Simple dishes can be surprisingly good. Many traditional Italian recipes can be linked to the local circumstances. Liguria is a mountainous strip of land along the Mediterranean coast without any room for growing wheat. But there are lots of chestnut trees. And so chestnut flour is more easily available than wheat flour, and mixed in with the wheat flour when making fresh pasta. You can’t make fresh pasta from chestnut flour only, because the gluten from wheat are needed to give the dough its elasticity. The chestnut flour gives the pasta a great flavor, and it is simply outstanding with pesto alla genovese. As usual with simple dishes, the quality of the ingredients and the execution is important to make this work. So please don’t use store-bought pesto, unless it is prepared on-site in the store. Traditional pesto should be made using pestle and mortar, but pesto made with a blender is still so much better than anything store-bought. And it only takes a couple of minutes.
This is yet another recipe from Paola. I am a bit more courageous than she in the ratio of chestnut flour to regular flour. The more you use, the better the flavor of the pasta, but the larger the risk the tagliatelle will break up when cooking. I cut the noodles a bit wide, so technically these could be called pappardelle instead of tagliatelle. In Liguria this dish is sometimes enriched with boiled potato and green beans.
For 4 servings as a primo piatto (not a main course)
120 grams (3/4 cup) chestnut flour + more for dusting
150 grams (1 cup) Italian 00 flour
about 60 ml (1/4 cup) milk
360 grams (1 1/2 cups) pesto alla genovese
freshly grated parmigiano reggiano, to serve
Making the pasta dough with chestnut flour is basically the same as making regular fresh pasta dough. Put the eggs in the bowl of the stand mixer and beat them lightly.
Add chestnut flour, 00 flour, and a pinch of salt.
Mix with the paddle attachment…
…until you obtain a crumbly mixture.
Now add the milk very slowly while the machine is running, just enough to make the dough come together.
If you added too much and the dough becomes sticky, add some more 00 flour.
Switch to the hook, and knead the dough on medium speed until it is smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes.
Wrap the dough in plastic and allow it to rest in the refrigerator for at least half an hour.
After the dough has rested, take a piece about the size of a large egg. Keep the remainder of the dough wrapped in plastic so it doesn’t dry out.
Flatten the piece of dough with your hands, and dust it with chestnut flour.
Set the pasta machine to the widest setting.
Feed the dough through the machine. Fold it in half in such a way that you obtain a roughly rectangular shape, and feed it through the machine again.
Keep folding it in half…
…and feeding it through the machine…
…until the dough feels and looks smooth and has a more or less rectangular shape.
Then dust it with chestnut flour, and set the machine to the next setting and feed it through the machine. Then to the next setting.
Repeat until the dough has the desired thickness.
Cut the sheet of dough into sheets of about 30 cm (12 inches) long, and dust them with chestnut flour on both sides.
Fold the dough twice (so you get 4 layers) and then cut it into ribbons.
Unroll the ribbons and allow them to dry while you continue with the remainder of the dough.
Repeat until you have turned all of the dough into tagliatelle.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add salt and the tagliatelle. The cooking time depends on how thick you made the tagliatelle and how long you allowed them to dry. It is probably 1-3 minutes, but it is best to taste to make sure.
Drain the tagliatelle when it is tender but firm to the bite (al dente), reserving some of the cooking water.
Put the pot that you used for the pasta (which is still hot) on very low heat. Add the pesto and some of the reserved cooking water.
Stir to mix. Add more cooking water as needed to get a creamy mixture.
Add the tagliatelle and stir until the tagliatelle are coated with pesto.
Serve at once on preheated plates, sprinkled with freshly grated parmigiano reggiano.
In Liguria this would be paired with a local dry white, Vermentino or Pigato (which is actually a clone of the same grape variety). It is also great with Soave or Gavi.
Brandade of red mullet and fennel is a great dish that I had first in the town of Bonifacio on Corsica.