Pasta Series #9: Rosa's Paglia e Fieno

It's the last day of February -- the shortest of all months, meaning time was tight in terms of blogging! -- but I've persevered against all odds (all in the name of pasta) and managed to find time for the latest round of the blog's Pasta Series -- number 9, to be exact! 

This month's recipe comes from the Pasta Grannies Cookbook, which was born out of the brilliant and ever-so-informative Pasta Grannies Project. If you're not familiar: Pasta Grannies is a YouTube channel/Instagram profile started by Brit Vicky Bennison, documenting nonne from all over Italy who make fresh pasta, thus both preserving the tradition and also promoting it. Happily enough, the project -- with its nearly 450,000 followers -- shows that perhaps the art of handmade pasta -- something that doesn't seem to quite fit in with the desire for speed, efficiency, instant gratification that defines today's lifestyle -- isn't lost quite yet. The book is a beautiful collection of not only recipes but also traditions and the stories of many Nonne -- Giuseppina and her pici, Maria and her raschiatelli, Carmela and her cavatelli, among so many others-- and I can’t say enough good things about it. Whether you're a pastahead like me or not -- it's worth getting a copy.

So! For February's post, I was a bit combattuta, i.e torn -- I was pondering making pizzoccheri from up North, a pasta dish I'd fallen in love with at Grano & Farina, hearty buckwheat pasta with lots of butter, cheese, potatoes, and cabbage; I had a day or two where I also considered making gnocchi alla romana, which made
with semolina, milk, and butter, cut into rounds and cooked until golden brown; I also was intrigued by gnudi, dumplings reminiscent of ricotta-filling served in butter and sage. In short, I was uncertain as to what would be my February pasta, when along came this paglia e fieno, i.e "straw and hay" pasta, more specifically "Rosa's Straw and Hay Pasta" from the Pasta Grannies book.

My friend Jeff -- who I taught to make pasta when he visited us last summer! -- is also a proud owner of a Pasta Grannies cookbook, and a pretty good pasta maker himself by now. He was the first one to bring my attention to Rosa's excellent recipe, noting however that he had made the pasta with a machine and not with a rolling pin -- I reminded him he himself was not a pasta granny, so he needn't have worried --and suddenly my musings about pizzoccheri, gnocchi, and gnudi (I challenge you to find me a set of words more fun to say than those) were set aside the green and yellow pasta I remembered seeing so often when living in Bologna back in the day.

Rosa -- a tiny woman who needs a step reach her pasta board properly, and who says that the secret to good pasta is good flour -- clearly, unsurprisingly, makes spectacular pasta. Apart from being beautiful to look at -- emerald green and sunny yellow ribbons all twisted together -- this pasta is delicate, silky in that wonderful way that only fresh pasta can be, and the sauce! I admit I was a little skeptical about the sauce here -- tomato and pancetta went well together, or peas and pancetta, sure, but the idea of mixing peas with tomatoes seemed odd to me? -- but I needn't have worried! This sauce just works, the sweetness of the peas tempered by salty, smoky pancetta, the tomatoes coating every strand of pasta to perfection. Best of all, it is speedy, easy -- especially if you use frozen peas, like I did -- making you realize that even a pasta granny has her shortcuts. I loved, loved, loved this pasta. I was sad when I came home and saw my sister had eaten the last bit. I am already planning when I can make it again. The more I learn about pasta, and the more I work on this series, I wonder:

Really though, is there anything better than pasta-making?!

A couple of notes: I found that the sauce quantities given in this recipe were too little for the amount of pasta; therefore, I have revamped the sauce recipe a little bit. Be prepared for the spinach pasta to be a little more delicate than your typical egg pasta, and use a little more flour if needed. If you're cooking for vegetarians, feel free to leave out the pancetta. Vicky notes here that in the autumn, the peas here in the sauce can be swapped for mushrooms. Finally, I used a pasta machine for this recipe, but use a rolling pin if that's your preferred method!

Want to know what the other 8 recipes are in my blog's Pasta Series? I've got these ravioli, this lasagne ai carciofi, these gnocchetti sardi, these cavatelli, these orecchiette, these pumpkin gnocchi, these spatzle with butter and chives and these garganelli

Serves 6. Recipe barely adapted from the Pasta Grannies Cookbook by Vicky Bennison. 

Ingredients for the "straw" pasta:
300 grams 00 flour
3 eggs (150 grams)

Ingredients for the "hay" pasta:
300 grams 00 flour
2 eggs 
100 grams (3.5 ounces) fresh spinach

Ingredients for the pea, pancetta, tomato sauce:
Olive oil
3 ounces (84 grams) smoked pancetta, diced
A yellow onion, finely sliced 
18 ounces (500 grams) passata or crushed tomatoes 
8 ounces (200 grams) fresh or frozen peas, depending on the time of the year 
Parmesan cheese, for serving


1. Start with your "straw" pasta i.e your plain egg pasta. Place a bowl on a scale and use the TARE option to eliminate it's weight; break the eggs into the bowl and measure the weight. Make sure there are 150 grams of eggs; depending on the size of your eggs, take away some egg or add a little water if you're eggs don't weigh enough. Beat your eggs together and set aside. Next, measure out 300 grams of flour and place it in a large bowl. Make a well in the flour and pour in the eggs. Gradually, with the aid of a fork, work the eggs into the flour until you get a shaggy mass. If the dough is a little dry add a little cold water. 

2. Upturn the contents of the bowl onto a worktop (wooden preferably or maybe a large chopping board, but a pasta board is ideal here) and start to knead it. The pasta machine will do most of the work later so you only should knead the dough until it comes together. Unless your hands are very cold, body heat should work its magic on the eggs and turn the dough silky smooth. For a short explanation on how to knead the dough via my friend Carla, click right here!

3. Next, leave the dough under an upturned mixing bowl (or wrap in plastic wrap) to rest for at least 30 minutes. Note that at this stage, the dough may be refrigerated until the next day and slowly brought back at room temperature prior to use.

4. On to your spinach dough (the "hay"!) Puree your spinach and eggs together in a food processor until smooth. Proceed exactly as you did above, using the spinach/egg mixture as your liquid instead of just eggs. Keep in mind that with the spinach addition, the dough will be a little more delicate. Once your dough is formed, let it rest for 30 minutes, covered, just as you did above.

5. While your pasta is resting, start with your sauce! Heat the olive oil in a saute pan and add the pancetta. Fry it to release some of its fat, then add the sliced onion. Continue to saute until the onion is soft, about 7 minutes. Stir in the peas and passata and season with some salt. Add a cup of water and then let the sauce reduce until it is thick, so that when you push your spoon through it, you can see the base of the pan slightly. Let this simmer while you finish your pasta. 

6. Back to your pasta! Once both doughs have rested, you can start to roll them out in to sheets (hurray!) Set up your pasta machine, attaching the roller handle and securing it to a work table. Set the rollers to the widest setting (0 in my case). Choose either the straw or the hay dough to work with first. Divide up the dough in to four or so equal pieces. You will work with one piece at a time; take a piece of dough and keep the others covered.

7. Flatten the piece of dough out so that it will go easily through the pasta machine. Roll the dough through, fold the strip of dough like and envelope and roll it again. If the dough feels too sticky, dust it with a little flour. NOTE: never ever put any flour directly onto the rollers! Repeat this folding and rolling process about 5 times. Now that you have kneaded your dough, start to roll it out; set the machine one notch down (from 0 to 1, in my case) and pass the dough ONCE through the rollers (no need to fold it anymore). Continue, rolling the dough once through each successive setting, until you reach 6. Do the same the three remaining pieces of pasta dough, cutting them in half once they are completely rolled out (to make them easier to handle, as the strip of pasta will be quite long!)

8. Using the fettuccine attachment of your pasta machine, cut each piece of rolled out pasta into fettuccine, dusting well with flour before you do so. Once cut, dust with a little more flour and form nests.

9. Repeat steps 7-8 with your second dough -- either straw or hay, whichever one you didn't already do! -- rolling and cutting out the pasta. 

10. Bring a large pan of salted water to a boil. Drop in the pasta ribbons -- cook the spinach pasta and egg pasta separately, in two batches, as the spinach pasta cooks a little faster -- and cook for 2-3 minutes, testing for doneness for each. Use a strainer to remove the first and second batches of pasta, so you don't have to boil water twice for each one!

11. Keeping back a couple of ladles of pasta water just in case you want to loosen your sauce, toss both pastas with the sauce, adding a little reserved pasta water if you like to loosen it as necessary. Serve with plenty of grated Parmigiano and eat immediately.

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