MyMEGusta welcomes Gregg Mineo, of at Beviamo Hand-Made Pasta in Camden, Maine!
Cooking at Casa Pietraia
Having trained and worked as a pasta maker for over two years, and having cut my teeth on the art of pasta making as a disciple at my mother’s and grandmother’s side, I was of course eagerly anticipating our two week tour of the hand-made pasta mecca: Italy, more specifically Val d’Elsa, which means Hill of the Elsa Valley, located in the Region of Tuscany, near Siena. The highlight of our trip was my much anticipated day of cooking and pasta making with one of the masters: Emma Montovani.
Emma and her husband Giovanni own and manage a wonderful farmhouse in the heart of Chianti, in one of the most beautiful corners of Tuscany. This colonica style farmhouse – a square of structures surrounding a courtyard – has been fully restored, and is home to their inn and cooking school, and an olive tree farm. My focus was our day together, shopping for lunch, preparing, cooking and of course making hand-made pasta.
Casa Pietraia is tucked away on top of a hill, high atop Val d’Elsa, and after a 30 minute drive up winding roads, we arrived at Emma’s home, in the late morning. We got busy very quickly. After laying out our food finds from earlier, we planned our menu:
Couscous Terrine with Local Sardines
Hand-Made Chestnut Flour Ravioli with Pecorino Sauce
Black Sea Bass with Citrus and Olives
The pace was purposeful and time sensitive, since we were preparing a lunch for Emma, Giovanni, their son, and my wife, and we had to cook, plate, serve and eat in only a couple of hours. Well, that didn’t happen. This glorious visit turned into an all day affair. We started with local cheeses to nibble on, some young red wine from the nearby area, and of course the unbelievable Tuscan bread.
Rather than cover all aspects of our menu, I want to focus on the process of pasta making. This was authentic and traditional, the way I was taught by my family, starting with making the pasta dough (actually this is redundant, since pasta means any type of dough in Italy), with fresh local eggs, “tipo 00” (an especially fine Italian flour) and chestnut flours and a dribble of olive oil, mixed and kneaded on a board.
Then we rolled the dough out, only using a wooden dowel, and Emma insisted we not stop until it was the thickness of a bed sheet.
The sauce was as simple as possible, but isn’t that the hallmark of all Italian cooking? We chopped walnuts, rosemary leaves, and mixed with pecorino cheese (of course, indigenous to the area), and after adding a few tablespoons of olive oil and some of the pasta water, it was finished with freshly ground black pepper, and poured over the cooked ravioli.
Along with the couscous and sardines dish (truly unique), the unbelievably fresh black sea bass simply roasted in the oven with citrus and olives, and the castagnaccio, a local dessert made with chestnuts, the chestnut flour ravioli (which I have made since back home) will remain one of the truly great pasta dishes I have ever sampled.
This remarkable day with Emma and her family started out as a cooking class, but ended up being one of the best food experiences of my life, one I will never forget. I am happy to forward the recipes and information on Casa Pietraia to those interested. Just leave your request as a Comment, and myMEGusta will forward it to me.