Andrea’s hands are powerful, they have a vice-like grip that panics me……but at the same time her touch is soft and comforting. She has a firm grasp of my right bicep..my lower arm is turning blue as she talks loudly and at great speed in dialect to her partner in crime Teresa. My limited Italian can’t process what she is saying, dialect is not common or garden Italian…its something else..its slang Italian, its a secret..it comes from the hills and from the Country side. But whatever Andrea is saying it’s irritating the hell outta Teresa….and the thunder and lightening starts………
When you witness two Italian women bicker its best to be at a safe distance…I’m not at any distance….I’m tethered to Andrea and in the eye of the storm…a maelstrom of biblical proportions these two 60+ year old Italian cooks are whipping up.
This is their domain, the working kitchen of a Masseria on the outskirts of Ostuni….its August 2015 and I’ve been invited to cook with Andrea and Teresa (our protagonists) and even before a burner has been lit or a rabbit stripped I’m being schooled in how these two incredible women work..its aggressive and animated, its passionate and unyielding, its fiery and dominant..it is fucking intimidating is what it is……I’m nothing but a passenger here and as far as these two women are concerned I’m the bambino that they will bounce around their kitchen…..a bambino that’s a good foot and a half taller and broader than both women put together…but a utter lamb in their presence.
Andrea continues her verbal sparring with Teresa as she ‘guides’ me to my station and introduces me to my first function and pretty soon it becomes apparent why Andrea has such a grip. She sets me to work making Orecchiette pasta by hand, a Pugliese staple – we need enough ‘little ears’ for 75 lunch guests at the Masseria- this is a lot of pasta work and after 20 minutes of hammering the semolina dough my hands are in agony…a pause in production on my part results in a crack across the knuckles from Andrea’s wooden spoon, a giggle and a smile from Teresa eases the sting. I refocus on the large wooden board every Italian women that makes pasta owns and continue the production under Andrea’s watchful gaze. After a few moments she joins me, she uses her ample rump to scooch me along the rail making room for herself and grabbing a handful of the bright yellow dough and within seconds it begins to form and work to her will….decades of experience, love and passion pouring into it from her hands.
This kitchen is reminiscent of the one I started cooking in some 20 odd years ago with Tony and Chef – I can see traits of both in Teresa and Andrea and once again I’m the kid on the team being schooled in the basics. I only thought I knew how to make pasta…I only thought I knew how to make Pesto…its only when you spend time ‘at source’ that you truly understand the emotional content of any dish or any recipe and you are able to do it justice at your own hands. I’ve been making pasta since I can remember – but this time is the first that I have truly understood it – Pasta dough is a pig of a thing at the beginning – its hard, dry, gluey….. at first you wonder what is this mess – what I miss here – you could fill the cracks in the Colosseum with this stuff. But pasta wants you to make it work, its uncompromising in this sense – there’s no way around this there are no short cuts or cheap alternatives to fresh pasta you have to pour you love, energy and attention into it like these two women have done their entire life.
During the morning we work with and dizzying array of Pugliese produce – fresh rabbit shot in the hills outside Martina Franca, we prep incredible vegetables that are lightly fried in knock-out olive oil – courgette, aubergine, tomato…fresh fish from the Ionian sea – primarily Bream and Bass which will be grilled on the rickety stove at the kitchen door and served with nothing…absolutely nothing and it is killer. Huge gambas will be split, roasted whole and drenched in a garlic and oil sauce, mussels are shucked live, dredged and fried. The pay off for me is not the food which we devour at a long table at the back of the kitchen…nope.. the pay off for me is the honor of being schooled by these two Italian Titans – they laugh at me a lot and jab fingers in ribs, they correct they way I hold my knife or fold a piece of veal….and it is wonderful……
This is not an academy…this is not a training college………………… this is how you learn how to cook properly……..this is learning ‘At Source’……go do it.
HANDMADE TAGLIATELLE AND PESTO RECIPE:
♠ Egg Tag & Classic Pesto♣
Prep time: 60 mins ♦ Cook Time: 5mins ♦ Total time 65ish mins ♦ Serves 2
♣WHAT YOU NEED♥
For the Fresh Egg Pasta
- 12 fresh free range egg yolks
- 600 grams ’00’ flour
For the basil pesto (this is visual not exact)
- 1 handful of fresh Basil leaves
- 1 large cloves of garlic roughly chopped
- Cracked black pepper and salt flakes
- Top quality olive oil
- Top quality Parmesan cheese
- Handful of pine nuts roughly chopped
♣HOW YOU DO IT♥
Fresh egg Pasta
In a really big bowl – combine the eggs and flour until you achieve a heavy dough. Pasta dough should feel heavy and hard to work with to start with – you might be tempted to bin it!! But keep working at it in the bowl and it will eventually come together and stay together, when that happens flip it out onto a floured work surface.
Work the pasta dough for at least 15 minutes – literally beat it up, fold it, hammer it…until it becomes smooth and elastic.
Form the pasta into a ball, cling film it and sling it into the fridge for 30 minutes
Use a pasts machine and run the dough through it from the widest setting to the thinnest – you want pasta sheets you can almost see through
You can then cut the pasta as you like it – I sling it through the attachments cutters to make the Tagliatelle or Spaghetti. You can then freeza batches or use it immediately (if you have you sauce done that is!
If your using the Mortar and Pestle method then run the knife through the basil, nuts and garlic to break them down a little before literally beating the lights out of them. You’ll have a fairly messy amount of green, garlic and basil scented gunk.
To this begin adding the olive oil and gently bring everything together until you have a smooth if grainy consistency. The grated cheese can now be added and mixed in.
Your Pesto can now be used on pasta or if you’re not using right away then jar it topped with oil and keep sealed in the fridge for a few days. Don’t hang around with Pest it likes to be used and abused as quickly as possible!!!
FANCY A BEER? TRY THIS: