The poem by George Bradley La past'asciutta con quello che c'è is included in the anthology Sustenance and Desire: A Food Lover's Anthology of Sensuality and Humor by Bascove, which is the current selection of our Cook the Books Club. (The book included a number of inspiring pieces and I may well go back to another one or two later.)
In his poem Bradley captures perfectly my approach to pasta: I sometimes plan ahead, but often I simply create a dressing with what I have available.
Dried pasta's how a cook accommodates
the facts. No artist makes much out of his
dreams but makes the most of what there is.
[If you follow the link you can read the short poem in its entirety.]
In recent years I have largely given up dried pasta in favor of my handmade pasta: I am constantly working on some shape, so I usually have freshly made pasta available. Sometimes I don't have a set plan for the dressing and mi arrangio con quello che c'è (I make do with what I have). The result is often surprisingly good.
Watching young giant panda Bao Bao roll in the snow in the video from the Smithsonian's National Zoo inspired me to create a pasta shape that, in Bao Bao's honor and thanks to a comment by Jennifer Fumiko Cahill, I have called panda (in Italian the word is both singular and plural).
This short video shows my hands at work:
As you can see from the video, each small piece of pasta is first stretched with the thumb and then curled with the index finger. The result is a concave triangle that reminds me of a sitting panda.
The dough I used for this pasta is the semolina dough I have described before. I recently stopped at Keith Giusto Bakery Supply (Central Milling) in Petaluma (CA) and purchased some of their organic semolina flour (soon to become available also from their online store). I love it. It makes a silky dough that is a pleasure to work with.
As usual, I recommend to start with a small amount of dough, so you can give yourself time to learn the hand movements without being overly worried about how much more dough is waiting to be processed. Once the pasta is ready, you can dress it con quello che c'è (literally, with what's there). In the case shown in the top photo, what I had was a small amount of creamy bean and roasted squash spread (recipe in an upcoming post) and some of my homemade crescenza.
Burro e parmigiano (butter and Parmigiano-Reggiano) is another good option. If you like pasta, these are two ingredients you want to make sure to always keep in your refrigerator.
FTC disclosure: I have received the linens free of charge from the manufacturer, la FABBRICA del LINO. I have not and will not receive any monetary compensation for presenting them on my blog. The experience shared and the opinions expressed in this post are entirely my own.
Ingredients for the pasta dough:
- 100 g / 3.5 ounces semolina flour of good quality
- 50 g / 1.75 ounces warm water
- A pinch of salt
Ingredients for the dressing:
- 2 tablespoons bean and roasted squash spread (recipe here)
- 30 g / 1 ounce Crescenza cheese cut into small pieces
Note: I recommend weighing both flour and water because the quantities involved are small.
How to make the dough and shape the panda
Make a dough with the ingredients and knead until nice and smooth. [This post (with video) talks about how to make semolina pasta dough] Let it rest, well covered (e.g., wrapped in plastic film), for half an hour or so.
Working on the kneading board, roll the dough into a thick salami and cut it into 5-6 pieces. Keep them covered while you shape the panda. Roll each piece into a thin snake (3/8 inch / 1 cm thick), then cut into 3/8 inch / 1 cm long pieces. (Depending on the size of your hands, you may need to increase the dimensions a bit so your fingers can work comfortably.)
Keep some all-purpose flour in a dish on your working surface, so you can rub your thumb and index finger in it if/when the dough sticks to them. With your thumb, draw a piece of dough away from you, flattening it. With the help of your index finger, release the dough so it remains on your working surface. With your index finger, draw the piece of dough towards you with a gentle curling action. The result is a concave triangle that reminds me of a sitting panda.
Do not press hard or the dough will become too thin. With practice, you will find what is the right amount of pressure to apply to the dough. Lay the panda out on a lightly floured section of the kneading board (or a baking sheet lined with a cotton kitchen towel or, in my case, a linen placemat). Handle the shaped pasta gently so as not to without misshape it.
Repeat until you have used up the prepared dough.
Cook the panda and dress as you like. The following is just a suggestion.
How to cook the panda
Bring a small pot of water to a rolling boil, add some coarse salt, stir and then toss the panda in it. The time needed to cook them is a bit variable, depending on the size and dryness of the pasta.
Place the bean spread in a small skillet, add a small amount of the water in which the pasta is cooking and stir to make a soft cream. Add the cheese and stir to distribute. When the pasta is almost ready, place the skillet over low heat to melt the cheese.
Taste and stop the cooking when the panda are ready. Pour a glass of cold water in the pot, stir and drain the panda. Pour a glass of cold water in the pot and stir. Drain the panda leaving a little bit of the cooking water clinging to the pasta and drop into the skillet with the sauce. Stir well over medium-low heat for about half a minute. Plate and serve immediately.
The recipe makes two small portions (served as Italian first course).
A reminder that there is a page on the blog where you can browse the complete collection of handmade pasta shapes, some of them, like the panda above, of my own creation.
The photo is my contribution to edition #156 of Black and White Wednesday - A Culinary Photography Event created by Susan of The Well-Seasoned Cook, now organized by Cinzia of Cindystar, and hosted until February 4 by me, Simona of briciole.
The photo was shot in color with my iPhone and then converted to sepia (Lightroom preset Sepia Tone).
Click on the button to hear me pronounce the Italian words mentioned in the post:
or launch the panda (pasta fatta a mano) audio file [mp3].
[Depending on your set-up, the audio file will be played within the browser or by your mp3 player application. Please, contact me if you encounter any problems.]