Bruce's Blog

a handful of dimes and a jukebox

I’ve been buying myself a few toys recently.  A few months ago I decided to get myself a pasta machine.

Imperia Pasta Machine

Imperia Pasta Machine

I made a few disastrous attempts at rolling it by hand, because Marcella told me, or at least it felt like she told me that there’s just something morally superior about rolling it out yourself and certainly superior taste.  She says, “Something happens to its composition as it goes through the steel rollers that give the dough an ever so slightly slippery texture.”  But she does go on to say, “These considerations aside, however, machine pasta can be quite good; it is certainly superior to the commercial variety, and it is far better than having no homemade pasta at all.”

Ok, so Marcella has given me dispensation to use a machine if I really want to.  I decided that I really want to.  I did some research and found a few models at Amazon.  I asked my friend Marcello Giannoni if he had any recommendations because a) he’s Italian.  He must intuit pasta. 🙂 and b) his wife Camilla is a professional chef.   They both said this machine the Imperia is the only real choice.  Marcello told me that Camilla uses her Imperia several times a week and that it is decades old.  These things are made to last a lifetime.  First rule of pasta machines – NEVER WASH THEM!  They will certainly rust.  As long as your pasta isn’t overly wet, all you should need to do to clean us is dust the flour off.  I have a little brush that I use.

My first batch of pasta was a mess.  Not unlike the first pancake.  There is a Russian expression “первый блин камом” which basically translates as “the first pancake is a lump”.  The pasta recipe in the book that comes with the pasta machine says to use 1 egg with each cup flour.  I should’ve consulted Marcella.  (Marcella, will you ever forgive me?)  She says to start off with 3/4 cup of flour for each egg.  Naturally, all eggs are a little different; different in size and different in the way they can take flour.  She also says that it’s easier for beginners to start off with less flour and add more as needed.   I’ve also found that I like my pasta with a little salt and olive oil in it.  I mix the salt with the flour and add the oil with the eggs when I make the initial flour well for the eggs.  I always feel a bit like Richard Dryfus in Close Encounters of the Third Kind when I make the well.

I’ve made asparagus ravioli, lasagne, and lots and lots of tagliatelle.  Tagliatelle is close to fettuccine, but fettuccine are narrower and thicker than tagliatelle.  Marcella says that tagliatelle is best served Bolognese fashion, with Meat Sauce, Bolognese Style.   I heartily agree.  There are lots and lots of variations of the “true” Bolognese Sauce.  There was a Saveur  magazine a few months back that listed something like five very different recipes that all claimed to be the one true Sauce.  I made a few of them, and they were good, but Marcella’s is still my favorite.

My wife and I had a wonderful lunch a few months back at a good Italian restaurant here in LA and I ordered their Tagliatelle with Bolognese Sauce, and it was very much like Marcella’s.   Her recipe, like all her recipes, is elegant in its simplicity.  Just leave yourself at least 6 hours.   And it might be good to keep the windows closed.  If the neighbors smell this cooking, they’ll be knocking on the door looking for a dinner invitation.

It’s interesting to note how the recipe has changed since it’s initial publication in The Classic Italian Cookbook, published in 1973, to Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, which is still in print.  It is essentially the same recipe, but over the years she made a clear shift towards less tomato and more “stuff”, i.e. 2 tablespoons of onion compared to 1/2 cup, 2 tablespoons of chopped celery compared to 2/3 cup, 2 tablespoons of carrot compared to 2/3 cup, and 2 cups of tomatoes down to 1 1/2 cups.  I’ve made both and prefer the newer version.  Then again, I like “stuff”.  🙂

Categories: Cooking

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