Paschal Lamb Ragù (that’s good any time of year really)

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I dedicate this post to Kathy Ayer because it was with her that I bought some fresh pasta from the town of Artena.  Artena is famous for its bread, as is Lariano, but I reckon its flour makes some of the best fresh pasta I’ve ever tasted, with a delicious bite to it.  We are very lucky to find it at the farmers’ markets in the Castelli Romani.  In Ariccia on Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday, and near Frascati on Fridays.  She and I were in Ariccia on the Wednesday and I asked the vendor whether the pasta would last until the following (Easter) Sunday.  The answer was yes.  I was to leave the pasta in its plastic container, but the lid was to be kept open.  Hmmm.

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Having always challenged the mantra my mother chanted throughout my childhood, and that is “to trust is very good, to not trust is even better”, I found myself annoyingly assailed by doubts that this pasta would indeed be good enough to eat five days after it had been prepared.  On the other hand, I knew I had plenty of other dry pasta at home so it wasn’t going to be the end of the world if I would have to do without it after all, on the appointed day.

The day was Easter Sunday, and in Italy, despite Berlusconi’s protestations as he had himself photographed hugging a baby lamb, Easter usually does mean lamb.  So I thought I would make a Paschal ragù using lamb and a few asparagus.  I asked the butcher to mince the meat for me (leg of lamb) and kept the bone too, to help with both the sauce AND the water with which to cook the pasta.

Are you ready?  This is not at all a difficult recipe but it does call for a little attention.  It tasted really good, so I shall make it again.  Try it some time.

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The above is about 350g of minced lamb, taken from the leg.  Of course, we are talking about Italian lamb here, agnello or abbacchio, and this is really baby  baby lamb.

INGREDIENTS

Leg of lamb, with the meat minced and the bone chopped into smaller pieces, asparagus stems (use the tips for something else), onion, garlic, olive oil, peppercorns, red wine (white if you prefer), rosemary, sage, mint, butter, parmesan or a mixture of parmesan and pecorino cheese, fresh pasta (dry if you haven’t any), salt and pepper. Two saucepans. One to start the sauce with, and a much larger one for the end results.

The first thing I did was soak the bones in plenty of water:

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The water goes red, so change it once or twice.

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And that’s what the leg of lamb pieces looked like after their bath.  Please note that there is still some meat attached to the bone (not a lot).

6I filled a large pasta pot with water and added bits of the bone that were meat free.

8I added some rosemary and sage to the water, and turned the heat on, with the lid on.

9Chop an onion, and place it in a nice saucepan together with some peppercorns, olive oil and the bits of bone with meat on ’em.  Start cooking, over a low-medium heat.

10Keep an eye on the onions – we don’t want them to go brown.

11When they are golden, remove them and transfer to another saucepan, in anticipation of the grand finale.  A BIG saucepan that will be able to accommodate all the pasta at the end.

12Back to our smaller saucepan.  Carry on cooking the bones, instead, on a lively heat … they will roast to a burnished colour.

1314When the bones have roasted enough, remove them, and deglaze the pan with some nice red wine.  When finished, transfer the juices too to the other, big saucepan.

15Remove as much of the meat from the bones as you can – and this is mighty tricky, let me tell you.  Not at all easy.  I might get the butcher to do it for me next time.

17And add those bones too, now, to the pasta water.

16Chop the meat you managed to remove from the bones.  Pur this chopped meat into the larger saucepan.

18Back to our initial saucepan which is looking rather the worse for wear – but that’s okay, no cause for concern.  Dribble more olive oil and put a couple of roughly squashed cloves of garlic in the pan. Turn the heat on and wait for the garlic to go golden.

19Now add the minced meat.  Sprinkle some salt.  Carry on cooking the meat until it turns a nice brown but not burnt colour.

20And now, this is what the bigger saucepan is up to at this stage: it contains the (1) previously cooked onions, (2) chopped meat I managed to extract from the bones, (3) deglazed juices, and (4) some rosemary needles.  Salt. Sprinkle salt.21

Now add the cooked minced meat to the bigger pan.  I apologise for the angle of this photo but I don’t know why wordpress uploaded it this way.  You’ll have to crick your neck to see it ‘properly’.  No  matter, you get idea, don’t you?

22I added a nice lump of butter.  I do love butter and a little bit of butter works wonders when there is a pasta sauce that does not have a lot of ‘liquid’ (such as tomato sauce) to it. Remove the pan from the heat for now.

24I removed all the bones and herbs from the pasta water.  All these ingredients had been useful as a kind of broth, and had imparted whatever flavour they could. Time to say bye bye.

2325I put the chopped asparagus and the pasta into the boiling cauldron of flavoured pasta water and waited for them to cook.  About 5-6 minutes.  Notice who ‘oily’ the pasta water is!

26Turn the heat back on …

27Drain the pasta and asparagus and put them into the saucepan.  Add some of the cooking water.

28Combine all the ingredients, adding more cooking water if necessary, and then season the pasta with some grated parmesan.  Use a wooden spoon to help you.  Or two large forks.

2930Taste. Taste, taste and taste.  A twist of pepper.  Maybe a little bit more salt? A few mint leaves?

31Serve and enjoy.

There was more grated parmesan on the table for people to add if they wished.

I normally rabbit on about loving the leftovers.  Well, there were no leftovers that Easter Sunday.  We polished off the lot.

 

Brodo Bonanza – Hats off to “Cappelletti”

About ten years ago, I attended a cooking class at the Gambero Rosso premises just off Viale Marconi. The interior was new and exciting, escalators and three floors, shops and wine bar etc., and there was a fab atmosphere at the time.  The theme that night was regional specialiaties from Emilia Romagna and pride of recipe place went to the making of tortellini.  It was conducted by chef, food historian and writer Sandro Masci who now runs another cooking school in Rome (Les Chefs Blancs) and it was thanks to his charm and good will and sheer didactic proficiency that I was able to even get through the trying process of rolling teensy weensy meat balls (think the size of a finger nail) and then couching these balls in doll-sized handkerchiefs of stretched pasta (3cm by 3cm).    They tasted fantastic, however, I have to say – nothing like the shop bought ones I normally would use which were never ‘bad’ as such – just not nearly so tasty.

And so, nothing loath, a few weeks later I ventured to recreate them at home.  I started out enthusiastically enough, I have a good relationship with enthusiasm, but it was short lived.  It was easy enough to make the home-made pasta and roll it out (I’m good at that). Weighing and cooking the filling, also easy peasy.  But then came the Lilliputian hand-rolling routine and it didn’t take long before I got flustered.  Much sighing, raising of eyes up to heaven, biting of lips in frustration.  So much so that I called upon my next door neighbour, inveigled her into coming over for a cup of tea and a chat, and innocently asked her to kindly give me a hand with the dastardly dwarfish meaballs.  How could she not comply?  We chatted for well over an hour, put it that way: that’s how long it bloody well took.  So these days, when darling husband goes to Bologna for work, I make sure we buy the tortellini from there.  They come at around Eu40 per kg, so not cheap, but then neither is medication for high blood pressure, now, is it?

What to do? What to do? is the head-scratching question as regards stuffed pasta in delicious bouillon.  And ‘brodo’ is the Italian word for bouillon or meat stock/broth.  Answer: change region – nip over to Lazio and make “cappelletti”, meaning “little hats” instead!  The filling is more or less the same but aha! the size isn’t ! Yeay! These little hats are much larger and easier to deal with than their cousins, the finicky Venus’s belly-button-inspired tortellini. Hats off to that!  (Would anyone care to count the number of exclamation marks in this paragraph … that is my sense of enthusiasm escalating).

Just the other day, even though the temperatures didn’t warrant it, I thought I’d make soul-warming brodo and home-made cappelletti.  The meat stock of the brodo produces a lovely soup for the cappelletti to cook and be served in.  Number one.  Then, the meat used to made the brodo can be eaten as as “picchiapo” Number Two, and as “polpette di lesso”, Number Three, both of which are typical Roman dishes (one can also eat the boiled meat accompanied by a salsa verde or by the spicy candied fruit in syrup, known as Mostarda di Cremona – and that would be recipe Number Four).

I call this abundance of recipes a bonanza, a Brodo bonanza.

INGREDIENTS FOR CAPPELLETTI FILLING:

100g Parma ham, 100g Mortadella,  100g pork loin (the Butcher looked at husband in disbelief when he ordered that amount of meat and my husband had to reassure him that it was for a good recipe reason!) 1 bayleaf, 20g butter, 1 egg, 135g parmigiano reggiano cheese, freshly grated nutmeg, freshly grated white pepper.

If you look at the following photos, it will be easy to understand what needs to be done. The cheese needs to be grated.  The pork loin needs to be cooked on both sides in the butter flavoured with the bayleaf.  Allow to cool and then add all the ingredients minus the bayleaf in a processor and use the pulse to turn them into a sticky mince.  Place in the fridge for at least one hour.  It can be frozen too by the way, for future use.

And then the pasta has to be made: 100g flour per 1 egg is the rule of thumb.  I used two kinds of flours, half and half, one was 00 Italian flour and the other was the Semola flour (durum wheat flour, the kind used for making dry pasta).  I didn’t take photos but I assured you that I placed the flour and eggs in the food processor and blitzed them into a dough.  Easy enough to do with a total of 300g of flour and 3 eggs and a tiny dribble of olive oil.  I then wrapped the pasta in clingfilm and put it in the fridge.  Normally I wouldn’t do that.  I would just let it rest at room temperature – but since I was going to roll out the pasta the next day, the fridge made more sense.  And roll it out I did too … 24 hours later.

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It was getting on for 7 p.m., or Wine o’Clock as I call it.  I asked my husband to put some music on after he kindly grated some parmigiano … he picked something from long ago that he knew had a special meaning for us, and eventually felt inspired himself to play some music.  He got out his sax and accompanied the songs.

2It was truly a really nice atmosphere.   Listening to music, playing to music, nice converstion and a sip of wine.  Now that’s the way to cook!  I  have always been convinced that people’s moods and ‘energies’ go into their food preparation.

So … the mood was good.  So good that I decided to cut corners and prepared these cappelletti in a no-no-no that’s-not-the-way-to-prepare them way –and aesthetics be damned.  Take a look and laugh will you, laugh with me and not at me !

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I actually got out my tape measure and made slits 4 cm apart, horizontally.

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I then measured 4cm vertically, and used a plain ol’ paring knife to cut the rolled out pasta into 4cm squares (well … roughly 4cm, and roughly ‘squares’ too – sometimes they looked more like rectangles).  Yes, yes, I know.  I could have used a cutter … but I couldn’t for the life of me remember where my cutters were exactly, and at that point I didn’t really care.

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Once I had cut out all my squares … I proceeded to make long sausage shapes out of the filling.  And that was pretty ‘fiddly’, let me tell you.  It helped when I wet my fingers.  And as you can see, there is one little rolled up ball of filling in the centre of a pasta square.

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I was getting good at this! I picked up speed after a while …

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And now to shape the cappelletti.  Fold the pasta square in half, and make a triangular shape.  Careful not to place too much stuffing inside it.

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Get the left ‘ear’ and the right ‘ear’ to meet in the middle, press hard … and Bob’s your uncle!  It doesn’t look very good, and that’s cos I put too much stuffing inside this cappelletto.

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There … these look better.

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I could see that there were plenty of cappelletti … so I stopped making any more.

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Just to give  you an idea: I had used about one quarter of the entire filling mix!  So as you can see, a little goes a very long way with this recipe.  The amounts I gave you are enough to feed 8 very hungry people or 10 normally hungry dinner guests.

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This is a photo attempting to show the cappelletti simmering in the brodo.  Very steamy as you can see.  Time to eat.  The cappelletti don’t take long to cook: about 5 minutes.  Serve in a bowl and shower more grated parmigiano over them.

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Very much worth making, I promise you.  They can be made in advance and can be frozen.

I am dedicating this post to my newphew Oliver.  He so young and already such a great talent in the kitchen.  Who knows, he might be inspired to make cappelletti one of these days?  Here is a previous post where you can read all about how to make the brodo:

https://myhomefoodthatsamore.wordpress.com/2011/11/18/taking-stock-over-making-stock-olivers-brodo/

Pressure in the World Grand Prix Motorcycling Race – No Pressure Making Sunday Lunch’s Bolognese with the Pressure Cooker

39Many people who are a dab hand in the kitchen are of the opinion that pressure cookers are passé and (secretly, laughably) temporally naff, embarrassing even.  Well, I disagree.  My trusted pressure cooker saved the day today, as it has done on many an occasion.  When the adjective ‘slow’ is cause for inward groaning, i.e. on those occasions when timeliness and swiftness are of the essence, a pressure cooker can be a gal’s best friend.  Here is my story today.

What’s a poor gal to do.  She knows that her boys want to watch the MotoGP Finale on TV, the one to be held in Valencia on Sunday afternoon, beginning at 2 p.m.  Which is that time of day that signals a quasi atavistic pull of what goes into family-bonding lore – the Sunday lunch, ‘il pranzo della domenica’, as nostalgically spoken of in hallowed terms in Italy as is its counterpart in the United Kingdom , the famous Sunday Roast.  Traditionally, the pranzo della domenica is the preferred meal of older folk, because they weren’t used to eating a large meal in the evening.  It heralds and permits gastronomic specialities and even excess, it revels in conversation, debate and catching up, and sometimes includes card playing and favorite TV programmes to follow, not to mention furtive or blatant siestas.  Sunday declares it is not a day of work, it is a day to forget about the woes in life, it is supposed to be a day of rest and recuperation.  Time slows down on a Sunday.

The only hitch,  truth be told, is that the traditional pranzo della domenica actually entails a lot of work and scotches the very notion of a comfy lie-in to catch up on any sleep lost from the surfeit of Saturday night’s carrying on.  If  you don’t mind doing all the shopping and schlepping on the Saturday, and then getting up early on the Sunday morning, to do the rest of the cooking, set the table and fiddle dee dee … then indeed it can be truly delightful.  It’s not often that I cherish waking up early on a Sunday morning, however, and that is why we rarely have a proper ‘pranzo della domenica’ in our home.   We are more Sunday supper kind of people.  That said, a feeble essence of what should constitute a Sunday en famille has always clung to me.   We owe it to ourselves to make one day in the week a little special for us.  It’s a civilised thing to do.  My last post was all about how I attempted to make a plain courgette risotto a little ‘special’ on a Sunday, and I probably wouldn’t have bothered to do that had I had to make the risotto on any other day of the week.

Anyway, back to today.  The boys announced that they were going to be gripped by a whole afternoon of live-sports TV watching – first the exciting motorcycle world championship final and then the ordinary Sunday football matches (the Roma-Lazio match being very close to the knuckle today).  I don’t know much about either but I did know that Valentino Rossi is the big name in motorcycling racing, and when I innocently ventured to ask why he was not in starting the race in pole position … I got an earful of explanations that were quite beyond me.   All I managed to understand was that there had been some hanky panky behaviour on the part of another motorcyclist Marc  Marquez in a previous race in Malaysia and that some of the protagonists of these races were not above chicanery and trickery (Read more about it at this link: http://www.bbc.com/sport/0/motorsport/34731253).  Human nature is human nature, I suppose, in whatever guise it presents itself, be it in the world of racing or in plain everyday life.

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(The boys engrossed in the MotoGP finale in Valencia showing live on TV)

Friends had invited my husband and me to a spiffing dinner last night, one that we overindulged in because every single plate and dish was just so tempting.  I don’t normally go for puddings and desserts and yet even I ended up tucking into freshly made panettone by Rome’s purveyor of gastronomic goodies,  Roscioli … on top of a passion fruit, chocolate and ricotta pudding, home-made chocolate and pistachio log and dessert wine both bubbly and still.   All this to say that the last thing I wanted to think about this morning was … food.  And yet, it’s a funny thing … people get hungry again, even after large meals – go figure!

So off I trotted to the Sunday farmers’ market at Ariccia, and bought some veggies and spuds and good bread and fresh fettuccine.  It was well past one o’clcok when I got home and started to get on with the lunch.  Some would call me ambitious or silly or both.  Me? I know I can rely on my trusty pressure cooker on occasions like today.

But you have to be disciplined and organised too.  Start by putting the ingredients together:

1 carrot, 1 celery stalk, 1 onion for the soffritto, 500g of minced/ground beef mixed in with 2 Italian sausages, evoo, tomato sauce (passata) 660g, 2 tablespoons of tomato concentrate out of a tube, half a glass of milk, 1 glass of red wine, butter, parmesan cheese, salt, nutmeg

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The first thing to do is get the soffritto going… which I  started off straight away in the pressure cooker.
1a I put the water on to the boil, and added some bay leaves and another celery stick that was lurking about in the fridge.  The bay leaves and the celery would add a je ne sais quoi to the cooking water … but they are not a necessary ingredient.2 The minced and sausage meat …3 Sprinkle salt over the meat, together with just a hint of nutmeg.4 5 6 Squeeze the tomato concentrate directly into the glass of red wine.7Give it a good stir.
8Add a good ‘pinch’ of salt to the milk.10 Grate plenty of parmesan cheese.

Okay, now that the soffritto got going, and I had all the ingredients to hand, I got on with the recipe.

12 This was the time.13Pour some evoo into a frying pan, and add a few peppercorns and 1 clove.  Add the minced meat and cook it over a high heat.14 Meat cooking on the left, soffritto almost cooked on the right.15 When the meat has browned, 16Add the wine all in one go.  17 Use the wooden fork to un-clump the meat, to loosen it as it were.18 Now add the passata.  Stir it in.  Once it has combined (in less than a minute, surely?), switch off the heat.  Transfer all of this to the pressure cooker.19 Combine the meat, its sauces with the soffritto.  Stir well.20 Remember the milk?21 Time to add the milk. Stir.22 I liked the idea of adding some parsely stems.  Again, stir.23 Secure the lid of the pressure cooker … and away we go.24 What’s the time?  Right …25 The pasta water is bubbling merrily away …26I decide to make some hummus while I wait.  I may as well, it doesn’t take long.  I can hear the boys in the other room exclaiming and groaning and commenting like crazy.  Much good it will do me, don’t understand a thing about this race other than poor Valentino Rossi has been penalised.  What ‘s the time now?
28 Ten past two.  The pressure cooker has been on for 20 minutes.29 Switch off the heat.  Move the pressure cooker to another burner that is not hot.  Release the steam etc and open up the lid.30 Now place the opened-up pressure cooker to a burner with the heat on, to simmer. While the fettuccine cook.

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The fettuccini take less than 5 mintues to cook.31 Remember the first frying pan?  It’s still streaked with some of the sauce.  Add a knob of butter.  Fellow blogger Stefan (http://stefangourmet.com) commented on the generous portion of butter added to my risotto last week.  This is to show him that it’s not just risotto that stands to benefit from butter, tee hee 🙂 !

Time to dish out!  It’s nearly ready!
33 Put some of the ragù in the frying pan.  Turn the heat on.  The butter will start to melt straight away, because the ragù is hot.34 Drain the cooked fettuccine straight into the large pan.35 Use a wooden spoon and a wooden fork to combine everything.  Make liberal use of the pasta water when you see things drying up a bit – don’t worry about adding too much, egg pasta is notoriously greedy when it comes to pasta water, it will absorb it with gusto.36 Do add more ragù too … until you reach the proportion of meat sauce/fettuccine that pleases you.37 Add a teensy bit more on top.38 Shower with parmesan.39 40 And yes … I love food and I love cooking food for the people I love.41 Fettuccine with ragù alla bolognese … served in a lovely hand-painted ceramic plate (c/o Giardini di Sole) and served on a bog-standard IKEA plastic tray, ahem.  Is there a better way of watching a race on TV?

 

And later on … phew … the Roma team beat Lazio 2-0.42Lefotvers for tomorrow … or to freeze.

Spare Ribs and Sausage Sauce for Home Made Pasta

Here are photos of another of my home-made pasta endeavours recently … the photos speak for themselves.  The sauce was what was left over from the night before’s dinner, spare ribs and sausage to accompany polenta.  The grated cheese in question was pecorino romano.  What a shame we can’t convey tastes over the blog !1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9Here are photos of another of my home-made pasta endeavours recently … the photos speak for themselves.  The sauce was what was left over from the night before’s dinner, spare ribs and sausage to accompany polenta.  The grated cheese in question was pecorino romano.  What a shame we can’t covey tastes over the blog !

 

Fusion Flour Pasta and an Asparagus and Tomato Sauce

My mother is a dab hand at making home-made pasta – her fingers dance all over the wooden board, known as ‘spianatoia’ in Italian, and the precision with which she slices the final rolled-out dough is incredibly neat, almost geometrically perfect.  She only recently confided to me that she had learned the art of pasta making from the signora Pierina who hailed from Bologna (my mother grew up in Frascati, near Rome), which of course is home to the art of egg-dough pasta.  It is called ‘sfoglia’ and is made using tender wheat flour (00 flour as it is known in Italy).  In central and especially in Southern Italy, eggs were eschewed from the pasta picture and the dough was and continues to be made with flour and water only, the flour in question being the same as that used for commercially dried pasta (as well as bread), the ‘hard’ durum wheat called ‘semola di  grano duro’.  The typical sfoglia is rolled out very thinly, and is soft and velvety to chew.  The pasta made using durum wheat, instead, is a little more resistant to the tooth, it has a little more bite.  In neither case, however, does one worry about  having to cook it ‘al dente’ – and besides, fresh pasta takes far less time to cook, ranging from 2-3 minutes max from the minute the water starts boiling again after the pasta has been added.

I confess that I do not often make my own pasta – I buy it either freshly made on the day at a local ‘pastificio’ (pasta shop) or else use commercially dried egg pasta.  My favourites seem to hail from the Marche, where my in laws come from.  The pasta from Campofilone and from Camerino are really really good, try them one day.  The egg pastas of Marco Giacosa typical of Piedmont (tajarin or tagliolini) are top notch.   Having been asked to conduct a cooking class around pasta making, I thought it would be a good idea to get some practice in and so I  became a bit of a pasta fanatic recently – making it at least twice a week.  It had me experimenting too … using a mix of both 00 flour and durum wheat flour, hence the ‘fusion’ in  title of today’s post.

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Always use the best flour you can get your hands on and these days I won’t touch flour that is not organic.  The brand I used today is Molino Conti which is in Lazio, and not very far from Tivoli.  The table you see is our dining room table.2My three fingers are there to show that I weighed out 300g of the durum wheat flour.

3And there it is … 300g of sifted flour resting on the wooden ‘spianatoia’ (it might help if I spelled it as it is pronounced: sp-yah-nah-toe-yah). The spianatoia in question was placed over a towel on the dining room table.
4And now I decided to add 200g of whole wheat, tender wheat flour this time (as opposed to Durum wheat). The brand of this flour is Molino Fratelli D’Emilio, from Artena … which is even closer to Frascati than Tivoli.  Artena is famous for its good bread.5And I mixed the two flours up.  I did not sieve the whole wheat flour.6I then set aside 5 whole eggs (1 egg for each 100g of flour) … and my son was having fun with me while I was taking this photo … adding his own hands to the photo just to confuse the reader even more !

I mixed the eggs in with the flour and started making a dough …the dough was very hard, however, too hard indeed for me to knead and so  I just had to add some water to soften it — and to avoid a sprain in my fingers!

7I ended up adding 150ml of water to the dough in order to be able to knead it properly.  The dough required 10 minutes of kneading with my hands for it to become soft enough.  I then covered it in clingfilm and set it aside to ‘rest’. Any pasta dough has to ‘rest’ at least 30 minutes.  This will make rolling it out afterwards much easier.8I rolled out the dough into strips … quite thick ones, called “fettuccine” … and here they are !
9It’s a good idea to shower the freshly sliced fettuccine with plenty of flour, so that they won’t stick together.

And the sauce?  I had some asparagus left over from the day before …1011I cut up some cherry tomatoes and cooked them in a saucepan with olive oil, a clove of garlic and slices of pork jowl (guanciale).12I cooked the sauce for about 15  minutes and add the asparagus only towards the very end.13It does not take long for the fettuccine to cook: about 3 minutes.  Never throw away the cooking water ! fresh pasta is very very thirsty and will soak up anything in sight !14Indeed, I had to add about one cup of the cooking water to the fettuccine as I mixed them up with the sauce directly in the saucepan.  I grated some parmigiano …16And there we are ! Home-made fettuccine with asparagus and tomato sauce. Buonissime.  Buon appetito !  And yes, my boys were very happy with their lunch that day.