It’s probably time to talk pasta. Pasta is the most important food in Italy and Bologna is no exception. Most Italians eat pasta every day either at lunch or dinner, or both. Each region has its specialities. In Wellington the pasta section in the supermarket is one or two bays in an aisle. In Bologna the pasta section is three aisles plus. I have enjoyed exploring the different pasta traditions both of Emilia Romagna and other regions of Italy. In addition to tortellini, tortelloni and tagliatelle, the pasta shapes typically found in Bologna are: garganelli, egg pasta in a square shape rolled into a tube; passatelli, made from breadcrumbs, egg, grated parmigiana, lemon, and nutmeg; strozzapreti, a twisted tube pasta; gramigne, similar to macaroni; and lasagne verdi which is coloured with spinach and served with ragù alla Bolognese. In my Italian kitchen I have experimented with most of these and the ubiquitous spaghetti.
I don’t cook spaghetti very much in Wellington but here in Bologna it feels like the right thing to eat and I have made some lovely simple spaghetti dishes. My top picks are carbonara, puverella, and spaghetti with chilli and olive oil. Carbonara is a dish from Rome. Saute pancetta in a pan, with a whole clove of garlic then remove the garlic. Or cook the pancetta in garlic infused oil. Add cooked spaghetti to the pan and remove from the heat. Pour in lightly beaten eggs and toss well adding some of the pasta cooking water to keep the sauce glossy. Mix in some Parmigiana and season with pepper. Puveralla was a dish I saw on a video in a food hall and I think it is from Naples. To prepare this, lightly fry eggs in a pan, allow 1.5 eggs per person. Take off the heat, remove one egg per person and set aside. Lightly whisk the remaining eggs and toss with the cooked spaghetti. Add some cooking water to loosen. Mix in some Parmigiana and season with pepper. Serve and top each plate with the set aside fried egg. This was such a comforting plate of food, I have named it eggy spaghetti. When we were in Venice I saw a woman eating a plate of just spaghetti. I looked on the menu as we were leaving and it was described as spaghetti aglio, olio e peperoncino. I made it that evening when we got back to Bologna. Heat garlic and chilli flakes in olive oil, taking care not to burn the garlic. Toss through the cooked spaghetti with some of the cooking water and add Parmigiana and chopped parsley. If you have stale bread you could grate to crumbs and lightly toast with the garlic and chilli. I am thinking of adding wilted greens if I happen to have something in the fridge that needs using. So now I am a spaghetti convert. The trick, as with all Italian cooking, is to keep the dishes very simple. A plate of spaghetti and a garden salad at the end of a busy day, is the perfect meal.
In Verona I was served pasta quattro formaggio and our host gave me her mother-in-law’s recipe. I made this at the earliest opportunity. You need four cheeses – gorgonzola and mascarpone (you can buy this pre-mixed in the supermarket in Italy), taleggio, Parmigiana, butter, and pasta. I was recommended to use pipe rigate which was an excellent choice. This is as simple as cook the pasta, melt the soft cheese with a little butter. Mix the drained pasta with the cheese. Add Parmigiana to get a consistency you like. Add a little cooking water to loosen the pasta if necessary. Season with black pepper. this is delicious and not as rich as it sounds.
I have served garganelli with fresh tomatoes and burrata, a soft cheese I described in Bologna basic, and with sausage, radicchio and basil. Strozzapreti, which translates as priest-strangler (reflective of strong anti-clerical leanings in this region), went well with sausage and cima di rapa.
The possibilities are infinite but the rules are simple. Cook the pasta until al dente in plenty of boiling well salted water. Retain some of the starchy cooking water to adjust the consistency of the sauce. Its about the pasta, not the sauce.