Sunday, April 7, 2013

Bologna pasta primer


All over Bologna, you see pasta. The serious food shops with bountiful cheese counters and a dozen kinds of cured hams hanging from the ceilings have displays full of fresh pastas. Most bakeries have a selection of bagged dried pastas behind the counter - and not necessarily the fancy stuff. Down the street from my apartment there's a little shop that sells nothing but homemade fresh (uncooked) pasta.

Pasta here is usually made with egg, so it is very yellow in color. (Sometimes it's made with spinach too, so you see a few green pastas as well.) All pastas start with the same dough. If you just cut the dough into long, thin strips, you've got tagliatelle. If you leave the strips fatter, you've got lasagna. If you decide to stuff your pasta, you can make little navel-shaped tortellini, or large navel-shaped tortelloni, or occasionally triangular ravioli. Most displays include several varieties of tortellini and tortelloni with different stuffings: ricotta, truffle, speck, pumpkin. Waverley Root writes of a report that lists more than 600 varieties of pasta; the choices are endless.

Choosing your pasta is only the first step. Each kind is traditionally served with a particular sauce, too.  Here's a quick primer of Bolognese pasta and sauce pairings:

Tortellini: this most famous of Bolognese pastas is classically stuffed with a mix of prosciutto, mortadella, veal, parmesan cheese, and perhaps a dash of nutmeg. It is served in chicken broth (tortellini in brodo) for a delicate yet rich soup.

Tortelloni: a common stuffing for tortelloni is ricotta and spinach. This is typically served with a simple sauce of butter and sage.

Tagliatelle: these long, thin strands of pasta are the classic pair for ragù (tagliatelle al ragù) - what the rest of the world would call a Bolognese sauce. This is a rich sauce made from finely chopped veal, pork, butter, onions, carrots, and just a tiny bit of tomato.

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