By Hannah Dustman
CHUISDINO, Italy – “Olive oil,” “garlic,” “pizza,” “cannoli,” we shouted in response to Sara Silvertri’s question, “What foods do you think of when you think about Italy, besides pasta?”
Silvestri, education director at Tenuta di Spannocchia, talked about the regional foods of Italy at the head of a long wooden table as our mouths began to water. Pasta, she said, is believed to have originated in as early as the first century A.D. among the Etruscans and Romans.
But there were differences. Pasta, then called “lagane,” was not boiled like it is today, but baked in the oven over a fire. The Etrusco-Roman noodle was created from the same durum wheat that is used for modern pasta.
Silvestri explained there are many types of pasta noodles created today, each type dependent on the kind of wheat used and where it is produced. She pointed out soft wheat is more commonly produced in the north while hard wheat is more popular in the south due to the warmer and drier growing climate.
Pappardelle, made from hard wheat to keep the wide and thick noodles from falling apart, originates from the central region of Tuscany, yet follows the hard-wheat trend of the southern regions.
The two types of wheat have different protein levels. Hard wheat contains more gluten protein than soft, and this develops with kneading.
Drying time was another factor important to pasta, Silvestri said, especially regarding texture. Pasta produced for mass production in a commercial setting is dried at 140 degrees Fahrenheit, while pasta produced the more traditional way is hung to dry at approximately 100 to 105 degrees Fahrenheit for a longer period of time.
Silvestri noted the cooks at Spannocchia primarily use dried pasta because of the ease it provides when serving a large group of guests. However, visitors can create fresh soft wheat pasta during scheduled cooking classes while on the farm.
But creating pasta is no small task. During my cooking class, the pile of flour, shaped to hold a drizzle of olive oil and a fresh egg was tidy until I rolled up my sleeves and began kneading. Flakes stuck to my fingers until I formed a potato-sized lump.
Next Loredana Betti, long-time cook and teacher at Spannocchia, pulled out the small, silver pasta press, and that’s when things got exciting.
Smooth, fragile yet flexible three foot stretches of durum wheat tethered me to the pasta press. I broke free when I carried the golden noodle to the waiting cloth-covered table to be cut. The wide noodles were serrated into a dozen or more strips for future lunches.
Warning: tagliatelle is not for faint of appetite.