To be honest, I am not that familiar with Italian cooking as I am with French. For some reason whenever the “Hungry” Hubby talks about pasta I always think marinara, alfredo or butter and garlic sauce. After taking the French Cuisine Boot camp at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) last year, we have wanted to take an immersion course in Italian cooking – maybe a culinary tour to Italy is in order. Until then, we decided to learn from the pre-eminent teacher of old-school Italian cooking, Giuliano Bugialli.
Giuliano was teaching a three-day Italian cooking class at Tante Marie – we were signed up for the first two. He was a slender, short man with a raspy voice and looked like he was in his seventies. I wonder how well he could hold the attention of a crowd of 35 chatty people. All doubts about his teaching abilities were dispelled once he took center stage. The man was a born teacher. In between dishes, he would pepper some humor in his lessons like the story of a person who called him after reading one of his books:
“ Mr. Bugialli your pasta recipe is delicious but I found it was quite difficult to incorporate the eggs into the flour.” Apparently when the recipe said whole eggs, the guy included the shells.
Or the time when a student of his went home to try one of his techniques to repair a broken sauce and called him later:
“Giulliano, the cold cream worked perfectly to pull the broken sauce together, texture is great but what do you do about the taste?” The student used Ponds cold cream.
Whether his stories were true or tall tales, they managed to get the class engaged. He would also taunt us repeatedly about his use of salt.
“Why you Americans so afraid of salt”, he says as he scoops up a palmful and throws it into his sputtering leek sauce.
What really impressed me about Bugialli is his ease at making pasta – he is literally poetry in motion as he handles the pasta dough. As he stretches and twirls it in the air – he makes it look so easy and encouraging for one to dust off the pasta roller that has been sitting unused in one’s pantry.
Just look how long he stretched the pasta without breaking at the thinnest setting for the roller – isn’t it amazing?
The recipe I have below assumes a knowledge of how to make pasta from scratch – as the recipe does not go into the details of this. I must say when I saw this dish being assembled I told HH that it did not look appetizing – all those leeks. But after my first bite – I quickly finished my plate and went back for more. The sauce was there to highlight the pasta – it is not the main star – you savor the tacconi and the nuances of leeks in its entirety and the leaves of fresh basil is a must. I have not made this recipe myself – yet.
I will never look at dried pasta the same again.
Tacconi o Maccheroni ai Porri
Tacconi with Leeks by Giulliano Bugialli
For the sauce:
6 large leeks, all the green part removed and the white part sliced into thin rings, left soaking in a bowl of cold water
4 tbs (2 ounces) unsalted butter
4 tbs extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
About 2 cups completely defatted chicken broth, preferably homemade
For the pasta:
4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
4 extra-large eggs
3 extra-large yolks
A pinch of salt
To cook the pasta:
4 quarts of completely defatted chicken broth, preferably homemade, coarse grained salt if needed
4 tbs (2 ounces) unsalted butter if needed
15 springs Italian parsley, leaves only, finely chopped
Whole leaves of fresh basil
Abundant fresh basil
Prepare the sauce:
Heat the butter and the oil in a large casserole over medium heat. When the butter is melted, drain the leeks, add them to casserole and season with salt and pepper. Saute leeks for about 15 minutes, stirring every so often with a wooden spoon. Cover casserole and cook for about 40 minutes stirring every so often and adding broth as needed. By that time leeks should be very soft and a rather thick but smooth sauce formed.
Prepare the pasta with the ingredients and quantities listed above, but let the dough rest, wrapped in a cotton dish towel for 20 minutes. Stretch the layer of pasta to a thickness of less than 1/16 of an inch; on the pasta machine take it to the last notch. Use a pastry wheel to cut the layer of pasta into 2-inch squares and let them rest on cotton towels until needed.
Bring a large pot with the broth to a boil, add salt if needed, then the pasta and cook it from 1 to 3 minutes, depending on its dryness. Drain the pasta and add it to casserole containing the leek sauce, still over low heat. Mix very well and add the butter if needed. Sprinkle the parsley over and mix again. Transfer contents of casserole to a large warmed serving platter, sprinkle the cheese over and serve hot, with a few leaves of fresh basil over each serving.
And here’s a picture of Giuliano, Mary Risley (Tante Marie owner) and HH.
And the rest of my Cupcake tasting in San Francisco :
Verdict: I was really disappointed after all the hype surrounding Elizabeth Falkner’s book. The chocolate cupcake was dry and the frosting was typical- at $3.50 I expected more. The chocolate-mousse devil cake was unimpressive either.
Verdict: By this time my tastebuds were rebelling against chocolate and I wanted something lighter. This yellow-butter cupcake was good but nothing extraordinary – it was very pretty though. The light chocolate frosting was better than Kara’s cupcake.
What I want to bring to attention is this little shop that just opened (according to our friends in San Francisco) in the Cow Hollow district. We were on our way home when our friend suggested one last stop – by this time I was near a sugar coma. It was just a few blocks from his house so he dropped me off so I can do my investigation. It was a very cute store with a few tables – a lot of cupcakes to choose from but I chose 4 minis, two flavors – Chocolate peanut butter cups and banana cupcake.
Verdict: After dinner, I was ready for some sweet tasting. The Chocolate PB cups were devoured before I could have a taste but my friend said that it was delicious. I had a bite of the banana cupcake expecting nothing special but I was pleasantly surprised at how fresh and light it tasted. Great cupcakes, finally!