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Tagliatelle: 5 secrets to make perfect pasta by hand

  • Apr 11, 2021

A plate of fresh tagliatelle is perfect for any occasion.

Tagliatelle are fresh egg pasta ribbons, typical of the Emilia-Romagna region in north Italy. No pasta machines here, people. All you will need are eggs, flour, and a rolling pin. No salt, no oil, no water. Tagliatelle in the true local style are completely down to quality ingredients and years of practice.

This pasta is popular all over Italy: from north to south, every Italian family loves tagliatelle, which appeals to adults and children alike. We interviewed our Cesarine and collected the 5 secrets to obtain a perfect hand-rolled pasta, according to family tradition.

The pastry board

Cesarina Eva is not convinced by the modern stainless steel work surfaces, and tells us: "I use a wooden pastry board which is 100x60cm, giving me plenty of space to roll my pasta. Always use a wooden surface, as it is more porous and gives the pasta a special "rough texture" to better absorb the sauce. In addition, the wood, in my case Beech, warms up as you work the dough, which will help your dough to become smooth and elastic." Finally, Eva recommends never using chemicals or sponges to clean the pastry board: 'just warm water is enough'.

Flour and eggs

Cesarina Marcella was born and raised in Bologna and strictly respects the Emilian tradition, the inland half of the Emilia-Romangna region: 'I only use "00" flour and medium-sized eggs. I never add salt to the dough, to avoid unsightly white spots, and I use eggs at room temperature. I use the traditional proportion of 100g of flour per egg. I never add all the flour at the beginning, and instead work it in gradually. Depending on the size of the eggs, you might not need all the flour. Using too much flour at once results in a stiff, unworkable dough."

The dough

Cesarina Elena moved to Bologna 20 years ago for love, and her mother-in-law, a true Bolognese, taught her the secrets of perfect pasta: "Once the flour and egg are mixed together, I knead the dough for at least 10 minutes on the wooden board, using only the palms of my hands. My mother-in-law taught me that the dough is ready when she presses her finger on the dough ball and the dimple slowly comes up. This means it is elastic enough to roll out."

The resting time

Cesarina Luisa is a professional pasta maker, and she advises "Once your dough is ready, form it into a smooth, tight ball. It is essential to let the dough rest sealed carefully with cling film or under a glass bowl to avoid air contact for at least 30 minutes. In this way the dough will relax and become more elastic, and it will be much easier to roll it out with a rolling pin."

Rolling out the pastry

Cesarina Giulia, who is over 80 years old, tells us that she has been making pasta ever since she was a little girl: "My mother used to put me to work in the kitchen. I would get on a small stool so that I could reach the table and roll out the dough. It takes a bit of skill to use the rolling pin to get a round sheet of dough. You always work from the bottom up or at most diagonally. The pasta is ready when the thickness is uniform and it is almost transparent. In Bologna, it is said that the pasta must be rolled out so thin that you can see the Basilica of San Luca through it."

Every region has its own tradition.

Tagliatelle is undoubtedly the most popular fresh egg pasta in the country, but each region has its own condiment that is traditionally paired with these delicious pasta ribbons. 

In Emilia, the undisputed star is the Bolognese ragù, but moving to the vibrant Romagna region, tagliatelle are often paired with a tomato and pea or prosciutto sauce. Here, grated Parmigiano Reggiano is often used instead of the local Formaggio di Fossa.

In the Marche region, the traditional sauce is duck ragù, while in Umbria, in addition to porcini mushroom, wild boar and duck ragù, tagliatelle with shaved truffles is very popular.

In Veneto, precisely in the province of Belluno, they are even used for the preparation of pasta e fasoi, a local variant of pasta and beans, a perfect comfort dish. 

Did you know?

Legend links the origin of tagliatelle to one of the most controversial female figures of the Italian Renaissance, Lucrezia Borgia, illegitimate daughter of Pope Alexander VI, accused of incest and known as a poisoner. It is said that this pasta format was invented by a Bolognese chef who was inspired by the Borgia's long blonde hair on the occasion of her third marriage in 1501 to the rude Duke Alfonso D'Este.

A gold 'sample' of the real Bolognese tagliatella was deposited on 16 April 1972 at the Bologna Chamber of Commerce in the Palazzo della Mercanzia, formerly the seat of the Merchants' Forum. The official measurements established for cooked tagliatella are 8 millimetres wide - equal to the 12,270th part of the height of the Asinelli Tower - equivalent to about 7 millimetres before cooking.

Whatever your favourite sauce, bringing tagliatelle to the table will make the whole family happy.

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