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Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Pasta with Pork Ragu; or how to piss off two gods with one bowl, Part I

Strozzapretiragu

After the holidays indulgences, I'm sure I'm not the only one craving something homey and comforting.  And after all the religious pomp and circumstances we were exposed to -voluntarily or not- during that time, I guess I'm also not the only one with a hankering for a little rebellion.  That's when an idea struck me.  I knew just what I wanted to eat, Strozzapreti pasta.

Strozzapreti pasta is a traditional pasta shape from the Romagna region of Italy.  The Italian name is literally priest-chokers in English.  Legend has it that this particular shape, sort of resembling a short, twisted bit of rope, signified a religious rebellion in the region long suffered under Papal rule (from the 13th all the way to 19th century).  Romagna housewives would cook this pasta for the local priests, in hope that they would choke to death as they scoffed it down greedily.  A heretic pasta for my very own post-holidays rebellion, how perfect!  To go with this pasta I made a ragu.  You don't have to be Italian to find ragu homey, yes?  This time my ragu would be made of pork, because why offend only one religion when you can easily do two (or three, actually)? 

So that's what I had for dinner, a heretic pasta in a haram (or trefah) ragu.  I must admit, however, that my rebellion was rather short-lived.  It took me and two dear friends and neighbours Katy and Beccy nearly half an hour to roll just enough for the three of us for dinner -those Romagna housewives were seriously vindictive- so we quickly abandoned our hell-bound operation and turned the rest of the dough into Pici pasta, which are basically long, hand-rolled strips of slightly uneven thickness.  The Pici are rustic and toothsome, not to mention much easier to deal with than Strozzapreti.

I couldn't find a good recipe for Strozzapreti online, so I grabbed my well-loved copy of Cooking by Hand to see what recipe I could adapt for it.  I found the recipe for Pici, which was described as a "fat, hand-formed pasta from the countryside surrounding Siena."  Since both Pici and Strozzapreti are hand-rolled, and Paul (as in Bertoli, the author) described this dough from this recipe as being a little bit softer, easier for hand-rolling, with a little olive oil to guard against sticking, it sounded just perfect for what I needed.

If you've never made homemade pasta, I highly recommend this recipe.  You won't need specialty flour or equipment to make it.  Trust me, it's really easier than you think. 

Here's Paul Bertoli's recipe for Pici

12oz (about 4 cups) "Baker's Choice" flour, which is basically AP flour with a bit higher portein level.  I used King Arthur AP flour
7oz (about 7/8 cup) cool water
3 1/2 tsp olive oil

The recipe, like many rustic pasta recipes, calls for putting the flour right on the countertop or pastry board, then make a well in the center and pour the wet ingredients into it, then, it suggests using a fork to slowly incorporating the liquid and the flour together.  I strongly warn all but those with the dexterity of a monkey on crack against this method.  The "well" wall will inevitably break, sending floury, sticky water streaming outwards and downwards like room-temperature lava stream.

Mixdough_3

What I suggest instead is measure your ingredients into a medium size bowl, then, with a fork, stir the ingredients together.  You'll end up with a moist, lumpy, somewhat separated globs of incorporated dry and wet ingredients, which can be dumped onto the countertop without creating a mess.  Work that dough a little, to get them to be a more or less cohesive dough.  Don't worry about kneading or making a smooth dough right now, just wrap it with some plastic and let rest for half and hour.  This is to let the flour absorb the moisture completely before you knead and roll.

Kneadingdough

After half an hour, unwrap the dough onto a well-floured board.  Wash your hands in cold tap water, dry them thoroughly, dip them into your flour container to coat with flour. Knead the dough, pressing the base of your palm into the dough, pushing forward a little, then fold the dough into itself and again push down and forward with your hand.  Make sure the board and your hands are always well-floured to prevent sticking.  Do it until you get a smooth, soft lump of dough.  This shouldn't take that much time at all. 

Rolling

To roll into Strozzapreti shape, cut the dough into 8 pieces and roll each out thin, cut into about 3/4 inch wide and 3-4 inches long strips.  Pick up each one and fold into half lengthwise, the roll gently between your hands to make a folded, slightly twisted piece of pasta.  Place them on a well-floured cookie sheet, making sure they are not touching each other because they will stick badly.

Rollingpici

To roll into Pici, just cut out a small piece and stretch and roll it into long strips.  Come on, we've all played with playdoh, I don't really need to teach you how to roll a dough into long strips, do it?  Anyway, see the picture above for what it's supposed to look like.

If you plan to cook the pasta right away, make sure you cover the cookie sheets with kitchen towel (yes, well-floured to prevent sticking).  If not, the pasta will be dry in places, which will make them cook unevenly.  If you intend to make a large amount of past and will have enough time (at least overnight) to let the pasta dry thoroughly before you cook them, then don't bother with the towel. 

Pork Ragu recipe coming tomorrow.

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