Two summers ago, my family and I stayed at a lovely country inn called La Valle de Vento, just outside of the magnificent Renaissance town of Urbino. Perched on a hill overlooking the lush campagna Marchegiana, the inn is owned by a charming couple named Francesco, who manages the inn and on-site vinoteca, and Sara, who helms the kitchen. We happened to be there for Ferragosto, the feast of the Assumption on August 15th, which is, for Italians, a national day of rest, recreation, and endless feasting. The al fresco dining room was packed with merry-makers, many of whom were friends and neighbors of the owners. To quote a line from one of my kids’ favorite books, Tomie DiPaola’s Strega Nona, “It was a feast to end all feasts” – free-flowing wine, locally produced salumi and cheeses, nutty insalatina di farro, handmade gnocchetti and pasta, roasted rabbit with crispy potatoes, garden vegetables and homemade crostate. The mood was positively buoyant. We lingered over our meal for nearly three hours – how our then 5, 4 and 2 year-old sons managed without a meltdown, we’ll never know, but they quite deservedly earned their second gelato later that evening.
Two years later, I’m still thinking about my favorite dish of the day – tagliatelle di farro agli ortaggi – tagliatelle made with farro flour and served with razor thin, barely sautéed sliced vegetables from the proprietors’ garden. Although I’ve cooked dried farro pasta, I’ve wanted to make my own for a while now. I purchased a bag of organic farro flour imported from Italy (Puglia, to be precise – farro is also cultivated in Tuscany, Umbria, Le Marche & Abruzzo) last weekend and consulted a cookbook I purchased in Urbino about the regional cuisine of Le Marche. This recipe called for two parts Tipo “0” flour (all-purpose flour) and one part farina di farro. The result was an incredibly silky and supple pasta dough – not at all sticky – that was a cinch to roll out. Although the slightly nutty flavor, earthy hue and toothsome texture of this pasta would pair beautifully with mushrooms (a combination I’ve had in Abruzzo) or other fall produce, I wanted to play with seasonal vegetables just as Sara had with her glorious garden veggies. So I chopped up some peppery local arugula, roasted leeks with grape tomatoes and finished the dish with grated ricotta salata and eccola! – Tagliatelle di Farro con Rucola e Pomodorini!
Recipe by Majella Home Cooking © (Adapted from La Cucina delle Marche by Pietra Carsetti)
Serves 4 as a main course or 6 as a first course
FOR THE PASTA
I made the dough in the food processor and rolled it out with a pasta machine, but it can just as easily be done by hand.
- 3 ½ cups all-purpose (Tipo “0”) flour
- 1 ¾ cups farro flour
- 6 eggs
- 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
Fit the regular steel cutting blade in the bowl of the processor. Measure the flours into the bowl and process for a few seconds to aerate. Add the eggs and oil into a spouted measuring cup and whisk until combined. (To minimize the chance of overheating the dough, use eggs right from the refrigerator.) Start the machine running with the feed tube open. Pour and scrape the wet mixture into the bowl quickly.
Let the machine run for about 30 seconds. A dough should form quickly. Let the machine knead the dough for about 10 seconds (no more than 40 seconds total processing). Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface, and knead by hand for another 2 minutes, until it’s smooth, soft, and stretchy. Flatten the dough into a disk, wrap it tightly in plastic wrap, and let it rest at room temperature for 30 minutes.
Cut the dough into 4 equal pieces. Work with one piece at a time and keep the others covered. Have twolarge trays or baking sheets lined with a smooth (non-terry) kitchen towel that is dusted with flour and keep a few other towels handy. Turn the knob to the widest setting and press the first piece of dough with your hands into a circle or small rectangle and roll it through the machine once.. Fold the rectangle in half, turn the dough so the fold is on the side and roll it through on the widest setting one time. Fold the rectangle in thirds, turn the dough so the fold is on the side and roll it through in the same way six more times. Lay the first piece down, sprinkle with a bit of flour and cover it with a kitchen towel. Put the remaining pieces of dough through the same steps of rolling and folding. Reset your rollers to the next setting and roll your strip through, wide end in first, if it fits, and repeat with remaining pieces of dough, covering each piece with a towel as you go. Reset the machine even narrower and then again at progressively narrower settings, until they spread as wide as the rollers and stretch to 18 inches or longer. Cut the 4 long pasta strips in half crosswise, giving you 8 sheets, each about a foot long and 5 inches wide. Lay these flat on the trays, lightly floured, separated and covered by towels.
Feed one of your wide strips, lightly floured, into the tagliatelle cutter of your pasta machine. Support the strip with one hand, and crank with the other. As the pasta is drawn through the cutter, switch hands so you can catch and lift the noodles as they emerge. Form into nests and lay on the towel-lined trays, floured and separated so they don’t stick together or hang them on a wooden drying rack.
FOR THE SAUCE
- 3 leeks trimmed, white and light green parts only
- 1 pint grape or cherry tomatoes, rinsed and left whole
- 3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
- 1 teaspoon of salt and several grindings of freshly ground pepper
- 6 oz arugula, roughly chopped
- 3 oz. ricotta salata, grated
- Good olive oil to finish
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Slice leeks in half length-wise and rinse under cold water to remove the grit. Dry with a clean kitchen towel and chop crosswise into ½ inch pieces. In a large bowl, combine leeks and tomatoes and toss with olive oil and salt. Add to a roasting pan or cookie sheet lined with parchment paper or a silicon liner and place in the middle rack of the oven. Shake the pan occasionally to prevent sticking and roast for about 20 minutes, or until the tomatoes are blistered and the leeks are caramelized. Transfer to a large serving bowl.
Bring 6 quarts of water to a full boil and stir in handful of salt. Before adding the pasta to the water, gently shake off any excess flour using a colander or with your hands. Drop the pasta into the boiling water in several batches, stirring with each addition to separate the pieces. Let the water return to a boil, stirring occasionally. Cook for about 3-4 minutes, tasting for doneness. Reserve a cup of the pasta cooking water and drain the pasta into a colander. Transfer the pasta and reserved pasta cooking water to the serving bowl that contains the roasted tomato and leek mixture. Toss well and then add the chopped arugula and toss again. Finish with grated ricotta salata and a drizzle of peppery extra virgin olive oil. Serve immediately. Buon appetito!