March 02, 2010

Everything I had heard led me to believe that turning 30 was no fun. So, as the big 3-0 creeped up, I wanted to find a way to commemorate the day and enjoy the entrance into this new chapter of life. That’s when I decided to go to Italy. Not the typical tourist’s Italy with monuments and souvenirs, but the real Italy where I would have to brush off my old college text books and remember how to order dinner or ask for directions. I choose to explore the Piemonte region, drink their extraordinary wines, and, of course, study Italian cooking.

Walking into the kitchen at the Agriturismo La Rossa was like coming home. Mamma quietly worked in the background as a fluffy gray cat lingered below our feet and periodically brushed his face up against my ankle to say hello. Her son, the head chef, would serve as our instructor. He didn’t speak English, yet somehow we could all easily follow his instructions. After all, these classic recipes are about the feel, not the measurements. The workspace doesn’t have any bowls or measuring spoons, just two simple piles of flour, a cube of fresh yeast, and olive oil.

With a hand cranked pasta machine and old-fashioned tortellini press we cut each delicate round. The filling was simply spinach, ricotta, egg and nutmeg. He demonstrated how to fill the round with a dab, fold in half and pinch closed. With what seemed like a magician’s slight of hand trick, the half-moon suddenly was twisted into the perfect tortellini around his index finger and with another pinch it was complete. It took me a few tries to get the technique down, but soon we all had the hang of it and were amazed at our gorgeous creations. The repetitive nature took on an almost zen-like quality and we churned out our tortellini by the dozens while chatting away and almost never even needing to look down at our fingers.

I imagined how many generations of Italians savored this ritual over the centuries. Delicately forming tortellini after tortellini only to have their perfect creations gobbled up in a matter of minutes. Naysaysers would wonder if it was all worth it. Making the pasta from scratch, running the dough through the hand cranked machine over and over to develop the gluten, twisting them over your fingers for hours to get a perfectly uniform shape, just to have it quickly devoured before moving on to the next course.

The truth is, cooking, travel, and life really are about the process, the journey. Within these recipes that have been passed down for generations you can taste the history in every bite. Somehow when our handmade tortellini was placed on the table, the sense of community was infused into each bite. I came to Piemonte to celebrate turning 30, to commemorate the journey of life thus far and to embrace the voyage yet to come. Rather than vowing to be 29 forever, Italy reminded me that history and experience only makes us more delectable.

Looking to prepare handmade tortellini at home? Click here for a recipe inspired by my experience in Piemonte.

Interested in the wines of Piemonte? Click here for a video about the Cortese grape harvest in Gavi, Italy.


Pausagoloa said...

good idea ..homemade tortellini..With butter and salvia I hope. We love in Italy to eat it with hot broth and lots of parmesan...So delicious!

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