This egg pasta, with its origins in Italy's northern breadbasket, Emilio-Romagna, unsurprisingly makes the perfect base for bolognese sauce, named after the regional capital, Bologna. Homemade tagliatelle is 1/4 inch wide, with commercial varieties running about 3/8 inch in a loosely coiled nest, and sometimes available in a spinach version. Made classically with soft wheat and egg, and without water, salt or oil, tagliatelle is versatile enough to work nicely with fish, shellfish and cheese sauces.
Dried tagliatelle out of the box cooks in about 7 minutes, and fresh, somewhat more quickly -- around 6 minutes -- depending on its degree of moisture and thickness. You can time the tagliatelle as it cooks, but also stir it and remove it for testing as soon as it appears flexible as you stir.
Boil 4 quarts of water for each pound of tagliatelle, up to a maximum of 2 pounds per pot, and have a colander ready. A 1-pound package of dried pasta should provide four to six servings; however, you will need 1 1/2 pounds of fresh pasta for that same amount of servings.
- Add 2 teaspoons of salt to the boiling water and allow the water to return to the boil.
- Add all the tagliatelle at once and stir as it begins to cook to prevent individual strands from sticking.
- Place the lid on the pot. Closely monitor the pot to avoid having it boil over.
- Remove the lid to stir the pasta periodically. Allow the tagliatelle to continue cooking until it is al dente, or slightly chewy, when you remove and test a strand. Pour the tagliatelle immediately into a colander to drain and shake the colander sideways and up and down to remove excess water.
- Add the pasta to a warm bowl containing the completed sauce and toss the tagliatelle to thoroughly coat it. Add grated cheese such as Parmesan and continue tossing to meld flavors.
Food scientist Harold McGee experimented with cooking pasta in just 1 1/2 to 2 quarts of initially cold water. You can also experiment with his method, which requires bringing the pasta in the water up to the boiling point and stirring frequently for about 10 minutes, until draining. The advantage of this method is that you can use less water if it's scarce with a minimal loss of quality.
Bolognese Sauce -- and Alternatives
A classic bolognese sauce consists of ground beef, plum tomatoes, dry white or red wine depending on preference, and carrots, onions and celery. Pancetta can add an irresistible note. While tagliatelle matches bolognese well, this noodle also works with carbonara sauces, meatballs, chickpea and pecorino pairings, among others.