From mid-September to mid-October, Maggie and I travelled around parts of southern Europe.
We began with a couple of nights in the lovely city of Avignon, followed by a river cruise along the Rhone River from its delta – known as Le Camargue – up to Lyon. Then we used Europe’s efficient train system to move to the Italian province of Umbria, where we spent three nights in each of the delightful hilltop towns of Orvieto and Todi.
From Umbria, another train journey took us to Venice, where we enjoyed three wonderful days well before the recent tidal flood disaster – so shocking and sad! From Venice we flew to Athens, where we spent two nights in full view of the Acropolis before taking a short cruise across the Mediterranean Sea, disembarking at Civitavecchia for the flight home from Rome.
So, quite an adventure! Here is one of the scenic highlights. Ha!
Our decision to visit Umbria was inspired by a cookbook called My Umbrian Kitchen, written by Patrizia Simone, a renowned – now retired – chef in my home state of Victoria. Patrizia grew up in Umbria, learning to cook by her mother’s side. Then, as a young adult, Patrizia migrated to Victoria, where she and her husband established a much-loved restaurant in the town of Bright, some 300 kilometres by road from Melbourne.
When we were planning the itinerary for our time in Umbria, we discovered the website of Todi-based siblings Alessandra and Leonardo Mallozzi, who are qualified sommeliers and olive-oil tasters. The Mallozzis offer a variety of wine and olive oil tours and cooking classes. We booked a a half-day pasta class and a full-day wine tour.
The pasta class was held in the Mallozzi family’s country villa, located in one of the 37 villages dotted through the idyllic landscape of farms and woodlands surrounding Todi.
Leonardo began the class with an informative account of the history and varieties of pasta, including the fact that, for many centuries, the region’s inhabitants were too poor to buy salt. The tradition of not putting any salt in pasta dough – and bread – is maintained to this day. (We can vouch for that, based on the bread that was served to us in Todi.)
Once Leonardo had guided us through the preparation of our pasta dough, Alessandra showed us how to prepare two pasta sauces while the dough was resting. The first sauce featured meat & passata; the second one, mushroom, meat & cream. The meat ingredient was taken from traditional Italian pork & fennel sausages.
Next, Leonardo taught us how to roll out our pasta and feed it through a cutter to make fettuccine. After the Mallozzis had cooked the pasta and finished the sauces, they assembled the two dishes at the table and we sat down to a delicious lunch, accompanied by local wines.
It was a wonderful learning experience and the siblings were charming and generous hosts. Touring and cooking with Alessandra and Leonardo proved to be an ideal way to experience more of the province of Umbria, which is known as the ‘green heart’ of Italy due to its bounty of agricultural produce.
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A couple of weeks after we had returned to Melbourne, we got to work applying the lessons of our time with Leonardo and Alessandra.
We already had a pasta rolling machine but we had only used it to make pasta sheets for dishes of lasagne; we were overdue to use the machine’s cutter attachment. To complete our equipment inventory, we tracked down a hanging rack. And we bought some Italian sausages, widely available in multi-cultural Melbourne, as the base ingredient for our pasta sauces.
We began with our interpretation of the mushroom and meat sauce that Alessandra had prepared for us in Umbria. We were happy with the result, as were the two neighbours who are our go-to guinea pigs when we are making a dish for the first time.
Recently, we made it again, just for the two of us, and measured the quantities of the ingredients so we could codify the recipe. Here are some photos of our work, followed by the recipe.
Mushroom pasta sauce (serves two)
1½ French shallots, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
110g Italian pork sausage meat (discard skin)
90g large flat mushroom ) vary this mixture
50g shitake mushroom ) according to taste
50g Enoki mushroom ) and availability
salt and pepper, to taste
120g fresh pasta
- Cut the large mushroom in half and then cut into slices 4-5mm thick. Cut the shitake mushrooms into slices 2-3mm thick. Trim the stalks of the Enoki mushrooms.
- Saute the shallot and garlic for about 5 minutes in plenty of olive oil, until they begin to soften.
- By hand, tear the meat into small clumps and add it to the pan. Saute for 2-3 minutes until the meat has lightly browned.
- Add the pieces of flat and shitake mushroom and more olive oil to the pan. Cover partly with a lid, to sweat the mushrooms for 2-3 minutes.
- Remove the lid and add the Enoki mushrooms. Increase the heat to medium and cook, stirring regularly, for a further 2-3 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste.
- Add cream to taste and adjust seasoning.
- Meanwhile, bring one and a half litres of salted water to the boil, add the pasta, let it cook for 2-3 minutes, until it is al dente.
- Drain the pasta, spoon the sauce into a large serving bowl, add the cooked pasta and toss to combine. Serve immediately.
Note 1: We do put some salt in our pasta dough. It’s not as expensive as it was in the days of the Roman Empire when soldiers were paid in salt (hence the word “salary”)!
Note 2: Fresh pasta, allowed to hang on a rack for about 1 hour before cooking, needs much less time in boiling water than dry pasta from a packet.
Note 3: This sauce is so tasty that you don’t need to add cheese. But each to their own!