Growing up Italian
Chef Rosa Mariotti is like a glass of Prosecco; her effervescence and passion for teaching tickle my lips into a smile. “Mangiare! Eat!” she says, as she circles a table laden with appetizers: a Hawaiian rainbow antipasto misto: red-beet-marinated eggs with giant, tart caper berries; avocado pesto enriched with puréed pistachios; and a challah black with organic coconut charcoal.
“I thought we were going to be making these dishes,” John Giordani, Maui Nō Ka ‘Oi’s creative director, whispers to me. Overhearing him, Chef Rosa shares the same morsel of wisdom I’ve heard in her classes at the University of Hawai‘i–Maui College’s Ed-Venture program: “You can’t concentrate on the class if you’re hungry, so I always have a little nibble ready.”
The lesson today is pasta, served with an aperitivo of history: “I’ll be making a wild-boar meat sauce. The recipe is ancient Etruscan from the town of Nursina in the province of Perugia [Rosa’s hometown], and predates the introduction of tomatoes to Italy from South America. The ragù is wine- and cream-based with pecorino cheese, and will go well with the strozzapreti, tagliatelle and other pastas that we’ll make.” She empties a bowl of pre-measured “00” flour onto the tigerwood pasta board, and makes a well in the center of the flour, and in go orange threads of rehydrated saffron, eggs and salt. A fork is her chosen mixing tool, and once the ingredients have come together in a tattered mass, she gathers it into her palms and rhythmically kneads it on the board. The delicate scent of saffron pistils fills the air. As if on cue, John goes to work on the dough until its surface is smooth.
He asks, “How did you end up in the States?” Rosa says, “It was a roundabout way. I started as a tour leader from Italy.” Wanting to improve her English, she decided to study in Oregon, “which has the purest English of all the states. I attended the Hospitality Management Program, specializing in culinary; and I worked and washed dishes for the school district. Twenty years later, I was in charge of preparing 1,700 meals per day. When my husband said, ‘Let’s move to Hawai‘i,’ how could I say no?”
Rosa sets the dough to rest beneath a glass bowl “to relax the gluten,” then retreats to the stove to quickly sauté the sauce ingredients, so it can simmer gently while we make the pasta.
Rosa rolls out a sheet of pasta with her Atlas pasta maker, and soon our handmade strozzapreti are mounding on the table. “Next, let’s make fazzoletti.” Rolling out paper-thin dough, she encases parsley leaves between the saffron-speckled sheets. “These we’ll cut into rectangles.” She demonstrates with a decorative edging tool, then gathers up the scraps of dough. “We don’t waste anything.” Using the palms of her hands, she rolls the dough into a half-inch rope, then cuts it into three-quarter-inch pieces and forms them into gnocchi on the pasta board. John and I follow her lead. The dough is stiffer than we expect, but retains its grooved and convex shape, the crevices perfect for holding pockets of sauce.
Once the dough is prepped into pasta, Rosa cooks the different shapes separately, explaining that some take longer. A tip: “Put enough salt in the water to make it taste like tears.” When the pasta is al dente, Rosa drains and tosses it with the rich Nursina ragù. As we bite into the chewy strozzapreti and gnocchi, and the tender fazzoletti and troccoli (a thinner, fettucine–like pasta), she adds, “The ‘peppercorns’ dusting the top of the pasta are actually dried papaya seeds. Can you taste it?” We revel in the richness of the Old Country-style guanciale ragù and our teacher’s modern twist on the garnish. Bravissimo!
For information on private classes or catering, contact Rosa at (541) 343-7430, Instagram @growing_up_italian, or FB: Rosa Mariotti. See also: UHMAUI EdVenture. Purchase wild boar and Spanish saffron at Mana Foods, 49 Baldwin Ave., Pā‘ia; or Whole Foods Market, 70 E. Ka‘ahumanu Ave., Kahului.
Web Exclusive: Find recipes for Chef Rosa’s pasta and sauce at MauiMagazine.net/pasta-class.