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Tuesday, June 25, 2024

How To Make Pasta by Hand, According to a Pasta Master

Flour, eggs, and devotion. For centuries, pasta has been at the heart of Italian cuisine, from agnolotti to spaghetti. Nowhere is this more true than in Bologna where Chef Evan Funke, of Felix Trattoria and Mother Wolf in Los Angeles, learned the art of the sfoglini, the pasta makers who craft the endless golden sheets of pasta that line the laboratori (shops) of “La Grassa,” or “the fat,” as Italians call the beloved city. 

But there are as many pastas as sfoglini in Bologna and throughout Italy, so how do you make fresh pasta like the artisans at home? For his cooking demonstration at the 2024 Classic in Aspen, Funke demonstrated how to make sfoglia al mattarello, or sheets of pasta rolled out by hand using a rolling pin, with an egg dough known as sfoglia all’uovo. “It’s important for me to teach technique and the histories that I’ve been told by the dozens and dozens of women that I’ve sat with,” says Funke, noting that among these teachers is his maestra, Alessandra Spisni, who taught him the art of the sfoglini of Bologna.

“Pasta fatta a mano [made by hand] is the very cornerstone of cucina Bolognese,” says the chef. The artisanal approach to making pasta became a “guiding light” for Funke, who notes “the respect for the dance, the reverence for the process, the beauty in the process” of making sfoglia al mattarello. This devotion inspired the chef to install his very own open-view pasta labs in the middle of Felix Trattoria in Los Angeles and at Tre Dita in Chicago. 

Another reason Funke prefers pasta rolled by hand is to preserve the bubble structure found in the layers, which would otherwise be lost when using a machine to fold the pasta multiple times as it’s rolled out. “With sfoglia al mattarello,” Funke notes, “you take those same bubbles that you’ve so lovingly folded into this ball of dough to create buoyancy, to create life, to create texture and you gently spread them out throughout the sfoglia in a very gentle way.” 

And what makes an ideal sfoglia all’uovo? “The goal is to create a dough that has a balance of elasticity and extensibility,” says the chef. Hydration is key. If it’s too elastic, the pasta will bounce back instead of roll out like a smooth sheet. Conversely, if the pasta extends too much, then it won’t hold any shape. By repeatedly making pasta by hand, one cultivates the experience and intuition to feel when the dough is perfect. “If it feels wet, it probably is wet,” adds Funke. “If it feels dry, it’s probably really dry.” 

“Pasta is an animal,” says Funke. “It lives, it breathes, it’s directly affected by its immediate environment.” In his book, American Sfoglino, Funke explains how he determined the optimal 57% hydration ratio of egg to flour, a standard that can work throughout most of the country. However, at an elevation of 8,000 feet in Aspen, the chef plans to adjust this for his cooking demonstration. “It’s really about reading the dough and making it more and more so that you can understand the animal,” he concludes.

Listening to Funke speak about making sfoglia al mattarello, it’s apparent that time is a key ingredient. “One should never set out to make pasta fatta a mano at the drop of a hat,” he says. “The dough has to rest, it has to be the right hydration, you have to have the tools.” 

At this year’s Classic in Aspen, the pasta shapes Funke will demonstrate include tagliatelle, maltagliati, pappardelle, and tajarin, all pastas of varying sizes and shapes, proving the versatility of sfoglia al mattarello. Of these, tagliatelle holds a special place. “Tagliatelle is the quintessential dish from Bologna,” says Funke. “It’s kind of the mark of every household there.” When asked if he had a favorite pasta, Funke’s response is marked by the humility of an eternal student: “The one I haven’t learned yet,” says the chef. “That’s my favorite.”

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