When it comes to kitchen heirlooms, I’ve inherited more than my share of cool stuff that was used by my ancestors, both here and in Italy. I’ve got hand-carved wooden spoons used by my paternal grandmother to stir kettles of tomato paste and melting lard; an anolini cutter that my maternal grandmother in Italy employed when she made the traditional pasta of her region; and a 75 year-old enormous wooden pasta board that belonged to my mother-in-law. But the niftiest of all is this gadget called a torchio that my mother handed down to me decades ago when she was still alive. When she was growing up in Italy, it was mounted on the kitchen wall in her home, and her mother made pasta with it, extruding the dough through the heavy brass dies. For years it sat covered in cloth in my basement cabinet, until one day several years ago when my dad offered to make a bench for it.
It should come out of the machine like this. If it’s sticking together, your dough is too wet. This dough has to be drier than most pasta dough, making it harder to knead than most. I put a little semolina in the bowl beneath the pasta to help keep the strands separated.
This pasta recipe below makes enough for about six people.
But if you’re yearning for your own torchio machine, fear not. They’re for sale in stores in Italy, but here in the states you can buy one online, including at this site, if you’re willing to plunk down close to $400. Of course, it won’t have the nostalgia factor mine does, but you can create your own future heirloom.
Incidentally, here are a few more kitchen “heirlooms” I thought I’d show you.
The knives were made by my grandfather, who carved pieces of wood for the handles and ground files for the blade (the kind you buy at a hardware store, not the kind you use for your manicure). Some of the blades are quite thin, because whenever I would ask him to sharpen them, he would sit down at his grinding wheel in the basement and sharpen them so vigorously that most of the carbon steel he used would be ground away. The forks in the photo have a special memory for me too. Whenever my grandfather visited anyone in the family, he pried open a kitchen fork to widen the tines, probably so he could get more food in his mouth. Even though he died in 1978, I still use these forks — not for eating, but they’re a great tool when you’re cooking and want to separate things that are sticking together.
Take the remaining bones and make a stock from them, by adding them to a pot with water, onion, carrot, bay leaf, salt and pepper. Cook it down for about 1 hour, letting it simmer. Remove bones and place liquid in the refrigerator overnight. The next day, skim off the fat and use the stock in the recipe below.
2 slices pancetta or bacon
1/4 cup olive oil
1 onion, minced (about 3/4 cup)
2 stalks of celery, minced (about 3/4 cup)
2 carrots, minced (about 1/2 cup)
2 large cloves of garlic, minced
the giblets, liver and heart from the duck, trimmed and chopped in small pieces
1 cup red wine
1 23 ounce can of tomatoes, broken up with your fingers or a spoon
1/2 of a 23 ounce can of tomato sauce or tomato puree
1 sprig rosemary, leaves stripped and minced
2 or 3 sage leaves
1 bay leaf
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup duck stock
Cook the pancetta or bacon until it gets a little color on it. It doesn’t need to be crisp. Add the olive oil and sauté the onion until limp. Add the celery, carrots and garlic and cook with the onions a few minutes. Add the giblets, liver and heart and sauté them until they’re browned. Add the red wine, tomatoes, tomato sauce, and the rest of the ingredients and let it simmer for about an hour. At this point, I removed the sage leaves and bay leaf, then took a stick blender and purèed the sauce. Then I added the reserved duck meat that had been sitting in the refrigerator, and I cooked the ragù for another two hours at very low heat. The longer you cook it, the better, so if you have more time, cook it for even three hours longer.
Serve over the pasta, with pecorino cheese sprinkled on top. (You need something more assertive than parmigiano cheese here.)