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Tagliolette with Woodfired Sausage and Mushrooms | Sortachef

Hand-cut Pasta with Woodfired Sausage and Mushrooms

In mid-morning sunshine, we squint up at the Tuscan hill town that rises in a tangle of narrow streets and medieval buildings as far as our eyes can see. At the very top peeks a crenellated building that looks remarkably like a fortified castle. Sounds resonate in the clear Sunday stillness, bringing us back to our modern world: the thunk of a car door, the tap of high heels on a cobbled street, the moaning of children. More accurately: the moaning of our own children, who are up at this ungodly hour at the whim of their dear old dad.

The Fiero Antiquario in the Piazza Centrale, Arezzo

“Noo-oo, it’s still the middle of the night,” my daughter wailed when earlier I woke her, even though the sun was streaming through the open shutters of our little rented villa near Sienna. “What she said,” my son moaned, pulling the duvet back over his head.

Despite their protests, I made big cups of espresso on the gas stove and kept up the tempo while pattering barefooted across cool tiled floors. What better tonic for jetlag than activity, I reasoned? And so before long we found ourselves on that glorious summers’ day cruising past fields of sunflowers on the E78 past Monte San Savino to join local Italians and tourists alike streaming into Arezzo. Destination: the Fiera Antiquario.

If you’ve never been here, you can’t possibly understand. This is the antique market that one weekend each month transforms this ancient and prosperous town into an outdoor mecca for the avid collector. You want to buy an antique map? There’s a whole row of stalls for that, each one decked out in festive umbrellas to keep out the sun. Antique jewelry? There’s a whole street for that, reaching a half mile down like one of the arms of an octopus from the central square. Likewise streets and stalls for old fabrics, prints, hardware, tools, toys and bric-a-brac. At the very apex, the Piazza Centrale is full to overflowing with stallholders selling antique lamps, electronics and furniture. The merchants throw themselves into the affair with a gusto that is absolutely over-the-top Italian.

Antique corkscrews for sale in the Fiero Antiquario

The kids quickly shook off their jetlag in bright-eyed fascination. We sent them with a few euros to haggle over an old lock and some Italian comic books while we wandered the square with mild intentions of looking for old tools and estate jewelry. But really we were enjoying the whole pageantry of the town as it unfolded before us – totally happy just taking it all in.

As the July sun reached its zenith we followed the Italians into pockets of cool shade, perching in the recesses of an old church to wait out the heat. Under cover near the main square I watched a harried looking woman cut noodles in front of a restaurant. The 10 minutes it took her with a sharp knife to make strips of a pound of pasta could have been carved out of any of multiple centuries, with a technique older than any of the antiques on sale there in Arezzo.

Back in Seattle, I set to work. While my kids reconnected on Facebook, I sprinkled some semolina to keep the dough from sticking. At the same time my kids were busy telling their friends how little jetlag had affected them I ran the pasta through my trusty Atlas machine, keeping it thick on purpose. And then I cut it with a knife, the way it’s been done in Italy for hundreds of years. The woman in Arezzo was making Pici; my noodles turned out more like Tagliolette. But no matter: we gathered round the table, eager and hungry, and felt the connection all the same. To sun-drenched hills, stone walls, old vines, sweet grandmas pinching the cheeks of young children, and the crunch of gravel on cart tracks that take you through  fields of bobbing sunflowers. Centuries of excellence, not to be missed. Buon Appetito!

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Hand-cut Pasta with Woodfired Sausage and Mushrooms

 

 

Makes 4 servings

 

For the pasta:

1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour

1 cup semolina

¾ teaspoon salt

2 eggs

3 Tablespoons of water

1 Tablespoon of olive oil

¼ cup semolina for bench work

 

For the toppings:

12 ounces chicken or pork Italian sausage links

1 pound of cremini mushrooms, halved or quartered

2 Tablespoons of olive oil, divided

2 ounces of shallot onions, finely sliced

2 cups of hot vegetable or beef broth

4 Tablespoons of chopped parsley

1 teaspoon of crushed red pepper

Optional: freshly grated parmesan

 

Pasta note: In the style of Arezzo, with its Etruscan roots, this pasta is thicker than Bolognese fettuccine and is made with fewer eggs. If you have the patience to cut the noodles into spaghetti-like strands that are as wide as they are thick, you’ll be making ‘pici’, the local pasta. Be forewarned: it’s not easy. Mine always end up a bit wider, but they taste just as good.

Cutting the strands of pasta with a knife

Heat the woodfired oven:

Maintain a moderate fire in your oven for 2 hours, ending with a mound of glowing coals about a foot in diameter and 4 inches deep. Push the fire to the back, put on a stick of fragrant wood (like apple) as thick as your wrist, and sweep the floor clean of ashes. You’ll need a cast iron frying pan or some little cast iron pans for cooking the sausages and the mushrooms in with the fire.

Make the pasta dough: Mix flour, salt and 1 cup of semolina together in a bowl. Make a well in the center and break in the eggs. Whisk the eggs with a fork, gradually gathering the dry mix into the egg and then, as the mixture thickens, add water and oil. Pull in all the dry mix and knead for a few minutes in the bowl. If absolutely necessary, add 1 teaspoon (not Tablespoon) of extra water to make the dough soft enough to work. Put the dough onto a bit of semolina sprinkled on a counter, cover with the inverted bowl and let rest for 30 minutes.

Roll out and cut the pasta: Secure pasta machine to a work surface. Flatten the lump of dough and send it through the rollers on setting ‘1’. Fold in half and send through again and then, turning the long edges over toward the middle, send through a third time. Repeat until your pasta is smooth and supple. Cut the band of pasta into 3 pieces and let them rest on semolina for a few minutes before continuing. Now send each piece through the rollers on setting ‘3’. Let rest. Finally, send the pasta through on setting ‘5’. Sprinkle with semolina and let rest for 10 minutes before cutting.

Sausages and Mushrooms fresh from the fire

Cut each piece of pasta into long strips 3/16” wide using a 10” chef’s knife or other sharp knife. I find that you can make a whole series of parallel cuts (as shown in the photo above) before moving along the length of the uncut past. Hold the strips of cut pasta in a wide platter or tray until ready to boil.

Cook the sausage and mushrooms: Clean the mushrooms and cut into halves or quarters. Peel and slice the shallot. Heat a cast iron frying pan in the oven for a few minutes and then add 2 teaspoons of olive oil and the shallot and return to the oven. After 2 or 3 minutes, once the shallot is beginning to brown, add the mushrooms and ½ cup of the broth to the frying pan. Return to the oven and cook 5 minutes, turning halfway through. Once the mushrooms are lightly cooked, hold them to one side in a serving bowl and pour any broth from the frying pan over them.

Add 1 Tablespoon of olive oil to the frying pan and cook the sausages in it on the floor of the oven with the door nearly closed. Turn after 5 minutes, and bake for a further 5-7 minutes until lightly brown on two sides. Now pour in the rest of the broth and add back the mushrooms. Let simmer near the door of the oven while you cook the pasta.

Cook the noodles: Bring 4 quarts of water to a boil. Add the pasta and, once back at the boil, cook for 3 minutes. Drain the pasta in a colander and drizzle with olive oil.

Assemble the dish: Distribute the pasta among 4 bowls. Sprinkle on half the parsley and half the red pepper. Spoon the mushrooms and the broth over the noodles. Cut the sausages in pieces and add them as well. Sprinkle the rest of the parsley and red pepper over the dishes and bring to the table piping hot. It’s traditional to serve pici with grated parmesan, but I find it overwhelms the smoky flavors of this dish, so you might want to go easy on it.

Now imagine the glint of low evening sunlight playing on the weathered walls of an ancient hill town as you bite into these noodles. A sentry keeps watch high above in the tower. There’s the sound of the kids moaning again – not because of jetlag or the whims of dear old dad, but from delight at the savory flavors of this time-honored dish. Yum! Can it get any better? It’s all good here.

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Woman making pici in the Piazza Centrale, Arezzo

5 comments to Hand-cut Pasta with Woodfired Sausage and Mushrooms

  • You have such a way with your words… I’m totally drawn into your story and I can almost feel the jetlag myself and the the excitement of being at the market. Oh, how I dream of visiting one day!
    The pasta looks delicious… I’ve not made my own in about 20 years and I think it’s high time I gave it a try. Thanks for the inspiration!

  • Bravo! This is a wonderful post. I almost had tears in my eyes as I read about your visit there. I love Italy so much! I’ve taken cooking classes there and also have come home to try my own hand at some of the wonderful food I have eaten while there. I will try your recipe and hope for the best. Please continue your wonderful posts of Italy.

    Hugs,
    Cheryl

  • This is a recipe I will try for sure. Thanks so much for this lovely presentation!

  • This looks absolutely perfect and your pictures are fantastic! Glad to follow your blog :)

  • What beautiful pasta. I love everything about this dish.

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