inedible. Everything seemed out of balance. Going to the store became an adventure in desolation. Before the quarantine set in, I remember being at a Safeway in Livermore,California on a dark rainy Saturday. The shelves were empty, the meat cases revealed their ugly rusted bottoms, and shoppers were desperately looking for potatoes. I looked around: had the world gone mad? It felt like an apocalyptic scene from a sci-fi movie.
What better way to console oneself and others than by making a fine plate of homemade tagliatelle? Or fettuccine? What’s the difference? Not much. “Fettuccia” in Italian is a ribbon, thus the pasta has that flat, cut look. “Taglia” means cut, so the type of pasta is essentially the same. We can talk about width sizes maybe making a difference…or the region from where the pasta comes from. Nevertheless, you will find that the term is used interchangeably in Italian cuisine. I thought it would be fun to make some tagliatelle in my ninety-year-old mother’s kitchen, following her method, using her machine and see if I still had the “touch” under the watchful eye of the master pasta maker herself.
In the case above I made five eggs with 500 grams or so of flour yielding approximately a pound and a half of pasta, good for six or seven good-sized servings. Tagliatelle are versatile because you can choose a “sugo” or sauce from a wide variety of recipes – from a basic butter and parmesan cheese or a white sauce as in an “Alfredo” to a heftier traditional ragu’ using meat and tomato pulp. Here is one I used with the batch I made at my mother’s.
Sugo di Pomodoro e Pancetta
1/2 large onion or 3/4 C finely chopped
5 oz. diced pancetta (you could use bacon if you can’t find pancetta)
1 8 oz can diced tomatoes (or pomodori pelati) – I usually like to puree these in a food processor for a finer texture.
1-2 Tbl butter
2 Tbl olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
1. Heat the pan and add the olive oil. Coat the bottom, 2-3 tablespoons – or how you like it. Add the butter and melt quickly with a sizzle. Then add the pancetta and cook until slightly golden, but not crispy. At this point, you can drain some of the fat if you find it too greasy. I usually don’t because the pancetta I use is fairly lean.
2. Add the onions and sauté lightly until golden brown. Once the onions have become golden, add the tomatoes (diced or pureed), stir, add half a cup of water, salt and pepper. Lower the heat to medium low and simmer for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add water if the sauce becomes too dry and needs more time to reduce.
Cook the tagliatelle the usual way in boiling salted water. Homemade pasta cooks much faster, so it should be ready once the pasta rises to the surface. Drain it retaining some of the cooking water. Homemade pasta absorbs liquid very quickly, so to keep it moist, add a little water as you stir the sauce into it. I added a bit of cream at the end to finish the dish with softer tones, but this is not necessary. Optional too is a little green, some chopped basil or thyme.
Enjoy and buon appetito!