I could have googled, but Zia Anna in nearby Florence was a much more personable option. Having just cracked 30 of my neighbour’s hens eggs and mixed them with a kilogramme of parmesan, I was seized with one of those moments when the importance of consistency becomes critically meaningful. I had been asked by 30 Italian culinary academics to make Pasta Reale for their Christmas lunch and it was only at this critical moment that I remembered that 10 years had passed since I’d last made it. So there I was with a wooden spoon in one hand and my cell in the other with Zia Anna reassuring me from downtown Florence that my sloshy mix was just ‘perfetto’ to tip into a cloth and tie into a ball.
It was Aunt Anna who had initiated me into this extravagantly delicate dish 20 years ago. The occasion was our move into our Tuscan watermill. Tables, chairs and anything that could have been pertinent to the preparation of food, was in boxes or still on the removal vans. Into this chaos stepped Zia Anna laden with stuff of her own – pots and pans, mixing bowls, woodenspoons, cheesegrater, dozens of eggs and chicken broth. The delightful absurdity of her expectations of producing a complicated meal in these circumstances absolutely grabbed my wholehearted attention. In a makeshift kitchen we made this regally named delicate ‘Pasta Reale’ – which is not really pasta at all but entirely deserves its superior name. We ate it sitting around one of the disused upturned millstones in the garden, out of what I don’t remember. That it was wonderful I never forgot.
I often wondered what induced Zia to make this sophisticated dish in these adverse circumstances. Years later I got it: it was part of the roots of Tuscan cooking – an expression of care and love in the nutrition (calorific and caring) towards family and friends.
The ‘wow’ factor in the making of this dish is a real conversation piece.
So here’s how it goes: Zia Anna’s Pasta Reale:
Quantity of Ingredients per person. Just multiply by how many people you will be making it for.
1 whole egg
30 gms grated parmesan
30 gms plain flour
30 gms of butter softened but not melted
Pinch of salt. Go sparingly on salt as the parmesan is quite salty
2 quantities of good meat broth.
Clean cotton cloth and string to form a ball of the mix
A pan deep enough to suspend the ball of pasta in the broth from a rod (I use the handle of a woodenspoon) laid across the top of the pan. This ensures that the ball does not sit on the bottom of the pan during cooking.
Before starting to make the pasta, you will need to have prepared two generous quantities of meat or chicken broth. One will be thrown away after use. The other will be served with the Pasta Reale.
Soften the butter so that you will be able to beat it together with the eggs and the grated parmesan. Then add the flour and a cautious pinch of salt and blend together. The mix will be fairly loose.
Take your clean cloth and place it in a pudding-type bowl to help form a ball. Tip the contents into the cloth, gather the ends together and tie into a ball leaving two ends of string long enough to loop onto the rod over the cooking pan.
Suspend the ball of pasta in the hot broth and leave to simmer for one hour checking periodically to ensure that the ball is fully immersed in the broth.
Remove from the pan, cool and place in the fridge over night, without removing the cloth. Discard this broth.
Next day remove the cloth carefully and cut the pasta ball into small dice-like pieces. These keep well in the fridge for a couple of days or if you don’t use the all, can be frozen.
To serve, heat the serving broth and pop the diced pasta into the pan. In a matter of moments they will start popping up to the surface. Scoop out ladles of the broth together with the diced Pasta Reale and serve hot.