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The pleasures and sorrows of pasta

March 20, 2010

There is a growing movement in Australia promoting the awareness of the provenance of our food and other consumables. Everyone from Slow Food Australia to Woolworths is urging us to ask where our apple came from; what breed of cow we’re eating, where it lived and what it ate. Provenance has even become marketable, with Bangalow sweet pork and Yamba prawns gracing the tables of our top restaurants, while the descriptor ‘artisan’ is used for everything from dairy products to pasta.

And yet, despite our increasing attempts to connect with the products that we consume, both edible and inedible, we are still largely alienated from the processes by which the things which allow our everyday lives to function come to be. ‘Provenance’ is still a fairly abstract concept. We may know where our cheese comes from, but we often remain ignorant about the process by which it is made and distributed. It is tempting to imagine lush green meadows, cows being milked by hand each morning and cheese being prepared by an industrious family in a farmhouse kitchen. This, however, is unlikely to be the case.

In the first part of Alain de Botton’s latest work, The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work, he pays tribute to the processes and people that make the Western world function, but which remain invisible to many of us:

to observe the forgotten odysseys of crates, to witness the secret life of warehouses and hence to mitigate the deadening, uniquely modern sense of dislocation between the things we so heedlessly consume in the run of our daily lives and their unknown origins and creators.

This discussion culminates in an astonishing photo essay chronicling the journey of pre-packaged tuna steaks on the supermarket shelf, ‘caught by line in the Maldives’, from the ocean to the plate. This brings to life the abstract notion of ‘provenance’, highlighting the banal procedures which allow a fish in the Maldives to end up on a dinner table in Bristol in a mere 52 hours.

With this in mind I am trying to look at everyday things through new eyes and think more deeply about how things work. It is not practical to visit canning factories in Italy or slaughterhouses in rural NSW, nor do I necessarily wish to. Happily there are far less toilsome mysteries to be solved. This week I decided to discover the joys of pasta making. I had been eyeing off duck eggs for sale at the local farmers’ markets for weeks, and after consulting my favourite Italians Carm and Stefano, chose the suitably autumnal accompaniment of lamb ragout. The Nanna I bought the eggs from assured me that she uses duck eggs in all of her cakes and biscuits. Anything that comes Nanna-endorsed is just fine by me!

Egg of the duck

Pappardelle rustica with lamb ragout*

Lamb ragout

a decent slug of olive oil
2 cloves garlic, finely diced
1 brown onion, finely diced
1 stick of celery, finely diced
1 small carrot, finely diced
2 lamb drumsticks (as they are creatively called by my butcher)
1 tin crushed tomatoes
150ml chicken stock
3 sprigs of thyme
1 bay leaf
1/4 cup Sicilian (green) olives, pitted and halved
parmesan to serve
chopped parsley to serve

Preheat the oven to 150 degrees. Heat the oil in a cast iron casserole on a high heat, then brown meat on all sides. Remove meat from pan and rest on a plate. Add the vegetables to the saucepan, reduce heat and cook for 5-10 minutes until they begin to caramelise. Add the thyme and bay followed by the tomatoes and chicken stock, then return the meat to the pan. Bring to the boil, then cover and cook in the oven for about 1 1/2 hours or until the meat is falling off the bone. Remove the meat from bones (discard bones) and shred. Return to pan, add olives and heat through on a low heat while you cook the pasta (see below).

Duck egg pasta

1 duck egg per person
120g flour per person
1 tbsp olive oil

Using a mixer with a dough hook, add flour to the eggs and mix at a medium speed for about 5 minutes, until it forms a tight dough. If it’s a bit dry, add water, and if a bit wet, a little flour. If it’s the right consistency, no dough should be stuck to the bowl. Form a ball, wrap in clingfilm and allow to rest in the fridge for an hour or so.

Jamie Oliver knows what to do next, and his instructions here are far easier to follow than the palaver that took place in my kitchen.

Rollin' rollin' rollin'...

Once you’ve rolled your sheets of pasta, cut them into lengths of around 30cm and then into strips. Mine varied in shape and size, which, as Mama Explody assured me, added to ‘the rusticity’ of the dish. Bring a large saucepan salted water to a rapid boil, then cook pasta for a few minutes until al dente. Drain, adding to the sauce as quickly as possible.

A towel rack is also a useful kitchen accessory!

To serve, toss the cooked pasta through the lamb ragout. Sprinkle with a generous amount of parmesan and some freshly chopped parsley.

Pasta blaster

* I make no claim that this dish is authentically Italian in any way (though I am one-sixteenth Bolognese Italian if you must know) only that it is authentically delicious.

16 Comments leave one →
  1. March 20, 2010 17:40

    You mean toss the ragout through the cooked pasta? This would tell you that in Australia the proportions of ragout to pasta are generally too ‘generous’; as less is more; You are eating PASTA, the ragout is incidental.

    • felixexplody permalink*
      March 20, 2010 17:43

      Right you are. I so phrased it to indicate that I added the pasta to the ragout pan and not the other way around.

  2. March 20, 2010 17:46

    Haha, that is the pasta recipe I normally use (regular eggs though), that spread in the book is eternally dusty and grainy with flour from pasta meals past. I love the process of making fresh pasta, so involved yet simple with an amazing end result. Good on you for trying something new and in doing so gaining the understanding of how this staple is made.

  3. Le Petite Lapin permalink
    March 20, 2010 17:59

    Oh the things I am willing to do to get my paws and jaws on that bowl of pasta!
    Mmmm the smell of cheese seeping silently in the crevices of cow bits! The hint of fresh herbs and Communism!

  4. Stefano Manfredi permalink
    March 20, 2010 18:51

    Felix, that one sixteenth is punching above its weight. The whole dish looks beautiful. Lamb bolognese – or ragรน di agnello – is often prepared in Italy, especially in the central and southern parts of the country in springtime. Looks authentic to me and I bet it tastes authentic.
    Seeing it’s made from lamb, perhaps pecorino could be used instead of parmiggiano? Thanks for yet another wonderful post Felix.

  5. March 20, 2010 20:13

    Will you marry me?

  6. kelpenhagen permalink
    March 20, 2010 22:08

    I am in love with the photo of the duck eggs…in…love

  7. March 21, 2010 01:14

    This is a lovely post about the process of understanding pasta – and your final dish looks absolutely divine.

  8. Lyn permalink
    March 21, 2010 19:47

    The only way to make a cake or a sponge cake is`to use duck eggs”
    Nothing compares to teh richness of colour and flavour

    Don’t be put off by the differnt aroma, it is a “fuller ” smell ,definitely a frsh odour
    With Easter approaching it is important to ensure cakes and biscuits have the best ingredients

    • felixexplody permalink*
      March 21, 2010 20:07

      I will miss your cakes while I’m visiting Adelaide! Thanks for sharing one of your baking secrets! ๐Ÿ™‚

  9. pandas_4 permalink
    March 22, 2010 09:02

    oh dear. I know what this means. time to drag the pasta machine out and christen it lol
    well done Felix. I think I can taste that ragout from here.

  10. March 22, 2010 09:02

    Oh Felix, how I wish we could cook together!

  11. Emma permalink
    March 22, 2010 11:28

    Nice pasta, Felix. The trouble with making one’s own is that it’s hard to go back to shop-bought. Lasagne will never be the same round here, since we discovered how easy it is to make fresh pasta from flour and our own eggs. Your ragu looks great, but it’s good to know that fresh duck-egg pasta would probably be just as delicious with a bit of garlic, anchovy and olive oil. Such mad skillz!

  12. pommiefoodie permalink
    March 22, 2010 12:29

    Another sterling post Felix, and now I have another lovely looking dish to add to my list of ‘must make’!

  13. Katie permalink
    March 22, 2010 12:35

    Another Fabulous post lovely
    Have always wanted to make pasta and have never really got around to it. Well I have made ricotta gnocci before and that turned out pretty well, but messy :).
    Anyway I WILL make pasta one day and I will ahve you on skype or speed dial if I hit any cloggy patches ๐Ÿ™‚

  14. March 30, 2010 10:17

    I’m drooling here Felix. Pappardelle with ragu is perhaps my favourite pasta dish ever. And I’m with nanna on the duck eggs! ๐Ÿ˜€ x

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