Pasta, meaning dough or more basically a paste or mixture, is central to Italian and subsequently Italian diasporic cooking traditions. The simple mix of grain, liquid, and occasionally fat represents a way of life and is a material through which one can track agricultural, environmental, political, and social shifts throughout the Italian peninsula. As a primarily oral and sensory tradition it is safeguarded by a dwindling population of mostly women, in Italy andaround the world. Though it has been promoted, fetishized, and arguably overcomplicated by chefs and corporations, the tradition of pasta making can still be observed online where young Italians, and Italian-hyphenate descendents, are documenting their grandmothers’ highly individualized techniques and tools. I am interested in how the skill of pasta making continues to be transferred as a combined oral and craft tradition, with digital spaces and tools being integrated into the maintenance, distribution, and resulting viability of traditional techniques. I was born in Milan and raised between Italy and the Northeastern United States and relied upon the grounding and magnetic quality of Italian food traditions as I struggled to place myself between those two landscapes.
In an effort to build out the part of my practice that utilizes cooking as a social and formal medium, I have been teasing out a link between my approach to materials in my fine art practice and the vernacular quality of pasta forms and their foundational matter. My work looks at the intersection of materials, material reproduction, and labor. By altering existing objects or recontextualizing industrial and “natural” materials, I am interested in how my labor can make other forms of labor visible. My practice negotiates the nature of materials, both “raw” and “processed,” with all of their embedded narratives and intentionally obfuscated histories. I use materials like plaster or paper pulp in a way that draws directly from my experiences in the kitchen and experimenting with the application of traditions that are just outside the traditional definition of craft.
The nature of my own making, both in the studio and the kitchen, has shifted as the physical and emotional limitations of social distancing have solidified. Before quarantine measures were implemented, I was experimenting with pasta forms at home and occasionally teaching a handmade pasta workshop geared towards artists. Covid-19 distancing measures have forced me to adjust the way I share with people and I have increasingly looked to the virtual tools that have allowed me to continue engaging with the tactile tradition of pasta making from the comfort of my small apartment. The reproductive labor of making pasta (or cooking more generally) during this time has become a practice on which I rely on to mark time, to nourish myself and others, and to connect to my body. Early in the New York social distancing measures, I contracted the virus and while I was lucky to have the care of my significant other, a doctor, the virus warped an already shifting scale of time we have all been feeling as we are asked to close in on ourselves physically and emotionally. It also has imbued my time isolating with a different kind of meaning. Not one with an optimism that maybe something great and creative will come out of this, but an appreciation for the things in my day that break up the time and provide a social, physical, or material anchor.
On a quick trip to the farmers market we procured a couple bunches of ramps that needed cooking. I always freeze extra servings of pasta or scraps for future use. I quite liked the idea of combining the tajarin and nettle fettuccine in a kind of paglia e fieno or “straw and hay” which is a dish from Emilia Romagna that is defined by a mix of yellow and green pasta for a poetic interpretation of dried and fresh grasses. I mixed in the cooked ramps and topped with plenty of parmigiano.
For my next round of deliveries I decided to make Malloreddus, a traditional Sardinian shape that looks like little grubs in the best possible way. They were small and chewy and a great excuse to drive around Brooklyn visiting friends (distantly.)
Tagliatelle and Nettle Tortelli
I started to get requests for pasta. People would ask if I sold it or if I would trade some so I decided to try out an unofficial delivery to some friends. I made tagliatelle and gave portions that were maybe too generous.
While my fever had broken I still could not leave the house. We didn’t want to risk infecting anyone else and I was so fatigued that I wouldn’t have wanted to leave anyway. We decided to use our pasta extruder and made bucatini with semola rimacinata and water. Served with a sauce of cherry tomato and calabrian chile. It was that night that I realized I could no longer taste or smell. I could feel the spice of the chiles as a burning tingle but could not actually taste the juicy floral qualities of them or the oil they are packed in.
It was my birthday and my fever had just broken. My significant other, Michael, and I were supposed to be in Italy for the month of April. On my birthday we were meant to be eating at a small restaurant in Torino that makes some of the best gnocchi gorgonzola. So that’s what I made. Tiny potato gnocchi and gorgonzola dolce with a touch of cream.
tortelli con la coda
This was one of the hardest shapes I’ve made in a long time. The name tortelli con la coda means “tortelli with a tail”. I made many ugly ones, this one turned out alright. It’s filled with ricotta and greens. That night I came down with a fever and remained bedridden for several days. It turned out to be COVID-19.
sagne + susciella
I needed to use the rest of the ricotta from the ndunderi so I made a traditional combination of sagne and susciella which effectively was a vegetarian spaghetti and meatballs. The susciella are ricotta, spinach, and breadcrumb dumplings which topped sagne made of durum wheat (semola rimacinata) and water. It was all tossed in a simple tomato sauce.
Everyone was officially stuck at home either working, furloughed, or fired. I made ndunderi which are essentially ricotta gnocchi. I then baked them with layers of tomato sauce and smoked scamorza cheese. Very gooey, very good.
NYC official work from home order
creation of pasta guide document
As the term “social distancing” was beginning to take hold, I fielded a few requests for some homemade pasta tips. I pulled together an evolving annotated document of resources, recipes, and thoughts that is available to anyone here.
This was the first shape I made after initial attempts by the city to limit the number of patrons in a restaurant was implemented. It would turn out to be a failed experiment in social distancing but this pasta known as cresc’tajat, made out of leftover polenta taragna and double zero flour, was successful. I dressed it with beans simmered in a simple tomato sauce.
Restaurants limited to 50% capacity