Alcide is my neighbor. One spring day he said to Martha and me, “we should cook together” and I shook my head so vigorously I thought I would break my neck and my head would teeter at the brink before falling off.
“We’ll make pasta, with a matterello.”
As you can see, Alcide has quite a large one.
In any case, there would be none of that cranky machine pasta for us. It’s ok to use one of these devices in Rome, where we cranked out pasta with a shiny industrial tool. But this is the countryside. We don’t have such frippery in our kitchens.
As it turns out, the pasta that Alcide was going to make was done quite differently than I’d seen in any class on pasta making I’ve taken.
Pasta, you see, takes precise measurement of flour and a precise number of eggs to go with that flour. But no, Alcide just dumped some pasta flour on a board, dipped into a huge bag of roughly milled whole grain flour, threw some in a strainer to filter out the larger bits, then made a mountain of two flours. No measuring for Alcide.
After the wine bubbled over and splashed upon the table and we cleaned it up, Alcide added four eggs and lobbed some salt and olive oil into the standard crater one makes in the flour mountain. As he mixed it he paused and added water. Later he added more water. It was all done by feel. Finally he kneaded. When everything had come together to his satisfaction he began rolling it. You can see all the action in the video below. Click on it and you’ll see Alcede in his kitchen, making pasta on his granite table upon which one can make fine pasta or spill great sparkling wine.
With the pasta end of the pasta e fagioli out of the way, we tested the beans boiling away in the pot on the stove. Add a little olive oil and you have this, a little test for doneness:
It’s perfect. “They came from right there across the road,” Alcide says while he points out the window, “the ones from this side of the road were inedible. They didn’t even cook up right. Yes, we were learning the dish from the guy who grows and knows the beans.
Let me add that we are in the heart of some of Italy’s best bean country. In fact, we had skipped the unbelievably well attended Bigliolo Bean Festival to be with Alcide while we had our own private festa. Bigliolo is just down the road. We can walk there. It’s where our shutters come from. It used to have 15 stores, but now there’s just the guy and his shutters.
So, having tested the beans with a little drizzle of fabulous olive oil, the pasta fagioli was coming together. Alcide added some ground-up liquid beans to a mixture of whole beans and pasta until the ratio was just right, then pointed to the bottles of black pepper, fiery red pepper, and olive oil we could compliment our dish with.
You will not see many pictures of pasta e fagioli like this on the web. Americans like to kick things up a notch. So they add tomato, hamburger, a handful of herbs, onions, garlic and other things that cover the taste of the main ingredient. What that is is Chili with pasta, not pasta e fagioli, which is a simple cucina povera dish that’s so darned good with our local beans it’ll knock your socks off. Yes, it’s the real deal—and healthy as all get out.
You see, The difference between American food, where we’ve allowed mass production to remove the matter of “terrior” from a bean because we grow them anywhere there’s room, and Italian food is that out here in the country folks have learned exactly where things grow to their full expression. Then it’s just a matter of planting them in the place they like to grow and concocting recipes which don’t hide the resulting full flavor of the ingredients.
Our neighborhood is great for beans. Across the road, not out back.
Read more about the real Pasta e Fagioli as you might find it on restaurant menus.