Cheese, Pig Parts, and Pasta – Oh My!

After our abundant feast on antipasti the prior night, we set off in the morning to visit our guides Patricio’s and Lorenzo’s family owned local farm.

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We met the cows who help make the delicious cheese, of which we all brought home copious amounts.

These cows told us they were more than happy to share their milk for cheese production. Like their human family, they were immensely proud of their product.

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The family even owned a buffalo named Trump – look closely at the bull with his horns in almost in the grate – he has a carrot top, just like Mr. Trump. They were immensely humored by this.

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We were told the buffalos were equally as proud of their mozzarella, but they weren’t as kind to humans as the cows. Our Italian guides made sure to point out that especially Trump bull was pretty snarky to humans. He doubled over laughing at his comment. Some of us agreed. Others just smiled politely.

We weren’t there to discuss politics of any kind.

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Patricio and Lorenzo’s cousins graciously gave us a quick salami making demonstration – which was oddly fascinating – and <wink, wink> shared their secret ingredient which makes this salami one of the tastier ones I have had in a while.

See if you can guess the ingredient that makes this salami unique and delicious.

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With all of the small artisans we visited that week, it was clear four things:

  1. Small farm life is not easy.
  2. These people had an deep passion for their craft and their final product.
  3. They understood that their product needs to be superior to keep their small but steady client base happy.
  4. Quality matters.

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We left the family farm, and headed to Erzinino, one of the oldest prosciutto factories in the Frozinone Province.

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My husband and I have helped raise our own meat for years, so we’re well aware of waste not want not when it comes to various parts of farm critters. The ears can be smoked for dog treats, the hoofs can be done the same or used to flavor stew, etc. Some of my compatriots were slightly more surprised to see how many pieces and parts get used.

I remember watching one of Andrew Zimmern’s shows in Italy about the usage of various parts of cows and pigs – less desirable parts, shall we say. His commentary at the end was something along the lines of “If it looks good, eat it. It probably tastes as good as it looks.” Having traveled all throughout big city and small town Italy, I know sometimes I just eat what’s in front of me, and it’s pretty damned tasty.

Only then do I ask what I ate. Sometimes I simply remind myself it tasted good.

After we saw massive hocks of prosciutto and learned about how it is treated before curing,

we learned about guanciale, which is now perhaps my new favorite pig part.

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According to my least favorite fact-checking site Wikipedia (but honestly, who’d give BS info about a pig part), guanciale is:

Pork cheek is rubbed with salt, sugar, and spices (typically ground black pepper or red pepper and thyme or fennel and sometimes garlic) and cured for three weeks or until it loses approximately 30% of its original weight. Its flavor is stronger than other pork products, such as pancetta, and its texture is more delicate. Upon cooking, the fat typically melts away giving great depth of flavor to the dishes and sauces it is used in.

It’s the last line that matters…”Upon cooking, the fat typically melts away giving great depth of flavor to the dishes and sauces it is used in.” And this is exactly what happened in the sauce we made for dinner that night.

Best part of the trip thus far that day was the market in the front of the store. We all stocked up on goods:

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[And BTW, those cookies??? To die for]

Here’s cutie patootie Lorenzo bringing out all the goods for out picnic lunch:

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But we got to enjoy a picnic lunch with a variety of goodies from the store’s market in a gorgeous setting:

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Our ride home featured one of my personal favorite moments of the trip. Lorenzo, Patricio’s younger brother by 10 years, was our other driver and guide. His English was broken, but his willingness to learn from us all shined just like his smile.

We let him pick the song, and he did car karaoke with us.

Apparently, AC/DC is popular there amongst the 19 year old crowd 😉

He was way more fun than his brooding older brother, the history buff, but Lorenzo was simply adorable; we all wanted to pack him in our bags and take him home.

Back at the Italian countryside upscale medieval ranch, we had our next pasta lesson, which included learning how to make egg pasta, vodka sauce, and guanciale sauce.

RICOTTA AND PROSCIUTTO TORTELLI WITH VODKA SAUCE

INGREDIENTS

Egg pasta

  • 3 EXTRA LARGE EGGS
  • 2 CUPS ALL-PURPOSE FLOUR 1 PINCH SALT

Ricotta and Prosciutto filling

  • 1 Kg RICOTTA
  • 300 GRAMS PROSCIUTTO SLICED INTO THIN STRIPS
  • 1 EGG
  • 200 GRAMS PARMESAN CHEESE
  • HERBS AND SPICES TO TASTE (BLACK PEPPER, GARLIC POWDER)

Vodka sauce

  • 1/4 CUP OF OLIVE OIL (PREFERABLY EXTRA VIRGIN) 2-4 TABLESPOONS UNSALTED BUTTER
  • 1/2 CUP CHOPPED SWEET ONIONS
  • 2 CLOVES OF GARLIC FINELY MINCED
  • 1/4 TEASPOON CRUSHED RED PEPPER FLAKES (PREFERABLY OR CAN OMIT)
  • 4-6 OUNCES PROSCIUTTO SLICED INTO THIN STRIPS OR SMALL SQUARES (CAN BE OMITTED BUT BETTER WITH)
  • 1 28 OZ. CAN CRUSHED TOMATOES (PLACE IN BLENDER IF A SMOOTHER SAUCE IS DESIRED)
  • 1/4 CUP MINCED FRESH ITALIAN PARSLEY
  • 1/4 CUP FRESH BASIL CUT INTO THIN STRIPS (CHEFFONADE)
  • 3/4 CUP VODKA (ADDITIONAL 1/4 CUP OF VODKA CAN BE ADDED)
  • 1 PINT HEAVY WHIPPING CREAM
  • 1 TEASPOON SALT OR MORE ACCORDING TO TASTE (REMEMBER PROSCIUTTO CAN BE SALTY IS USING IN PREPARATION)

DIRECTIONS
Make pasta following classic recipe described before, cover with plastic wrap and let sit while preparing the filling. Put all the filling ingrediens in a bowl and amalgamate all this to obtain quite a consistent and solid paste. Roll the pasta dough out into long sheets and spread out on a work surface sprinkled with flour. Place pasta sheets on a lightly floured work surface and cut into 30 x 7 cm squares. Place 1 tsp. ricotta and prosciutto filling in the center of each square. Dip your finger or a pastry brush in beaten eggs and dampen edges of squares. Fold in half diagonally to form a triangle, pinching edges to seal. Using your thumb, press the middle of the long edge of the triangle up towards the point, then bring the two bottom corners together. Pinch corners together with a little water to seal and place on a floured tray. Repeat with the remaining pasta and pumpkin filling. To make the sauce add olive oil and butter to saucepan or skillet and heat over medium heat until butter is melted. Add chopped onions and saute for about five minutes making sure onions do not brown. Add prosciutto, garlic, crushed red pepper flakes and saute 3-4 minutes. Remove pan from heat and add crushed or blended tomatoes, vodka & chopped parsley. Return to heat and simmer sauce for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add whipping cream and basil strips to sauce. Stir and heat until warmed, about 6-8 minutes. Add salt and taste if more needed. Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil. Working in batches, add tortellini and stir with a wooden spoon to ensure it doesnt stick to the pan. Cook for about 4 minutes or until pasta is al dente, then remove with a slotted spoon and transfer the Tortelli in the sauce pan and cook gently for about one minute with the sauce to incorporate. Add parmesan or romano cheese to the pasta before plating or let everyone add their own cheese. Sauce can be kept in refrigerator for up to one week or in the freezer for about 4-6 months.

We started with the sauce, because we all know the longer the flavors marry, the better the end result.IMG_3833

We moved onto the pasta making.

Here’s how you mix the flour and the egg together. Pinch it together. Pinch it:

Once you have it all nicely mixed and kneaded the dough, then you roll out the dough.

A tip here. Get a friggin’ decent pasta machine if you want to make pasta. Pay the $300 or so. Valerio tried to tell us we could make the pasta as thin as the machine with if we used a rolling pin.

Valerio lies.

If you want to make homemade pasta, pasta machines of attachments are your best friend. NOT a dumbass rolling pin.

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Time to fill the pasta with the gorgeous ricotta and prosciutto filling:

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MALTAGLIATI PORCINI MUSHROOMS AND GUANCIALE INGREDIENTS

  • 400 GRAMS MALTAGLIATI EGG PASTA 1
  • 50 GRAMS GUANCIALE
  • 400 GRAMS PORCINI
  • 1 CLOVE GARLIC CHOPPED
  • 1⁄2 GLASS WHITE WINE

DIRECTIONS

Make pasta following classic recipe described before. Roll the pasta dough and cut it into irregular squares.
Heat oil and garlic in a large pan, add Guanciale and fry for a while, add porcini mushrooms stir and let cook for a couple of minutes. Simmer with white wine and cook for about 10 – 15 minutes until wine is reduced.

Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil. Add Maltagliati and stir with a wooden spoon to ensure it doesn’t stick to the pan. Cook for about 5 minutes or until pasta is al dente, then remove with a slotted spoon and transfer the Maltagliati in the sauce pan, cook gently for about one minute with the sauce and serve immediately.

Fried pig part, coming through!

I’m just not sure you can go wrong with a sauce when there is fried pig in it.

The pasta we made with this sauce is a rolled egg pasta (same recipe as above), but Valerio showed us how to roll it on basically a round chopstick, and we had a lovely discussion about size mattering.

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With cooking times, size matters. Smaller? Less time in the water. Bigger? More time in the water.

With other things? All depends on your point of view.

By the way, salt your pasta water. Heartily.

 

In the end, we feasted again on the, cheese, pasta, and pig of our labor – seems silly to say fruits, doesn’t it?

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Dessert was some masterpiece of Italian cream something like a profiterole that Alessandra made for us.

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I wanted to pack her in my suitcase and take her home with me, as well.

As we exited the dining room, we all looked at our robust nun, feeling a little more like her with every bite.

We all began to realize she was on the wall between the teaching kitchen and dining area, and the working kitchen.

I think she was out guilty eating conscience speaking.Cheese, Pig Parts, & Pasta - OH MY!.png

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