Monday, June 25, 2012

Fusi Istriani

In her preface to the English-language edition of the Encyclopedia of Pasta [2009], Oretta Zanini De Vita writes that her compendium documents “the traditional shapes of Italian pasta—the long, the short, the layered, the rolled, the stretched, and the stuffed.” I’ve read this outstanding book cover-to-cover many times over. I’ll even (sheepishly) admit to having two copies: one kept in the kitchen and the other by my bed stand. Yes, the book serves as both as an excellent reference guide and riveting nighttime reading.

One shape in the Encyclopedia of Pasta has always fascinated me: fusi istriani, an origami-like triangular pasta from Italy’s Friuli-Venezia Giulia region. The first time I came across Luciana Marini’s beautiful illustration of this pasta in Zanini De Vita’s book, I admired fusi istriani’s graceful, curvy shape and wondered: Wow! How do you make this?! Although Zanini De Vita briefly describes how each shape in her book is traditionally formed, this information barely qualifies—and was never intended to serve—as a complete recipe. In the case of fusi istriani, Zanini De Vita writes: “[t]he flour is sifted onto a wooden board and kneaded long and vigorously with many eggs. The dough, which must be firm and smooth, is left to rest then rolled out with a rolling pin into a sheet. Small triangles are cut from it, and two points of each triangle are pressed together.”

What I love about this description is that although brief it still gives you just enough information to make the shape if you are so inclined. Being so inclined, I carefully considered Zanini De Vita’s description and tried an experiment or two. Based upon these efforts, I found two helpful hints to making fusi istriani : (1) working with equilateral triangles and (2) using a small wooden dowel to help construct the shape (at least to achieve a diminutive pasta). Here’s the process I followed:

1. Sift 250 grams Caputo tipo 00 flour into a work bowl. Add 2 medium eggs and 2 medium egg yolks and mix the dough until it comes together into a rough ball.

2. Turn the dough out of the bowl onto a work surface and knead the dough for approximately 12 to 15 minutes to achieve a “firm and smooth” dough. After kneading the dough should weigh approximately 385 grams. Wrap the kneaded dough in plastic and let it rest on the work surface for 20 minutes.

3. Cut the dough into quarters. Working with one-quarter of the dough at a time (keeping the remaining dough wrapped in plastic), roll the dough to a thickness of approximately 1 mm. (I roll the dough to setting 3 on an Imperia 220.)

4. Cut the pasta sheets lengthwise into 1¾-inch strips. Working with one strip at a time (keeping the other strips covered in plastic), cut the strip into equilateral triangles with each side measuring approximately 2-inches. Working quickly, orientate a triangle so that its base is parallel to the front of your body and the triangle’s apex points away from you. Place a ¼-inch wide wooden dowel perpendicular to and in the midpoint of the triangle’s base with the dowel’s tip over the triangle’s center point. Fold the triangle’s left tip up and over the dowel. Next fold the triangle’s right tip up and over the dowel so it rests on top of the folded left tip. Press down on the overlapping pasta tips to seal. Finally, fold the triangle’s top tip on top of the other tips and press down to seal.

(When cutting out the triangles you will have leftover pieces of pasta. You can gather these scraps and knead them together to run through your machine again. Keep the scraps covered in plastic to prevent them from drying out before kneading.)

5. Cook the fusi istriani in a large pot full of salty, boiling water. Test the pasta about 2 to 3 minutes after the salted water returns to a boil after adding the pasta. When the pasta loses its raw taste yet is still firm to the bite, drain and add the fusi istriani into your ready sauce—the shape is traditionally served with a hearty ragù—and cook the two together for a minute or so. The above recipe serves 4 as a main course.

If you want to delve deeper into the world of fusi istriani—and who wouldn’t—you will find a variant made by wrapping a pasta square around a wooden spoon. Zanini De Vita tells us that fusi istriani means “Istrian spindles” so it’s no surprise that you employ a wooden stick to make both shapes. I like that the curvy fusi istriani is as elegant as the variant, modeled on a kitchen spoon, is rustic. No matter the shape, we owe Oretta Zanini De Vita a debt of gratitude for helping to preserve this regional pasta by including it in her magnificent Encyclopedia of Pasta.