Shortly before Christmas, a display went up in front of our wine section: stacks and stacks of beautiful boxes of egg pasta. Brand new to the shop, the pasta was made by a gentleman named Marco Giacosa in Alba, a town in the northwest of Italy.
Alba is a short hop, skip and a jump from Bra where the biennial Slow Food cheese festival takes place. Known simply as “Cheese,” the festival is arguably the most important event for folks in the cheese world. Owners Ihsan and Valerie Gurdal, were attending “Cheese” this past October when they discovered Marco Giacosa’s handmade pasta. Ihsan told me that it was served to them on the first day of truffle season – cooked al dente with shavings of truffle on top. It is no surprise then that they came away wowed!
First day of truffle season or not, this pasta is special. Several cuts are made with at least 30% eggs, giving the pasta a deep golden color. His Tajarin, a Piedmontese delicacy, is notable for having a whopping 36 eggs per kilo of flour – 18 whole eggs and 18 yolks.
My first experiments with this pasta involved the Tajarin and the Tagliolini con Tartufo varieties which I sampled on successive nights. First up was the Tajarin, which Marco aptly describes as “golden threads”. Made with a minimum of 33% eggs, this pasta is super yellow. The strands of pasta are not perfectly uniform in width because the pasta is hand cut, coiled into neat nests and then dried. Each package of Tajarin contains four nests of the pasta and I found this quite handy because I decided to cook two of them and I saved the other two in a resealable plastic bag.
On the side of each box of Marco Giacosa pasta is the recommended cooking time. The pastas cook extremely quickly (a major plus when you are famished)! The recommended cooking time for the Tajarin is two minutes. Also on the side of each box is a serving suggestion. On the evening I decided to bring the pasta home, our produce manager, Julio coincidentally received a shipment of Porcini mushrooms. As a result, I was well primed to follow the Tajarin serving suggestion (see below), opting only to cut the recipe in half.
On a recent trip to Tuscany, I took a cooking class with a chef who showed me that I had been seriously under-salting my cooking water. This seems to be one of the tricks for amping up flavorful pasta. So, into a liberally salted two quarts of water, I dropped two nests of the Tajarin. Watch your pasta closely because it IS done really quickly. I drained the pasta and then drizzled it with some olive oil, adding the mushroom-garlic mixture which I had already prepared. I used Italian parsley (this seemed appropriate) to garnish the dish instead of mixing it in with the mushrooms, adding a touch of Parmigiano Reggiano too. Delicious! And super easy.
Since my first experiment with Marco Giacosa pasta, I have purchased more of the Tajarin, opting to have it simply with a touch of olive oil and a sprinkling of parm. Because the pasta is so flavorful and rich, it’s a wonderful comfort meal to eat bundled up on the sofa while winter rages outside.
The night following my Tajarin experiment, I rolled out the Tagliolini con Tartufo. A little more expensive, what with the truffles and all, it felt very luxurious and was a lovely treat for a winter evening. Because I did not want to drown out the truffle flavor, I opted simply to boil the pasta (recommended cooking time is 3 minutes), drizzle on a little olive oil and then sprinkle on a small smattering of Parmigiano Reggiano. Super aromatic and well-balanced, the flavor of the truffle comes through clearly but is not so strong that it is cloying. The Tagliolini has an egg content of 30% and a truffle content of 4%. As previously, I only used two of the Tagliolini nests and saved the others for a future date. Because the pasta was so good, that future date came very quickly.
In addition to the two varieties of Marco’s pasta that I sampled, we are importing the following: Tagliatelle, Pappardelle, Tagliatelle made with buckwheat, Tagliatelle with Porcini mushrooms and Maltagliati, a hand-cut variety traditionally made with the bits of dough left from making the other pastas. All of Marco’s pastas are attractively presented – I actually thought they looked so nice and were so scrumptious that I gave a couple of boxes as Christmas presents. Going forward, I am excited to sample some of the other varieties, hopefully expanding my repertoire of sauces at the same time!
Tajarin with Mushrooms
Serves: 4 people
Ingredients:4 nests Tajarin, 400 grams mushrooms, 2 cloves of garlic, 1 sprig of parsley, olive oil, salt and pepper to taste.
- Wipe mushrooms with a damp cloth, remove the caps, cut the caps into thin slices and stems into cubes.
- Heat a few tablespoons olive oil in a sauté pan and add minced garlic.
- Before the garlic takes on color, add the mushrooms. Add salt and pepper to taste and cook over moderate heat for 15 minutes.
- After cooking the mushrooms, season with chopped parsley. Cook the Tajarin in boiling, salted water until just al dente.
- Toss the drained pasta with the mushrooms and a thread of olive oil.
- Serve immediately. Recommended accompaniments: a glass of wine and some finely grated Parmigiano Reggiano. Enjoy!
Mary is a cheesemonger and baker at Formaggio Kitchen Cambridge.