A deliciously easy alternative from central Italy
Living in the hometown of tagliatelle, lasagna, and tortellini, I love to make brightly hued, fresh pasta for dinner. That is, when I have the time.
Once I measure out the flour and eggs (5 minutes), knead them together until they form an elastic ball (15 minutes), leave the ball to sit (1–2 hours), roll out the dough until the pasta is as thin and translucent as a bed sheet (15 minutes), wait for the dough to dry enough for me to fold and cut it (30 minutes), it’s already long past dinner time. And that’s just to make a run-of-the-mill fettucine. If I want to make a pasta with a filling, like a ravioli or a tortellini — or if I want to serve my pasta in an aromatic ragù — that can easily add another two hours to my day.
Not to mention the cleaning afterwards. The dough stuck to the wooden board and dried on my ridiculously long rolling pin is easy enough to scrape off, but the flour! The table and the floor end up covered in a layer of white powder, along with my pants, my hair, and even my poor dog. By the time I have a tray full of tagliatelle, my kitchen looks like the headquarters of a cocaine-packing ring (especially when I roll pasta in my underwear in order to avoid more laundry).
Needless to say, pasta is not a quick or clean activity. Which is why I make passatelli.
Because making passatelli is just as satisfying and inspiring as making pasta by hand, but with half the time and half the clean-up.
So how do you make this magical passatelli? Glad you asked.
(2 generous portions or 4 servings)
2 eggs 3/4 cup (~80 grams) breadcrumbs 1 cup (~80 grams) grated parmesan nutmeg — to taste salt — to taste pepper — to taste lemon zest — optional
Mix all ingredients together into a bowl. I usually start with a fork until it becomes too solid, then I get my hands dirty.
2. Knead the mixture for 1–3 minutes until it forms a sort of dough, elastic and compact.
3. Leave the mixture to sit for about an hour.
4. If you have a potato masher, press the dough through the potato masher. Otherwise, you can roll pieces of dough into logs and cut them into tiny pieces like mini gnocchi.
Seriously, that’s it. Mix the ingredients, let them sit, pass them through the potato masher.
And if you don’t want to wait an hour for the passatelli to amalgamate, you can always make the dough the day before and leave in the fridge. That way it’s already solidified when you want to cook it. Just take it out of the fridge, give it a few minutes to reach room temperature, and pass it through the potato masher.
Of course, in Romagna, they don’t use a commonplace potato masher. They have a special instrument designed just for passatelli, a perforated disk with two wooden handles called a “fér” (dialect for “iron”). The women of Romagna press the dough through the fér using a slight rocking motion back-and-forth between the handles until the passatelli forms its classic cylindrical shape.
This traditional tool often becomes a family heirloom, passed down from generation to generation. But for those of us who aren’t blessed with a grandmother from Romagna, we make do with a potato masher, which does a perfectly fine job. Or, if you’re in Italy, there are lots of contemporary tools that make passatelli a breeze, my favorite being the small hand press, or “torchietto.”
If you don’t have any fancy tools to make the passatelli shape, don’t worry! You can also roll out the dough into thin logs and cut pieces as you would with gnocchi and it’s just as delicious. I made tiny little passatelli balls last week and I actually think the thicker, chewier consistency worked much better with the more liquidy tomato sauce in which I cooked it.
Also, this is an easy dish to make gluten-free because it doesn’t need the same texture or elasticity as real pasta. Simply substitute the breadcrumbs for gluten-free breadcrumbs and you’re all set.
Traditionally, you serve passatelli in a broth. The original recipe was a soup intended for mothers after having given birth, as a way to restore their strength.
However, you can also treat passatelli like fresh pasta. Just boil it in water (or broth for extra flavor) for 90 seconds, then carefully strain out the liquid and serve it with the condiments of your choosing. It can be fantastic in a zesty fish sauce, in a simple sauté of prosciutto and black pepper, or, my autumn favorite, buried in shavings of truffle.
Last week I put some passatelli balls in a simple tomato sauce with chili flakes and it turned out to be an instant crowd-pleaser.
(Just remember that passatelli is more friable than a stretchy pasta, so you need to transfer it from the pot to the pan with care. Also, when pairing with a sauce, remember that the passatelli already has cheese and spice in the dough itself, so choose something simple and delicate. A traditional ragu or salty pesto would probably be too overwhelming on top of cheesy, peppery passatelli!)
As always, treat this recipe as a jumping-off point for creativity, not a mandate. Get funky, experiment, see what you come up with. As Italian food historian Massimo Montanari always says, traditions are just old innovations that caught on. Who knows? Maybe your interpretation will become the next classic.