Master Pasta Class

“It’s a bit like a marriage,” Cory Pelan explains, as he gently pushes his thirty-year old pasta maker into place. “I try to listen to what it’s telling me… sometimes I ignore it…” Chuckles go around the crowd watching the chef and owner of La Piola interact with his Italian-made Bottene Marano pasta machine. Thanks to this event, organized by Slow Food, in partnership with La Piola, Untamed Feast and The Tuscan Kitchen, a group of keen students have the privilege of stepping into Cory’s kitchen to learn how to make fresh pasta and sauce from a pro. Carefully removing the parts to explain how the machine works, Cory caresses the brass dies for making different pasta shapes, describing the softness of the metal, and remembering a former employee who dropped the spaghetti die, denting it so badly that it had to be repaired before it could be used again. “He bought me a beer that night,” he tells us with a smile.

Cory demonstrates the simplicity of the machine, with few parts and only two settings; one to mix and one more to extrude. This prompts another memory; a separate incident where a staff member had it on the wrong setting when he was supposed to be mixing. The flour shot out the front of the machine, and the intense pressure from the extruder resulted in a hard, glass-like substance that took half an hour to hammer out of the shaft. It is obvious that these two have a strong history. It’s no wonder then that the resulting pasta tastes so good. Extraordinarily good. We’ve watched as the chef mixed his flours (a blend of semolina, bread and pastry flours) with fresh eggs, and then peeked in to check the texture, and of course, listening to the machine, added a little water to the dough. He paused to elucidate the importance of finding a happy medium between a dough that is too dry, resulting in a brittle pasta, and a dough that is too wet, resulting in a pasta that has no texture and won’t hold the sauce. The right consistency should have clumps roughly the size of hazelnuts, he instructs us. When the spaghetti begins to come out of the machine, we see that he’s nailed it. The strands show evidence of having the grain pulled back slightly as it made its exit, producing the texture that is crucial for the pasta to absorb the sauce.

And we want it to absorb the sauce – a thick pomodoro that Cory has taught us how to make, offering little nuggets of experience (“oregano: if you think you’ve got enough, add more”) as he explained the method. As with the pasta, the key to the sauce is simplicity. A few quality ingredients; extra virgin olive oil, garlic, onion, whole plum tomatoes, bay leaves and herbs, attentively prepared, will achieve the best results. Once the sauce reached the point where it needs to sit and simmer, the pot is magically replaced with one that was started earlier in the day. We admire the result of three to four hours simmering: the sauce has thickened significantly and achieved a deepened colour.

Now it’s Eric Whitehead’s turn to teach. The owner of Untamed Feast is here to show us how to make his favourite sauce showcasing his dried morels. Alberto Pizzolo, owner of the Italian Bakery, is on hand as well, reminiscing about a foraging adventure he accompanied Eric on last year, stressing how important it is for him to know where the ingredients he is using come from, and how they are harvested. Eric concocts a creamy, woodsy sauce (click here for the recipe) before our eyes and our stomachs begin to rumble. This is when Cory serves up a first sample of spaghetti al pomodoro with generous servings of freshly grated Parmesan on top. The kitchen falls silent, with the exception of some audible groans of delight.

It is time to move into the dining room for another demo, this one from Mauro Schelini, who, with his wife Gerri, own the Tuscan Kitchen. Their beautiful shop brings majolica, fine tableware, linens and specialty food items to downtown Victoria. Mauro is here to tell us about home pasta makers, as well as tortellini molds and special rolling pins for attaining the required thickness of various pastas. He shows us the Imperia model he uses in his own kitchen, and people take turns rolling out sheets of lasagna or fettuccini.

I sneak back to the kitchen to try the spaghetti with morel sauce and overhear a woman requesting that Cory sell her the remaining unused fresh pasta sitting by his machine.  Someone else is commenting that “it will be hard to go back to dried pasta after today.”

I think to myself that Slow Food has done it again: another winning event, a few new recipes, and a fresh batch of converts.

Comments are closed.