As family meals go, we are slowly but surely developing a repertoire of meals that all four of us — including the picky eater — can eat together and nothing makes my heart more full than a meal that we can make and enjoy together. To add to the growing list of favourites, Tuscan spiedini di carne (skewers of meat, sausage, bay leaf and bread), spaghetti con le vongole, my mother’s tamago no gohan (a simple stir fry of egg and rice, which I serve with dried seaweed and furikake and always results in empty bowls and requests for more) and my pantry staple, polpette di tonno (tuna croquettes), is this delicious pasta sauce, which goes by several names but the one I like best, for nostalgic reasons, is alla fiesolana, Fiesole style.
We are shortly moving house, from Settignano, a beautiful hilltop quarter of Florence near Fiesole, where we have called home for four years, to San Miniato, my husband Marco’s birth place. We have sadly but sweetly outgrown our tiny hilltop apartment with its even tinier kitchen, the room where we play, relax, cook and eat together. Mariù and Luna, who are 7 and 2, know their way around that kitchen and it’s here where they have become experts at cracking eggs and cranking a pasta machine – whenever they see me pull it out, they always want to be involved.
I always find it fun to turn a pasta making session into an activity for the girls — it is one of the things that got us through lockdown! Actually I shot all of these photographs while in the middle of lockdown for an article on our family meals that appeared in Corriere della Sera — so this pretty style of tagliatelle known as ‘paglia e fieno’, or straw and hay, was an excuse to get them playing in the kitchen. It’s a combination of egg and spinach pasta (hence the reference to straw and hay for the colours) from Emilia-Romagna. I found a similar recipe in the Silver Spoon with speck, rosemary, parmesan and cream as the sauce, simply called tagliatelle paglia e fieno, but otherwise I haven’t found any particularly old recipes or even old references to this so-called “Fiesole” sauce, making me think this is simply a newer, popular combination.
Truth be told, we most often make this with store bought pasta — penne is our favourite. It’s a delicious sauce, creamy, with a salty pop of prosciutto, the sweetness of peas, a hint of garlic and herbs — everyone loves it, even though one picks out the prosciutto and one picks out the peas, you can’t deny that the sauce that clings to the pasta is so good you want to lick the plate afterwards!
Pasta paglia e fieno alla fiesolana
Fiesole style pasta with prosciutto and peas
If you don’t have a pasta machine you can use any store-bought dried or fresh pasta for this, we also like it with penne (use 80 grams of dried pasta a head for adults, I usually calculate about 50-60 grams for the kids). The sauce is so quick to make that this makes an ideal weekday dinner or lunch – skip ahead to the last step if doing just the sauce!
For the pasta:
50 grams of cooked spinach
400 grams of flour (tipo 00 or all purpose)
For the sauce:
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
100 grams prosciutto, cut into thin strips
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
4-6 sage leaves
60 ml (1/4 cup) white wine or water
100 grams peas (fresh or frozen)
150 ml fresh cream
grated parmesan cheese for serving
For the pasta, combine 2 eggs with 200 grams of the flour to make the ‘paglia’ egg dough. For the ‘fieno’ spinach dough, combine the other egg with the pureed spinach and the rest of the flour. Let the doughs rest at least 30 minutes. Cut the dough in half and, working one piece at a time, dust with extra flour and roll through the pasta machine starting on the widest setting and working to the second thinnest setting on your machine. If you have the fettucine attachment to cut the dough, pass the dough immediately through this, otherwise, you can also cut it with a sharp knife – to do this, leave the pasta sheets to dry out slightly while you finish rolling out all the dough. Dust the pasta sheets very well, then fold several times over themselves until a smaller width than the knife’s lenth and cut into fettucine. Shape the well-floured pasta into little nests or let them dry long (a coat hanger or back of a chair works well for this) until you are ready to cook.
Put a pot of water on to boil the pasta and salt well (1 teaspoon per 1 litre/4 cups of water and calculate enough water to cover well the pasta).
To make the sauce, place the olive oil in a pan and over low heat, add the prosciutto and garlic, and cook for a few minutes, to brown the prosciutto slightly. Add the sage leaves and pour over the wine. Turn up heat to medium and let simmer 2 minutes. Add the peas and cream and cook a few more minutes until the cream has reduced slightly and the peas are cooked but still bright. I like to season with pepper (no need for salt thanks to the prosciutto but if you have little ones that complain about pepper, leave it out) and set aside until the pasta is ready. When the pasta is al dente, drain and immediately add it to the pan with the warm sauce and toss very well. Serve with parmesan.