Here in the US we all know what fettucine is and most likely, when we think of “fettucine,” we automatically think of Fettucine Alfredo, a dish that (I dare say) has become completely bastardized in this country. We put all sorts of things in it: cream, shrimp, canned vegetables, … (not to mention preservatives).
The sauce of the original, invented by Alfredo Di Leio in Rome in 1914, merely consisted of parmigiano e burro (parmesan and butter). And who could argue that that is not delicious?
If you travel north from Rome, out of the region of Lazio, you come to the regions of Emilia-Romagna and Marche and find taglietelle, instead of fettucine. Taglietelle is a slightly thinnner version of fettucine but is also made with the same basic recipe of egg and flour. Commonly a ragù, a meat-based tomato sauce, is the preferred sauce for fettucine in Emilia-Romagna and Marche. Usually the regional dish is called Taglietelle alla Bolognese.
If you move a little farther north still, into Piemonte, their pasta goes by the name of taglierini or tagliolini and is thinner yet. However, it is still based on a recipe of flour and egg. In Piemonte, you find taglierini/tagliolini mixed with all manner of sauces. Typically these fall into two basic categories: a meat ragù, based on veal, rabbit, and/or duck (or other types of meat), or simply butter with truffles or porcini mushrooms. The only thing is, you won’t really find it called taglierini or tagliolini anywhere because the dialect name is the one everyone uses: tajarin (pronounced: tie-yar-EEN).
Tajarin is everywhere in Piemonte—from the local cafe/bar to the fanciest of fancy restaurants. Stretching far and wide from downtown Alba to the miniscule villages located far up on hilltops and into the woods, “Tajarin al ‘something or other'” is on the menu! You could spend a week in Piemonte and easily order the tajarin at every restaurant for every dinner and every lunch.
What makes this pasta so special? Mainly its texture. Granted, the quality varies depending on where you are, but if made well, tajarin pasta is like a pile of velveteen ribbons on your plate. Its ability to grip, absorb, and carry sauce is magnificent. So it doesn’t really matter what kind of sauce goes on—from a simple mixture of salt and butter to an intricate rabbit sugo (sauce)—a good plate of tajarin with a nice glass of Nebbiolo borders on pure euphoria.
A couple of years ago I was presented with the opportunity to learn how to make this Piemontese delicacy. Delfina Corino, mother of Renato Corino, invited me into her home on a cold November morning in 2011 and took me through all the steps. Here is where I share them with you.
First and foremost, there really aren’t any secrets to this (and if there were, I wouldn’t tell you anyway). It just takes a lot of diligence, time, and strong hands. Oh, and you need a pasta machine! Delfina explained everything to me in a mix of Italian and Piemontese but I explain it here in English.
La Ricetta di Tajarin
400g Type 00 flour (you must use this kind of flour to get the correct texture)
100g All purpose flour
1 Tbsp olive oil
1/2-1 tsp salt
Mix the two types of flours together and form the mixture into a pile on a large work surface. Make a crater in the center of the pile big enough to fit five eggs and a tablespoon of oil. Crack the eggs, one by one, and place them in the crater. Add the oil and sprinkle the salt over everything. Whip the eggs a little with a fork and then begin folding the flour into the crater with the fork in order to begin mixing it all together. Don’t worry if some of the egg escapes, just pull it back and mix everything all together with your hands. (If you’re really afraid of doing it this way, mix it up in a bowl.) It will probably look like an irreparable mess but just keep mixing and scraping.
Soon you will have a big ball of dough. Here is when you definitely need it to be out on a flat work surface so you can knead it. Keep kneading it until it is one big egg-shaped smooth and consistent ball.
Then take a sharp knife and make slices across the dough as if it were a loaf of bread. Take these slices and roll them out a little bit with a rolling pin to flatten them. These are the pieces you will feed through the pasta machine.
Continue all pieces through the narrowest setting and fluffing up each pile on the cookie sheet. When you’re done, let the pasta dry for a while. (You’ll probably need a break anyway!) You can periodically fluff up the piles to ensure even drying.
You can use the pasta within a couple of hours or save and use a few days later. Just make sure the pasta is fluffed up enough so it doesn’t become too tangled as it dries. To cook, immerse the pasta in salted, boiling water, and leave for about 30-60 seconds before promptly draining in a colander.
As for the sauce, well depending on your energy and motivation level after making the pasta, here are a couple of ideas.
First, this is one I absolutely love. I have had this dish numerous times at Ca’ del Re in the village of Verduno and it is a fabulously simple solution. All you do is mix your cooked pasta in warm pan with melted, salted butter. Then sprinkle on freshly chopped mint to serve. The juxtaposition of the salt and sweetness of the mint is extraordinary.
If you want to get more adventurous, I will share with you a rabbit sugo recipe from an Italian cookbook.
Sugo di coniglio (Rabbit sauce)
500g (~1lb) of minced rabbit meat
500g (~1 lb) of ripe tomatoes
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
1/3 c chopped parsley
2 Tbsp butter
3 Tbsp olive oil
Dry red wine or broth
Salt & pepper, to taste
Boil the tomatoes ahead of time. Let cool and then peel and remove seeds. Set the tomato flesh aside. Warm up the oilve oil and butter in a large pan on low heat. Add the onion and caramelize over low heat, stirring often, for about 30 minutes. Add the garlic, stir, and cook for about 5 more minutes. Add the minced rabbit meat to the pan and continue cooking on medium heat until browned. Add the tomato flesh and stir. Continue cooking on low to medium heat for about an hour, adding broth and/or red wine as necessary. You might want to cover the pan. Add salt and pepper, to taste. When it is finished, add your cooked tajarin and top with chopped parsley.