One of the best lines ever in a movie: “Make it. Make the pasta. Make it. Make it. Make the pasta! Come on. Let’s go!” Poor Secondo. If you haven’t seen the movie Big Night (1996, directed by Campbell Scott and Stanley Tucci), you haven’t seen the best food movie ever made. What? No. I’m not kidding. It really IS the best food movie ever made. The last scene of the movie is by far one of the best-acted scenes ever shot on film—AND IN ONE TAKE. Okay. I’ve pitched it enough. Go Netflix it.
How rare for Americans to make their own pasta, yet how common in Italy. When Americans think pasta, most of the time they think of dried, packaged spaghetti. Sadly, it’s true. Unless we’re living near an Italian with the goods to teach us a thing or two, we probably think of pasta as purely pre-fab. “They do that in factories,” we say, “with machines…like bubble gum.”
I was in the hills of Le Marche to hunt the black summer truffle, but found myself bewitched again by the art and culture of pasta making. What was it with pasta? Why did I ask so many questions about it? What was my obsession?
Maybe… maybe I just literally wanted to experience food “outside the box.” And thank goodness for Moreno Moretti and his friends Paolo and Paolo’s fantastic mamma, because it was here that I got another opportunity to make pasta. Now I could leave the poor Marchigiani in peace and quit asking so many questions!
I turned the lever. The pasta dough stretched and spread into something I began to recognize. I had wanted one of these gadgets for some time. Ever since I was in Pesaro with the Zias, I wanted a pasta machine. I didn’t want the electric kind, but the kind where your muscles and your passion make the machine do its magic. Shiny and bright. Not too big. Not too small. Just right.
The flattened dough, yellowed from the bright yolks of fresh eggs, became longer and longer, so long that it took two people to lay it out on the table. I’m sure Paolo’s mamma had taught many a bright-eyed, ignorant American like me how to use this machine as she and her son built their agritourism business, Ramusè. I’m glad they weren’t tired of it. I felt honored to gain the knowledge.
We had already mixed, kneaded and cut the dough into thick, loaf-like squares, which were passed through the macchina several times until the pasta sheets were long and languid, hanging over the table’s edge. Now, cut in into shorter lengths, they were ready for the teeth of the macchina, which would create the flat fingers of tagliatelle. Paolo’s mamma worked quickly. Could I ever be that proficient?
Once cut, the strips were laid out to dry, and while drying, we’d occupy ourselves with truffle hunting. This drying time is magic. You do what you want—take a break, hang out. This is the absolute antithesis of cooking in the U.S. Here, we want the 30-minute meals; we want fast food, we want something—now. We wouldn’t dream of getting up from the dinner table after eating a few starters to make the risotto, insuring that it’s fresh and light when brought to the table. We don’t take breaks here. Why?
Soon we were on the hunt, following Paolo and his dog, Ghianda—the super hero of a truffle-hunting—into the forest. It was blazing hot despite the shade of the woods. Paolo began giving the orders.
“Cerca! Cerca, Ghianda!” Ghianda sniffed around, panting. He returned to Paolo, giving him a look.
“It’s too bloody hot out here today. I can’t smell a thing. I just want to sit in the shade and do niente. Is that okay with you?” Paolo tried again,
“Cerca, Ghianda. Cerca.” Ghianda wandered around a bit more, sniffed a few roots but nothing. He aimed his nose back at Paolo,
“Do you want me to look for water? Or, truffles? Because I’m really thinking water is a good idea right now.” Paolo wasn’t listening. He tried once more.
“Cerca, Ghianda. Qui! Cerca qui.” Ghianda walked straight to Paolo as ordered, but tilted his head and panted,
“Really? You really want me to do this today? Do you know what the temperature is??”
Paolo finally gave a laugh and gave up. No truffles would be found today. Ghianda lead us back to the house. I didn’t mind. There was fresh pasta waiting, and there were still some truffles found earlier.
We cooked the pasta, tossing it with a ton of sliced black truffles, olive oil and a bit of garlic. We poured some glasses of Verdicchio wine. The heat of the day was waning as we sat around the table and ate our hard work. It was pure luxury and a blessing. I relished the moments that I knew would be all too short in the end.
How generous were my hosts who taught me this pasta skill! It was so worth it—the effort, the break, the search. It was worth the heat of the day and the time it took hanging over the macchina. It was worth doing something “outside the box.”
Why do we strain so much? Why do we tell ourselves we have to do everything so darn fast? There is a time for quick. Elevators should be quick. Trains should be quick. Computers should be quick. And there is a time when pasta should be quick—from a box with something simple. Yet, there is a time, when we should make the effort to slow down, turn the lever of the macchina and let something magical happen.
—Elise McMullen a.k.a. The Galavant Girl