It’s an unseasonably warm mid-January afternoon in 1988. Michelle is stomping around Louisville’s downtown, where we lived at the time, in a wedding outfit. People are driving by, honking their horns and hooting congratulations. Michelle is angry. She is angry with Steve, who has both sets of keys. Steve took Michelle’s keys when he drove back to the apartment from the wedding site to get the marriage license, which he had forgotten. He then forgot he already had his keys with him and took Michelle’s. Which is why, in a time before cell phones, Michelle got locked out of the apartment building, was unable to start her car, and, with her matron of honor in tow, is now walking to her own wedding. Steve is sorry that Michelle is angry, plus he’s embarrassed because he tried to convince the august state Supreme Court justice presiding over the ceremony to “just forget” about needing the license to perform a wedding. (The judge was not amused.)
That’s pretty much how Gourmandistan “officially” began, 25 years ago this week.
We share this with you because, as we reach the quarter-century mark, people may believe we know what it takes to keep a marriage together for so long a time. We’d like to head off that kind of thinking as quickly as possible. Much better to ask us about pasta. Like marriage, pasta comes in all shapes and sizes. A few common threads (flour, water, eggs,) can create mezzalune, tortelli and ravioli. (Mezzalune, for the curious, are half-moon shaped tortelli, which are round ravioli. Or so we’ve read.)
Gourmandistan has no books on how to make a marriage work, unless one counts antique editions on deportment—which are kept for humor value only, we assure you. We do, however, have a vast number of cookbooks. Bugialli on Pasta has graced our shelves, in many different apartments and houses, for 25 years. It was gifted to us at our first married Christmas by Michelle’s mom, who wrote on the flyleaf: “You’ve mastered U.S.A. cuisine, so it’s time to conquer Italia!”
For some reason (whether the unappetizing Eighties food photography, Michelle’s ambivalence about Italian food or our general laziness), the book has been virtually unused by us for a quarter of a century. But since it was published in 1988 and was named best “European and International” cookbook of that year by the International Association of Culinary Professionals, we felt something from it might make for an appropriate silver anniversary salute.
Tortelli o Mezzalune alla Pratese (Tortelli or Half-Moon Tortelli Prato Style—we made tortelli) was deliciously delicate, with layers of flavor. Meat and potatoes were front and center, but spice and seasoning gave the whole thing maturity and complexity. Wait—was that some kind of metaphor?
TORTELLI ALLA PRATESEPASTA FILLING: 12 oz. starchy potatoes 5 TB olive oil 1 bay leaf 1/4 lb. ground beef Salt & pepper 2-3 cloves garlic 10 sprigs Italian parsley, stems removed 2 eggs, beaten 1/2 c. grated Parmesan cheese Pinch of freshly ground nutmeg
Boil potatoes, in their skins, in salted water for 40-45 minutes, until soft. Drain potatoes and immediately peel them. Pass through a food mill. Set aside to cool.
In a small skillet or saucepan, fry ground beef with bay leaf in the olive oil. Break up beef with a spatula while frying. Season well with salt and pepper. Discard bay leaf and add meat and juices to milled potatoes.
Finely chop garlic. Coarsely chop parsley. Add both to potato/meat mixture.
When potato/meat mixture is cool, add beaten eggs, cheese and nutmeg, stirring in with a wooden spoon. Cover and refrigerate until needed.PASTA: 4 c. all-purpose flour Pinch of salt 4 eggs 4 tsp. olive oil Put flour and salt into the bowl of a stand mixer, making a small well. Add eggs and olive oil into the flour well. Use the paddle attachment to mix, until it starts to form little blobs. Switch to the kneading hook and knead the dough, adding more flour or egg as needed to get a springy ball. Let the dough rest for an hour or so, wrapped in wax paper. Roll the pasta at setting 1 of a pasta machine for five or six times, folding the pasta sheet into thirds after each roll. Then roll the sheet through once per setting until it is as thin as you want. We made this pasta with a round stamp, in much the same way that Greg at Rufus’ Food and Spirits Guide prepares his ravioli (though we set one narrow sheet of pasta atop another rather than doing the fold-over thing). We’ve never had great luck with the various trays or dies we’ve had, but Chicago John has a nice tutorial on how to use those tools at From the Bartolini Kitchens. We used a level tablespoon of filling per tortello with a 2-1/2″ stamp. Cook pasta in boiling, salted water. It will not take long—just a few minutes. But the cooking time will depend on how thick your pasta is and the extent to which it dried out before cooking. Carefully remove the pasta from the water with a skimmer and plate immediately. Top generously with melted butter and Parmesan cheese, a little freshly ground nutmeg and some roughly chopped parsley.