Gaia Enria has brought the art of handmade pasta direct from Turin to the heart of East London at Burro e Salvia. She lets us into the secrets of fresh pasta.
Gaia Enria is a woman on a mission to keep the ancient tradition of handmade pasta alive. Her shop, the pastificio Burro e Salvia, has got Italians talking, and an article in La Republicca has praised her for celebrating Italian culinary know-how, and for training the younger generation in the skills of making pasta. But her pastificio – a premises where pasta is made and sold – is not in Bologna. It’s not even in Italy. This handmade pasta-making revival is taking place in Shoreditch in East London. Gaia explains to us why old skills are the best, and why only women can really make good pasta.
Where did your love for good pasta come from?
I’m from Turin. We have a big tradition of making pasta – as big as in Bologna. I worked for most of my career in PR. I’ve always been proud of my passion for the kitchen – it’s becoming OK for women to say that now, but it wasn’t always like that. I grew up in a kitchen where everyone got involved in making and hosting and so, even when I was tired at the end of the day, I wanted to cook something proper.
What made you leave PR to start a pasta shop?
Turin is at the heart of the Slow Food movement, so I’ve always had that as part of my culture. In 2011 a friend from Slow Food invited me to Modena. I sat in on a meeting of older sfogline – pasta-making ladies. It was so funny: me and these 70-year-old women with strong, thick arms and hands. We made, cooked and ate the pasta, and I thought: “This is what I have to bring to London.”
I researched pasta-making in Turin and Bologna: I visited a pasta shop in Bologna called Le Sfogline, run by two sisters who are famous for specialising in tortelloni and tortellini. They trained me and helped me understand that the sfoglia (the rolled pasta dough), when it’s laid out, is an art. Then, in Turin, I worked at a pasta shop and learned how to be creative with the fillings, and how to make it interesting. Then I brought together the two experiences to bring to London.
Can you tell us more about the sfogline?
All across Italy there are pasta shops – pastificios – where you’ll find older ladies, in their mid to late fifties and older, making pasta by hand. Those are the sfogline. What I thought would be interesting would be to relaunch this role with the younger generation. In Italy you won’t see a man making pasta, though you’ll see men working in restaurant kitchens. Pasta making has always been a ladies’ thing.
Does pasta have to be made by women?
Making pasta is a very feminine thing. For example, when we make tortelloni or tortellini, the size of your finger is key, because you use your little finger to get the size when you fold them. Making pasta is about precision, attention to all the elements, and caring for these little objects. You use very small movements of the body, too; you bend towards the board, but it needs to be very precise. When we make pasta, three or four of us stand around a small table. We lay out the pasta and everyone starts folding together. It’s a very convivial moment, a group moment, which is something special. You make pasta, and you chat and tell your stories at the same time. It’s a very feminine thing! Maybe one day there’ll be a sfoglino, but for now…
How hard is it to become a sfoglina?
First, you have to have a love of conviviality. And you can’t be messy. You have to be clean, because you only use flour at certain points. For example, you don’t want it when you are folding, because you want the dough to be sticky. I start people with tagliatelle, and watch how they cut the shapes out of the sheet. Some people are amazing and cut perfect sheets. You can see if they are an ordered person, and the attention they pay to the way they prepare. After a few hours, if you have potential, you’re already making pasta. But even if you’re good with a pan, that doesn’t mean you’ll be good with pasta.
Are you quite particular about how you source your ingredients?
We’re lucky, because we have the flexibility to work with our suppliers and to work with the fresh ingredients that are in season, but we do have to import food when it’s necessary. Parmesan is a key ingredient, and that can only come from Italy, and our mozzarella comes from Napoli. At the moment we’re using Italian flour, but we’re testing British flours so we can potentially switch. The most important ingredient is eggs, and our eggs are British – I did a lot of research to find them. We want a good yolk colour to get a bright pasta, but also we want happy hens. I found plenty of pale eggs from happy hens, then eventually I found free-range eggs with rich, thick yolks. We never add colouring to our pasta – if we want a stronger colour, we add more yolks.
What does being artisanal mean to you?
All our pasta is made by hand. You can’t be as creative with machine-made pasta as you can with handmade pasta. The only machine we use is for rolling the pasta out flat. Because a sfoglina uses her hands, she can make the pasta smaller in size and shape and, though the result might be irregular, she can fill it fuller and use softer fillings. It’s the same as when you see a baker making bread: you know it’s fresh. In pastifici you always see the women at work, so you know it’s not an industrial production line. It’s more of a theatre, where people can see what you’re doing, ask questions and understand.
GAIA’S TIPS ON HOW TO STORE, COOK AND SERVE FRESH PASTA
- Fresh pasta is best enjoyed within two or three days of being made. Keep it in the fridge until it’s time to cook it.
- Fresh pasta cooks quickly. Allow 1 litre of water per 100g of pasta, and bring water to the boil. Add 1 tablespoon of coarse sea salt per litre of boiling water, then add the pasta, stir gently and occasionally. When it’s done, after about three to four minutes, fresh pasta will rise to the water’s surface. Drain it gently, by lifting it out of the boiling water with a slotted spoon or a skimmer.
- Pastas with fillings (tortellini, tortelli, agnolotti) are best enjoyed simply, with some melted butter and grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese.
- Use a richer sauce for simple pastas – like tagliatelle or gnocchi – such as meat ragù or basil pesto.
- Add a spoonful of cooking water per serving, to help “loosen” the sauce and make it creamy. It’s much better than adding extra olive oil or butter!
Read this article as it originally appeared on Flavour