The Pasta of Piedmont
This month's taste travel takes us to Piedmont, Italy's second largest region and, quite possibly, its most elegant.
The cuisine of Piedmont is descended from two very different lineages. One is the elegant banquets of the Savoy Court. Established in 1003, this royal house expanded from Turin to rule parts of France and almost all of Italy up until the end of World War Two. To the Piedmont table they brought sumptuous foods in the butter-laden French tradition. Confections like chocolate and zabaoine also came to the region this way as did tajarin, lavishly rich egg noodles made with 40 yolks. The other influence on cooking traditions came from farmers and peasants who relied on much simpler ingredients to make straightforward, assertive dishes like bagna caoda, a warm dipping sauce made of anchovies, oil and garlic. Period. These two souls of Piedmont’s cuisine combine to create some of the most delicious foods in the Italian repertoire. But whether elegant or simple, honest food is respected, even revered here. It comes as no surprise then that the Slow Food Movement, which seeks to honor each region’s unique gastronomy, was born in Piedmont.
Because nearly half of Piedmont is mountains (the name itself means “foot of the mountain”) there are no olive trees and few tomatoes. But there are truffles! Truffles, elusive and intensely fragrant, are the jewel in Piedmont’s culinary crown. At $3,600 a pound, they are jewels indeed and out of reach for my budget. But a recent gift of truffle oil from my daughter brings a little bit of Piedmont to my pasta.
The classic formula of 40 egg yolks to a kilo of flour is a little excessive for my purposes so I’ve scaled the recipe back to use 6 egg yolks and a cup of flour. As with any pasta recipe, this is only a starting place. If your eggs are small, you may need another yolk or two, if large, a bit more flour. If it’s too hard to work, you can add a tablespoon of water. You are aiming for dough that is firm and dense but still pliable. Use farm eggs if you can get them or good omega 3 eggs from the supermarket. You will be rewarded with beautiful, deep golden noodles that are the hallmark of tajarin. This recipe will feed 2 people as a meal or 4 as a first course. It is easily doubled.
(4 of the 6 eggs yolks in the flour well)
Scoop a cup of unbleached, all-purpose flour onto your work surface and make a wide well in the center.
Add 6 egg yolks to this well and stir with a fork to begin incorporating the flour. Switch to a pastry scraper when the dough starts to come together.
This dough has a much denser hand to it than dough made with whole eggs. It will feel a little like clay. If it is too dry, work a tablespoon of water into it as you knead. After about 15 minutes you should have a silky, smooth, firm ball of dough.
Allow the sheet of dough to dry until it feels like leather—no longer sticky but still pliable.
Flour your sheet of dough and roll it up from the top and the bottom so that the 2 tubes meet in the middle.
Using a large, sharp knife, cut fine ribbons of noodles about 2mm (1/12th of an inch) wide and open them out to dry.
As is often the case, this takes longer to explain than it does to execute. If you want to learn these hand-rolling techniques, come to the Pasta 101 class on September 21st and see how easy it actually is!
A large pot with 6 quarts of boiling water
2 heaping tablespoons of kosher or sea salt
1 stick of sweet butter at room temperature
½ cup of freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Freshly grated pepper
A small drizzle of truffle oil
Cook fresh tajarin for just a few seconds in rapidly boiling salted water until they float to the surface. If they have dried this will take about 1 minute. Trust me on this!
Reserve a cup of the pasta water and drain the tajarin into a warmed serving bowl
Sprinkle with the grated cheese
Stir in the softened butter
Top with fresh, coarsely ground black pepper
Drizzle with about ½ teaspoon of truffle oil (a little goes a long way).
If the pasta seems dry, add a little of the cooking water just until the noodles no longer clump together. The dressing should just “robe” the pasta, not drown it.