Italian Food and Flavours
Monterubbiano Sagra: Tagliatelle Fritte
Every town and village in central Italy it seems has its own traditions. Central to the traditions of most country towns and villages of course is the food and drink they produce. Since Italians being Italian need little excuse to throw a party, what better reason to have a do than to celebrate the local produce? Summer evenings in Italy are sprinkled with Sagra. A Sagra is the name for an evening of feasting, drinking and entertainment and his being Le Marche the emphasis tends to be on the former.
Monterubbiano is a typical Hill town close the Adriatic coast. As with the majority of such towns Monterubbiano provides an atmospheric day out wandering through the narrow streets with the odd museum and Church visit. A first glance it may not seem to have much different to offer than so many delightful historic towns. There is though one thing that is unique to the town and for once it is not an age old tradition.
Monterubbiano is the only place in Italy – or anywhere else for that matter, where you can enjoy Tagliatelle Fritte. The first time I saw this on a menu I new it had to be ordered. My restaurant Italian was up to knowing that it translated literally as fried tagliatelle and I knew enough about pasta to know that you cant fry it.
In fact the pasta is not itself fried directly but rather a ball of creamy tagliatelle is surrounded by egg and breadcrumbs and the resulting crispy casing is served with a tomato sauce. Pasta like you never tasted it before and absolutely delicious.
So renowned locally has the dish become that it now merits a Sagra of its own and for 3 August nights the town is closed to traffic, the streets lined with trestle tables and a huge kitchen erected in the centre of town. People come from miles around and queue uncomplainingly to be served a plate of the famous three balls!
It may sound odd and look quite unlike a pasta dish but once tried the experience is never forgotten. Cutting through the crisp shell to reveal the creamy tagliatelle sauce is a surprise itself but when you taste the combination of cream, pasta, crisp breadcrumbs and tomato sauce you realise what all the fuss is about.
What turned out to be more difficult is reproducing the dish at home. The recipe is a closely guarded secret – if you don’t believe me try google. The recipe here though produces a good approximation and is easy enough to try at home.
400g dried tagliatelle
200ml bechamel sauce
75ml double cream
150g bacon or pancetta (or minced beef)
a tin of chopped tomato
small chopped onion
1 egg beaten with a little water
Cook the tagliatelle in plenty of boiling water and drain when still al dente. toss the pasta in a bowl with a couple of spoonfuls of the cooking water – this stops it sticking to itself. Make the bechamel sauce and add the cream with seasonings – you could add nutmeg it you like the taste. The bechamel mixture needs to be fairly thick so go easy on the milk when you make it. Fry the bacon, pancetta or mince until very well cooked, brown and crispy. Make the tomato sauce by frying the onion in a little oil and when transparent but not brown adding the tomato, leave on a low heat to simmer for 10 minutes or so, add water if required to make a fairly runny sauce. Season to taste.
When the tagliatelle is cool enough to handle, cut it into fairly short pieces and put these in a large bowl. Add the bechamel and the bacon/mince. If you think you may have too much bechamel for the mix or it is too thin, add it a spoonful at a time. You need a fairly thick mix with the pasta to make it into balls so don’t add all the sauce at once and make it too sloppy
With damp hands gather a snooker ball sized portion of the mix and form it into a ball – do this as lightly as you can so as not to compress the pasta too much. Coat the ball in the egg and cover in breadcrumbs and set aside.
Heat a suitable container with enough oil to come half way up the sides of the balls. Heat to 180C and fry a few of the balls, turning as they brown. After 5 minutes or until they are golden brown and firm, remove and drain on kitchen roll
Traditionally three balls are served with the sauce and a good sprinkling of freshly grated parmesan.
As well as food and drink, a sagra is an opportunity for the town to open up the doors of its showpiece buildings. In Monterubbiano the newly refurbished theatre is stunning and the frescos in the church opposite are also worth a visit if you are in the town.