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The gluttony gene - tracing my roots in Italy

Passport & Plate - Tagliatelle with nduja, pancetta and ripe tomatoes

Italy | Thursday, 13 March 2014 | 5 photos

1. 2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
2. 4 eggs
3. Pinch of salt
4. 2 tablespoons olive oil
5. 5 very ripe tomatoes (any variety, I use roma and truss)
6. 1 red onion
7. 2 cloves garlic
8. 3 slices of pancetta
9. 3 heaped tablespoons of nduja
10. 4 tablespoons of ricotta
11. 5 leaves of fresh basil


How to prepare this recipe
For the tagliatelle:

1. Mound the flour on your work surface. Hollow out a well in the centre of the mound, wide enough for the eggs to fit in.

2. Break the eggs into the well.

3. Scramble the eggs slightly with a fork, drawing in some of the flour, until the eggs are no longer runny.

4. Work the eggs and flour together with your hands, and knead it for around 8 minutes, or until the dough is silky and elastic. Use the palms of your hands to push the dough into your work surface (there is no need to be gentle!) Add a little water to your hands if the mixture is too dry, or dust a little flour over your dough if it is too soft.

5. Roll the dough into a ball, wrap it in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least half an hour.

6. With a rolling pin, roll the dough out on to a well-floured work surface as thinly as possible (until you can almost see through it). Leave the dough to dry for 10 minutes (this will make it easier to cut).

7. Using a sharp knife, slice the sheet of pasta dough into long strips 1/2 cm wide. Sprinkle the pasta with flour as necessary to avoid sticking.

8. To cook the pasta, fill a large pot with water and add a tablespoon of salt. Bring the water to the boil, and then add the pasta.

9. Cook the pasta until al dente (approximately 5 minutes). Drain the pasta, but keep a few tablespoons of water for the sauce. Return the pasta to the pot.

For the sauce:

1. Heat the olive oil in a large fry-pan.

2. Add the garlic, onion and pancetta, and stir with a wooden spoon until the onion is translucent and the pancetta is crisp.

3. Add the nduja and stir until it melts and releases all of its beautiful oil.

4. Add the tomatoes, and a couple of tablespoons of the reserved water from the pasta and cook for a further 5 - 8 minutes.

5. Add the pasta to the pan, and mix it through the sauce.

6. Sprinkle the pasta with nubs of ricotta and pieces of torn basil.


The story behind this recipe
Capistrano is a small Calabrian village at the end of a maze of train tracks, and high up a spiralling mountain road. Confusion slapped the face of helpful locals I’d ask for guidance along my trail, perplexed that a backpacked girl was seeking this smudge of a paese. ‘Mio padre nato li’, I’d explain.

Crammed into the mountain-face, tall and narrow houses maximise the limited space. Residents farm crops higher up the mountain in lush fields laden with vineyards and fruit trees. My aunt Teresa took me up there for lunch at her ramshackle cottage- the sparkling Tyrrhenian over the horizon and a cool breeze lifting the dry heat off our skin.

She gathered fragrant tomatoes, plump like melons. From her bag, she extracted a burnt-orange lobe of nduja that instantly filled the air with an arresting smell of summer and chilli– the product of a years’ curing. I smeared some on a morsel of bread and savoured the lingering piquant flavour, and the texture of the silky fat and hand-cut pork pieces.

The nduja went into a pan of hot oil with crisp pancetta, translucent onions and swirling discs of garlic. As she cooked, guests trickled into the house. Each arrival engulfed me in an embrace like we’d been separated at birth. Rusty on dialect, I reflected their wide grins and animated gestures. Dad’s name was sprinkled in their words, and realised that I reminded them of dad. Their affection and the heady smell of the sauce swirled around me.

With a splash, pasta went into a colander. A flick of the wrist, and the ingredients were married in the pan, and sprinkled with torn basil. As Teresa plated-up, we laughed and slurped on homemade wine. The nduja had melted, dispersing its chilli flecks and umami flavour, balanced by the sweet tomatoes and creamy nubs of ricotta. The tagliatelle weaved through the flavours and had the flawless succulence of hand-cut pasta. I relished the moment and the perfectly simple cuisine and artisanal lifestyle my relatives had known for so long.

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