Eggs and flour – two simple ingredients that combine to make something magical. And Giuseppe “Beppe” Meschiari has invited me into his restaurant kitchen to witness the magic.
Here at Taverna Napoleone in Castlenuovo Rangone, it’s tortelloni making day.
The dedicated team in the restaurant’s kitchen sets to work immediately upon arrival with a rhythm that can only be gained through years of side-by-side teamwork.
They are efficient and quick, with practiced hands that produce beautiful rows of perfectly formed tortelloni.
There is Beppe’s Mama Morena, who makes the pasta dough in the morning. To prepare the dough, 2 kilos of type 00 flour is weighed. Into the pasta mixer it goes, where 20 fresh eggs are added. (Regardless of the size of the batch, the ratio of flour to eggs should remain the same.)
At this point, the recipe is customized by the chef who makes it – add a pinch of salt and olive oil – or don’t. The flour and eggs are flavorful enough to stand on their own. The pasta is mixed slowly by the dough hook for approximately 10 minutes. Extra flour is added, a little at a time, to ensure soft, but not sticky dough.
Mama Morena next flattens a disc of the dough by hand then feeds it into the pasta machine. Her hands lift and drape the sheet of pasta dough as it elongates and thins. Then she reduces thickness settings gradually and feeds the dough back through the machine’s rollers until it is ready to fill.
Move onto the filling station, where Beppe’s Uncle Luciano and his wife Carla work shoulder to shoulder on stainless tables, using a pasta wheel with a serrated edge to cut the pasta into uniform squares. Luciano then places one spoonful of the spinach, ricotta and Parmesan filling at the center of each square, and Carla takes over, folding the dough, delicately pressing the seams then crimping the shape closed to keep the luscious filling inside.
Nonna Azelia sets up new stations for the team with fresh sheets of pasta, and the crew moves from one production space to another without skipping a beat. Chiamindo arranges single-layer trays of the pasta to hand off to Chef Moss.
At the boiler, Chef Moss drops the just-made tortelloni into the boiling water for a quick bath to cook out any impurities that might exist in the dough’s raw egg. When the tortelloni come to the surface, this first phase is nearly complete. From here, the tortelloni is drained with a mesh strainer then slid into a stainless tray pre-coated with olive oil. When Chef Moss settles the pasta into a single layer, he coats them with an extra layer of olive oil.
The trays move into the flash freezer, where temperatures dip to below freezing. Once firm, the tortelloni is transferred to airtight freezer bags and stored in very cold temperatures for a maximum of ten days to ensure the consistent fresh and delicate flavor.
In a morning’s work, the team here at Taverna Napoleone will produce more than 3000 tortelloni guaranteed to make your mouth water and your stomach groan with delight. Folding the pasta beautifully is an art to be learned. My tortelloni were far from perfect at first, but I slowly found how to hold my hands to discover my own folding style.
Mama Morena assured me that each person’s tortelloni will bear the signature of their own technique – one of the true signs that the pasta is handmade and not factory manufactured in bulk.
At service time, after another quick dip in boiling water to heat and cook the filling, Chef Moss pays tribute to the fine quality of the pasta itself with a straightforward and perfect sauce: melted butter and warmed sage leaves. When plated, he finishes the presentation with dots of aged balsamic vinegar and slivers of Parmesan Reggiano cheese. I was delighted that he also shared his secret for a winter sauce presentation of the tortelloni: thinly sliced pancetta steeped in heavy cream and sprinkled with toasted hazlenuts.
Pure pasta heaven on earth! Buon Appetito!