Ever wished you had an Italian grandmother to teach you how to make hand-shaped pasta? We may not be able to grant your wish, but Pasta by Hand, the latest book from chef Jenn Louis, sure comes close. Her new book focuses on the regional handmade dumplings of Italy, highlighting classic recipes from the country’s 19 different regions.
Louis, the chef and owner of Lincoln Restaurant and Sunshine Tavern in Portland, OR, is currently on a book tour for Pasta by Hand, and swung by our headquarters in San Francisco, where she demonstrated how to make a number of fresh dumplings in our test kitchen. As she prepared to shape potato gnocchi and ciciones (Sardinian dumplings) for us, she also spoke to what sets the book apart.
“A lot of these recipes have never been published before,” she explained. “It’s what a grandmother taught the mom, daughter, or son. They’re oral stories. The gnocchi ricci that appears on the cover — it’s from a little town an hour and a half north of Rome, and there was a point where only five people in the village knew how to make it anymore. They had to teach it in the Eighties, and [eventually] they made YouTube videos. I don’t know anyone not in that town has ever written down the recipe.”
The best part of experience — aside from enjoying her perfectly al dente ciciones, of course! — was learning her inside tips for making fresh pasta.
- For the best potato gnocchi, use only potato and flour. “The pros only use potato and flour — you want enough flour to hold the dough together, but no more, because then it’ll be heavy.”
- Remember that egg yolks and whites play different roles in fresh pasta. “Always remember that flour’s going to be wetter or drier at different times. Think of the egg white as moisture, and the yolk as fat. If the egg has a bigger white, it’s more liquid that’s going into a recipe. You’re going to have to learn to adjust based on that feel.”
- Play with your sauce flavors. The Lincoln chef demoed tomato butter sauce to go with ciciones, Sardinian dumplings. “This sauce is my version of Marcella Hazan’s tomato butter sauce. The butter softens the tomato, and the tomato brightens up the butter. I also cooked down some onions, rosemary, garlic, and olive oil,” she says. “But play with your flavors: don’t be afraid to add olives, capers, and a little chili.”
- You can enjoy fresh pasta even if you’re gluten-free. “The recipe below is made with ricotta and flour, but I’ve tested it out with Cup4Cup Gluten-Free Flour and it works. The texture is different — it’s not going to be the same — but if you are gluten-free and you want to enjoy gnocchi, it’s still going to be yummy.”
- You don’t have to make pasta using the “well” method…but you should use a scale. “I don’t always make a ‘well’ with my pasta and bring in a little bit of flour at a time,” she confessed. “It’s legit, but it’s fine not to.” Instead, she often uses a small mixing bowl to combine dough ingredients. She also explained that her book lists recipe measurements in grams, rather than ounces, because they’re more precise.