A friend once told me about her fresh pasta business in Sydney’s Balmain, years ago. She described evocatively and amusingly the draping of endless eggy strands of freshly extruded pasta all over her house as it was left to dry – and what I mostly felt was admiration. Admiration and a little envy, because the one and only one time I attempted to make my own, using a small domestic appliance snapped up from a garage sale, was an unequivocal disaster, with blobs of dough appending to every surface of the kitchen, locatable for days after the experiment.
I never tried again, cheering myself with the reminder that even in Italy there are very few who bother making their own fresh pasta: it’s much more sensible to buy it, made by experts, from a deli.
Fresh pasta, unlike dried, almost invariably involves a dough containing eggs. It is neither superior nor inferior to dried – according to Marcella Hazan, ‘one is quite as good as the other, but what you can do with the former you would not necessarily want to do with the latter’, meaning the choice of sauce to serve with it. Fresh egg pasta is mentioned in the first modern Italian manuscript cookbook, from Florence around the year 1300, so it goes back at least that far. In its simplest form it is just flour, eggs and salt, a type used widely all over Italy, although the Tuscan variety adds a little oil.
One woman who spent a year in a Tuscan village perfecting its craft in order to turn it into a small business is Emanuelle Clarke. A relative newcomer to the Northern Rivers together with partner and trained chef Dario Bartoletti, Emanuelle learned how to make fresh pasta from Dario’s nonne, grandmothers, in his home- town of San Marcello. San Marcello is a hill-town in the Appenines in the province of Pistoia, located about 45 kilometres from Florence and towering 623 metres above sea level. Here Emanuelle ‘threw myself into the pasta thing,’ she tells me over coffee. ‘The first time I made it with the nonne I thought, that’s it! I really enjoyed learning it. The nonne were very poor when they grew up so they made everything from scratch, rarely buying anything.’
Emanuelle met Dario in Melbourne ‘in a pub called Eurotrash, the day he landed’. She was working for an engineering company at the time and about to head to Bangkok and a job as a communications volunteer; because they had fallen in love it was inevitable that Dario join her. They spent a year there, Dario not having much luck with work as a chef de partie (‘but I had the chance to improve my tennis!’ he tells me) before heading to Tuscany. The idea was to eventually establish a business on the Far North Coast of NSW, where Emanuelle had visited often, and although ‘Dario would have preferred to make gelati’ they decide that fresh pasta would be a more sensible, less seasonal option. ‘All I did was research pasta,’ says Emanuelle. She attended the big pasta fair in Bologna; she ‘experimented with fillings and the consistency of dough and how many yolks.’ And both she and Dario researched how to set up their business and source their ingredients.
The result is pastagialla, utilising as many organic and locally-grown ingredients as possible, in keeping with their Slow Food philosophies. They have only been operating for a couple of months, servicing farmers markets in Mullumbimby, Blue Knob and Bangalow, occasionally at the Byron Bay Community Market; their own garden at Tyalgum yields the silverbeet, zucchini, fennel and basil which either fill their pastas or go into sauces. They are young and passionate and determined to keep making everything by hand using traditional techniques and sustainable methods – and the region is the richer for them. ‘It’s been really nice,’ Emanuelle tells me, ‘getting to know the local farmers and buying produce from them, buying from around the corner…’
Their very beautiful website is www.pastagialla. com – their stained-glass pasta (parsley pressed between very thinly rolled sheets) more beautiful still.