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Polpette al Sugo (Meatballs in Tomato Sauce)

  Polpette al sugo is a favourite from way back, a frugal way of feeding the family.  They were always prepared and cooked in sugo (tomato sauce) for Sunday family meals.  During winter, a few freshly homemade sausages would also be added to the sauce for that extra flavour.  The sauce would be served on home made ferretti or tagliatelle , as 'il primo piatto' (first course), and le polpette eaten for secondo with a green salad on the side.  We always made sure that a few would be left for the following days school lunches. Everyone has a favourite meatball recipe, whether handed down from their nonna or mamma ; or discovered in someone's cookbook that they continue to make and swear by.  Mamma likes to add cooked potato to the mix, rendering them moist.  Some like to add ricotta, while I have added grated carrot to these and have done so since my girls were little.  It was a sneaky way of hiding a vegetable they weren't very keen on. Most would agree that they m

Tajarin with Mushroom Ragu`

Tajarin is the Piedmontese dialect name for a type of fresh egg pasta, also known as tagliolini or tagliarini (thin strands like spaghetti), a childhood favourite that mamma still makes. Traditionally made only with egg yolks using a very high ratio of egg to flour (between 20 or more yolks to one kilo of flour). Yes, seemingly a lot of eggs, making them rich and wholesome. The number of eggs used however can vary according to recipes within the regions and generally what one would have on hand.  Some only use the yolks, while others use the whole egg or a combination of both.  The more common rule with egg pasta is one egg per 100 g of flour per person. Apart from having a high ratio of eggs, Tajarin are traditionally cut by hand very finely once the sheet of pasta has been rolled out using a rolling pin, or more conventionally by machine, and enjoyed with many varied condiments.

Oretta Zanini de Vita in her Encyclopedia of Pasta, recounts how they were a favourite of Victor Emanuel II (the first King of a united Italy) pairing them with one of the truest ragu` recipes of the Langhe made strictly with chicken and rabbit innards and cooked for a long time until fully rendered down. Other more varied condiments composed of oil and anchovies or with butter and mushrooms were found in a nineteenth century cookbook, La Cuoca di Buon Gusto published in Turin. 

In one of my favourite books of this region - Autumn in Piemonte by Manuela Darling - Ganssar, there is a recipe for tajarin con fegatini di pollo (chicken livers) - another childhood memory of the way mamma would prepare them for us as well as her risotto.  Anna Del Conte in her book Gastronomy of Italy talks about using the juices from a roast along with melted butter, sage and white wine. Accordingly many Piedmontese talk about the most famous way to serve tajarin, and that is to dress them lavishly with a condiment of melted butter, parmesan cheese, topped with thin slices of Alba's most famous local white truffles

At a dinner to farewell our two day stay in Turin, my friend and her family took us to one of their favourite restaurants called Le Vitel Etonne`.  Here I enjoyed tajarin alla Monferrina dressed with seasonal asparagus and guanciale. There were a few other sauces to choose from including another well known, ragu`di salsiccia di Bra - a sausage typical of the city of Bra. Whatever preference you have to adorn your  tajarin, I am certain they won't disappoint, and since then we have enjoyed them in many ways - simply with butter, sage and parmigiano cheese, as well as with mushrooms and guanciale, topped with hazelnuts.  More recently, they have been tossed in a mushroom ragu` that I have chosen to share here along with the recipe on how to make fresh tajarin.

Below are some selected images of our long walks around Torino amongst photos of the tajarin I made. There are no images of the restaurants we dined at or the food we enjoyed on this whirlwind visit as it didn't feel appropriate taking photos while dining in this regal city.  We did however love the many recommendations that my friend Rosemarie wrote about here. So if you plan to head over to Torino in the near future, I highly recommend this list of places to visit and dine at.

In the recipe below I have chosen to mix my dough by hand and use the more conventional method of making tajarin using the hand operated pasta machine.  If you choose to hand cut them, they will appear a little irregular, but just as delicious. I have popped a link here from Pasta Grannies

(Serves 4 people)


For tajarin

400 g very fine semolina flour 
4 whole eggs
2 tablespoons virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons salt

For mushroom ragu`

350 g white cup or swiss brown mushrooms, finely chopped
50 g dried porcini mushrooms rehydrated and finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 shallots, finely diced
1 cup finely chopped parsley
2 bay leaves
1/2 cup red wine
250 g minced canned tomatoes
1/2 cup olive oil
salt & pepper to taste
parmigiano cheese (optional for dressing)

Place the semolina on a pasta board and create a well in the center. Add the eggs, oil and salt in the center and with a fork stir the flour into the center gently breaking the eggs and combining all ingredients together.  Then with your hands knead the mixture until it is well amalgamated and looks smooth and supple. Press on the dough with your finger, and if it springs back it is ready to rest; if not then continue to knead.  Set the dough aside under a glass bowl and allow to rest for half an hour.

Cut the dough into four portions and flatten with your hands. On the widest setting, pass the first piece through the pasta machine, folding it in half each time you pass it through.  Do this 5-6 times until you achieve a very smooth sheet. Reduce the width of the pasta machine setting until you get to number 2 or 3 (this depends on your machine, the pasta sheet should not be too thin).  Lay the sheet on a clean cloth and dust with flour.  Repeat the process with your other pieces of dough.

Trim the pasta sheets to about 30cm in length and then cut them into tajarin (like spaghetti) ribbons using the cutting attachment to your machine. Dust with extra flour and allow to air dry while you prepare the sauce.

For the sauce, sauté the shallots and garlic with olive oil in a large frypan with high sides on medium heat, until the shallots become transparent.

Add the chopped mushrooms and stir.  Once the mushrooms are partially cooked (5 minutes) add the wine and allow to simmer until the liquid has reduced by half.  Add the minced tomatoes, the chopped parsley, bay leaves and season with salt and pepper.  Allow to simmer for 15 - 20 minutes so that the flavours develop, and the sauce thickens.

While the sauce is cooking, boil salted water in a large pot.  Add the tajarin and note that they will only take a minute or so to cook.  Drain well and then mix the sauce through the pasta. 

Serve immediately with a topping of grated parmigiano cheese. 



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