Category Archives: pasta

Cooking with an Italian grandmamma

By Jennifer Severson

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The author, Jennifer Severson, makes the first stage of tagliatelle noodles with Italian cooking expert Loredana Betti at Spannocchia. Photo by Nina Furstenau

CHIUSDINO, Italy – Loredana Betti, an Italian grandmamma and exceptional cook, leads classes at the Tenuta di Spannocchia after retiring from being the farm head cook. Lucky us. During our stay at the farm, the study abroad family was able to participate in said cooking classes where we were guided through a five course Italian meal:

Antipasti (appetizer): Crostone al Pomodoro (tomato crostone)

Primo (first course): Tagliatelle all’Ortolana (fresh tagliatelle pasta with gardener’s sauce)

Secondo (second course): Rotolo di Petto di Pollo (stuffed and baked chicken roll)

Contorno (side): Patate al sesame (potatoes with sesame seeds)

Dolce (dessert): Tiramisù

The class started with creating the last part, the tiramisù, as it needed time to chill in the fridge. We were each given bowls to assemble our own mini treats and watched as Loredana demonstrated the process of creating the tiramisu components. Each bowl was topped with different cookie decorations to mark whose tiramisu it was.

After the dessert we started the chicken roll, with a majority of our time spent just watching Loredana cook with eyes full of adoration. To prepare the chicken roll, Loredana first used a sharp knife to butterfly a boneless chicken breast, place a half an omelet across it plus steamed asparagus before rolling the stack and securing it with kitchen twine. It was then cooked in the oven with a mixture of herbs, butter, olive oil, lemon and white wine.

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Chicken breast rolled with an egg omelete and asparagus ready to bake with olive oil and white wine. Photo by Nina Furstenau

Up next was the crostone, also commonly called bruschetta. We were all given very official cutting boards and knives to chop the tomatoes for the mixture. The topping was made and Loredana recruited a few of us to rub cloves of garlic right onto the toasted bread to transfer the taste in a subtle way.

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Fresh tomato, garlic and basil top toasted bread at Loredana Betti’s cooking class, Spannocchia. Photo by Jenna Severson

Our hard work thus far warranted a break, so after we assembled the crostone, our group was brought to the outdoor patio where there were glasses of crisp white wine and refreshing elder flower juice waiting for us.

The last, but certainly best part of the class was learning how to make fresh pasta – something I did not realize was a lot easier than it seemed. Everyone in the room had smiles on their faces as they assisted Loredana in the flattening and formation of the tagliatelle noodles. Life was good.

Finally, class ended with us back on the patio, enjoying the fruits of our labor. Grazie mille Loredana for enlightening all of us about the joys of cooking a true Italian meal – it will not be forgotten.

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Filed under Chiusdino, MU Journalism Abroad, pasta, Science ad Agricultual Journalism, Spannocchia

Noodle notes at Spannocchia

By Hannah Dustman

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Loredana Betti of Spannocchia and Hannah Dustman, MU food writer, at work making pasta. Photo by Zara McDowell

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.

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The finished product: tagliatelle a la Mizzou. Photo Hannah Dustman

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It’s not your mother’s all-purpose white flour

By: Faith Vickery
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FLORENCE, Italy– Gluten free food is everywhere now, at least in the US. But have you ever thought about what it would mean having gluten intolerance in another country; a country like Italy, so rooted in tradition?

After a visit to Pastificio Fabbri, a four-generation pasta-making business run by Giovanni Fabbri, I learned sometimes it’s the quality of wheat–and the release of its starches–that can make a difference in how our bodies react to gluten.

Pastificio Fabbri starts with semolina flour, made from durum wheat and not all-purpose white flour found commonly on US grocery shelves. The stalk of wheat he showed us tasseled above his head. The common variety of wheat next to it, stood about thigh-high. As Giovanni poured water over a lump of dough in his hand and massaged it, he stressed that the cloudy water dripping from the dough contained starch from the grain. He continued to massage the dough, resulting in a perfectly elastic dough ball about one-tenth of the original size of the dough lump. The rest was the white starch now in the water.
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Our bodies react better to less starches and more nutrients. When industrial pasta makers do things fast, Giovanni said, it results in more starches trapped in the quick-dried pasta, which then takes on a tell-tale yellowish color. Traditionally-made Italian pasta has a lighter, white-ish color because the pasta has dried slowly. This process does not trap the starches within the noodle and, during cooking, the water becomes opaque with released starch. The pasta is more easily digested and healthier for our bodies.

Maybe we should do it like the Italians do and stick to tradition.IMG_1379

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All you need is…a little parmesan, a nice Chianti

By Christine Jackson
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FLORENCE, Italy – There’s something to be said for simplicity, especially when it comes to food. Sometimes the best dishes are those that take a few great elements and let them speak for themselves.

Today we visited an artisan pasta factory and a mostly organic olive oil producer. Both create pure, simple products using the best process they can to create the highest quality goods. But there are other blog posts here to tell you all about that. Let’s get to the actual food.

For lunch we were served pasta dressed with just olive oil, served with fresh tomatoes and Parmigiano Reggiano on the side, to be added after tasting the pasta and oil on their own.

There was nothing fancy about it, but it was a perfect meal. Smooth, peppery olive oil over wide, wavy pasta made the way it should be, still steaming in its ceramic bowl. I could have eaten all of it just like that, but a little cheese and fresh tomato (especially the tomatoes in Tuscany) never hurt anybody. It was salty, savory, peppery, acidic, fresh-tasting and hearty all at the same time, with just four ingredients to carry the weight of an entire meal.

Over and over again, Italy has proved the value of quality over quantity. Most of what we’ve eaten here has been in smaller portions with fewer ingredients than most American dishes, but the flavors have been so much better.

Sometimes you don’t need the tomato sauce with meat and vegetables and herbs and spices and the rest of the pantry dumped inside. Sometimes all you need is the tomato.

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Pasta machine comes full circle

By Elizabeth Johnson

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STRADA IN CHIANTI, Italy–Sitting on the table in Pastificio Fabbri, in the town of Strada in Chianti, is an antique pasta machine patented in the US in 1906 by Angelo Vitantonio. Giovanni Fabbri cranks its wooden handle, trying to create the perfect noodle. His family has used the same machine to press their dough for four generations of pasta making.

The earliest evidence of a machine to make pasta appears in Thomas Jefferson’s notes dating back to 1787. After taking a tour of northern Italy, Jefferson acquired the plans for a macaroni machine and built his own for home use. However, it was not until 1906, that Angelo Vitantonio patented the first “official” pasta machine in Cleveland, Ohio. Vitantonio resided with many other Italian immigrants in Cleveland’s Murray Hill neighborhood, now known as Little Italy, and presumably a quicker way to make pasta was in demand.

After receiving his patent, Vitantonio started selling the machines through his company, VillaWare. The little invention took off faster than anyone could have expected. Some say the pasta machine spread faster than the radio in Vitantonio’s Italian/American community.

Now, over one hundred years later, Vitantonio’s gadget has spread far beyond Little Italy, appearing in kitchens all over the world. The little machine has even managed to find its way all the way back to Italy.

From Italy, to Ohio and back again, the pasta machine has come full circle.

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Made from scratch

Rachel Trujillo

CHIUSDINO, Italy— A tiny mound of delicate flour laid on the marble counter; a cracked egg, olive oil and salt rested in the crater inside. With the smooth whisking motion of the fork, thick dough began to form. The gummy mixture molded itself between my fingers and I found it difficult to separate the sticky dough from my hand. We each had our own ball, eventually combining them into one perfectly kneaded jumble ready to be rolled out. The effortless mixing of these simple ingredients shattered my previous thoughts of how hard making homemade pasta must be.
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We watched Loredana Betti, former chef and long-time resident at Spannocchia, gracefully work the pasta dough until it held the perfect consistency throughout. There was something natural to her movement. It became instantly obvious she had a firm grasp on not only this recipe, but of all cooking that took place in the kitchen. Her timing was precise but never rushed. In a one fluid motion we made pear and pecorino crostone, Gardner’s sauce, baked zucchini, thin beef rolls, tiramisu and fresh tagliatelle noodles.

The dough was ready and the pasta equipment was set up. We divided the dough again into pieces perfectly sized for a three-inch wide strip of pasta. Bette placed one chunk into the machine and quickly churned the knob. A thinner block emerged from the other side. She turned the dial to an even thinner setting and repeated her process. We each took turns spinning the wheel and flattening our dough. Eventually we were left with uniformly thin, wide strips of pasta that stretched to great lengths.

Rachel Trujillo tries her hand at pasta from scratch

Rachel Trujillo tries her hand at pasta from scratch


The flexible noodles quickly hardened and maintained their form. This indicated their readiness to be cut into their ultimate noodle shape. The noodles cooked in boiling water just long enough to soften.

The freshness of the pasta paired with the newly picked vegetables in the sauce created a meal fit for the Tuscan countryside.

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No mystery ingredients here

Jordan Bromberg

CHIUSDINO, Italy – I’m used to eating a meal and thinking, “I wonder what’s in here.”

In this small countryside town near Sienna I can close my eyes and truly taste each bite, paying careful attention to the different fresh flavors. I can identify certain spices and certain vegetables. Even with a language barrier that sometimes prevents me from understanding exactly what ingredients went into my dish, I am able to tell what I am eating, unlike what sometimes happens back at home.

Today, we made fresh tagliatelle with a gardener’s sauce from scratch. As we began to make the sauce, chopping the zucchini and garlic, I remembered where each ingredient was grown and harvested.
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The sauce, made with zucchini, garlic, bell peppers, onion, peas, mushrooms, tomatoes and, of course, extra virgin olive oil, took on a cheese-y, tomato-ey taste when poured over homemade tagliatelle and sprinkled with Parmesan.

Here on the Spannocchia farm, I know where all of my food is made. I know that every single ingredient in my dinner is from the garden I explored this morning or the animals I visited yesterday.

Even in Florence, a larger city, where I never saw pigs roaming or vegetables growing, flavors of fresh ingredients shone through every dish I ate.

As I eat the homemade pasta we have just prepared, I think about the pasta-like dishes we find ourselves eating far too often as college students – Easy Mac and Ramen Noodles.

I think about the idea of tearing apart of plastic wrapper to reveal a cup of noodles that will expire far in the future – if ever. All ingredients are in a foil packet, and I cannot recognize more than a couple of the ones listed on the label.

We simply add water, microwave and stir a mysterious powder into a container of noodles, which has become covered in a strange milky residue, to prepare what we might call dinner.

Even restaurant meals and “homemade” Italian dishes are more mysterious in the US. What animal’s milk was used to make the cheese that tops my pasta? Where were the tomatoes that make up this marina sauce grown? Are they organic? How much salt is in this? How much fat am I consuming? It is harder to judge the nutritional value of a meal, and distinct, fresh tastes are harder to find.

I miss certain aspects of living in the United States, but the food is not one of them. I will forever be skeptical of what I eat. I will miss living in a place where I know that I am eating the freshest, healthiest ingredients available.

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