We’ve met so many people in Perugia but none as awesome as Cristiano, the pasta man. Tucked away in a tiny kitchen down a narrow alley, Cristiano works six days a week making all kinds of Umbrian pasta (and by request, a few types from other regions as well.) It’s easy to pass by his store; there is no sign indicating a name or what’s for sale inside. I found Cristiano after hearing of his legendary work. When Perugians talk about fresh pasta, Cristiano’s store is synonymous with excellence. The first time we met, I ordered four servings of fresh umbrecelli. That night, after my first bite of these thick, homemade noodles covered in a spicy tomato sauce (which he explained how to make) I decided that we should visit his store every day until we’ve sampled each one of his creations. That was last week, and I have been back six times.
Yesterday when I stopped by to pick up my casarecci noodles, I brought my camera to take a few pictures. Cristiano invited me to stay for the entire morning while he made pasta. This was one of the best days I’ve had in Perugia. While I snapped photos, he talked about his life as a pasta maker. Then we talked about Italy. Then we talked about soccer and school and Christmas feasts. Occasionally, he’d get going about Italian politicians before shaking his head in disgust and suggesting another topic. “Let’s talk about pasta again. Pasta is the most beautiful subject of all,” he said.
I asked Cristiano how he got into the business. He told me that his mother, Marisa, opened the store back in the 70s. Times were hard then, and she needed money. After passing by a storefront in the seaside town of Rimini, she noticed a huge crowd gathered outside waiting to get in. It was a pasta store. It was the busiest store around. So she decided to return to Perugia and open her own. Fast forward twenty years later. Cristiano had just completed his third year of college. He was studying geology. His mother asked him what he wanted to do with his life. He didn’t know, so she suggested he spend a day in the store with the noodles. He found the work well suited for him, so he left school and has been working there since.
During the rest of the morning, I watched Cristiano make more than 500 cappettelli. The pasta dough is made with flour, water, salt and eggs. Once it is mixed together, Cristiano puts it in his huge pasta extruder. Within seconds, little squares come tumbling out ready to be filled.
Cappelletti is similar to tortellini except the filling is a little different. Cristiano stuffs his with ground pork, ground beef, egg, sweet white wine, and Parmesan cheese. He grinds the meat and makes the filling every morning in his shop. When it’s ready, he swiftly packs each little square of pasta dough with the meat then tosses it against a wooden back-splash and into the growing pile of goodness.
Throughout the day, pasta making was interrupted by customers. When people entered, Cristiano would greet them at the cash register and wrap up their order on a tray covered in crisp, white paper. Each order looked like a present.
At the end of the day, Cristiano told me there was one last thing to do. He handed me a square of dough and told me to make a cappelletti. I started laughing and told him I didn’t know how and that mine would look so ugly compared to his. He shook his head and said, “Il fare insegna” which means “doing is what teaches”. So after several attempts, I folded a cute little cappelletti. But I’m sure it would have totally fallen apart if dropped in boiling water.
In my next post, I will include pictures and recipes from all six pasta dishes that Cristiano taught me this week.