Chef Watch: Maria Marchetti...The Real Thing

Pauline Rhoads

Maria Marchetti, chef/owner of Columbus Park Trattoria in Stamford, who is known for her restaurant’s homemade pasta, had just prepared fresh tagliatelle for our lunch, which she had just made a few minutes earlier. Maria makes all of the pasta for Columbus Park Trattoria, along with the family’s two other restaurants, Osteria Applausi in Greenwich and Tarantino's in Westport. In addition to making all the pasta by hand for the family’s three restaurants, Maria does private parties in people’s homes and teaches cooking classes in the upstairs dining room of Columbus Park Trattoria, which has its own kitchen.

Maria, a beautiful, vibrant woman and her lovely daughter Rosa who works at the restaurant as well, were so warm and hospitable, they had trouble getting R.A. and me out of their kitchen after our hour and a half interview. Actually, it was more like hanging out in our cousins’ kitchen telling family stories, laughing and making pasta together, than an interview. Both of us hung onto Maria’s every word and movement, not just for the purpose of writing an article about pasta making, but because we were fascinated. Making pasta was like painting a picture — creating something beautiful with your own hands, but even better because you got to eat it.

We asked Maria if she used “00” flour for her pasta and she shook her head disapprovingly, “never”, she said. I actually loved the pasta my “00” flour produced, but I was finding out there were dozens of ways to make it, depending on your taste. Maria uses durum wheat, which is a hard winter wheat planted in the spring and harvested in the fall. Used alone, it creates a velvety, soft dough, perfect for ravioli. She also uses a mix of three parts semolina to one part durum for certain types of pasta like cavatelle and tagliatelle, that are meant to be chewy, or al dente and are able to hold up when mixed around in a sauce. She does not believe olive oil, salt or eggs are necessary in pasta dough. Maria believes that “eggs do not enhance the flavor,” only enrich the dough.

To prove it, Maria prepares two different pasta doughs that she uses to make tagliatelle for our lunch, one with egg and one without, because R.A. and I just couldn’t believe any pasta could taste rich without eggs. Interestingly, we both liked the one without egg. It was more delicate. The pasta, which she boiled in salted water, was drained as soon as it came to the surface. It was then drizzled with the Marchetti family’s own olive oil. (The family produces their oil in Assisi and sells it through their restaurants.) The pasta was fresh, light and holy cow — absolutely delicious.

If Maria makes small batches of pasta, she sometimes mixes and kneads the dough by hand, but a mixer with a dough hook works

just as well, and is necessary for larger batches. She adds the flour to the mixer bowl first, and then slowly adds the water. When the mixture forms a ball, it’s ready. If left too long in the mixer, the dough can become warm and sticky, which can be remedied by taking it out and kneading it with some flour. She then wraps the dough in plastic so it doesn’t dry out, until she’s ready to run it through the pasta machine.

After the dough is cut, she dusts semolina or corn meal in between the pasta layers and lets it air dry on a tray for a bit so it's easier to handle. It can then be refrigerated for later use. She says you can also leave it out until it is totally dried, then put it in a cellophane bag — tied with a ribbon it makes a great hostess gift.

Maria points out that there is no fat in durum wheat and that it is a “good, complex carbohydrate,” not to be confused with other “white” carbohydrates that add no nutrition value. Mixed with some vegetables and olive oil, it’s actually quite healthy. “Eat all you like!” she insists. I love this woman.

In Maria’s native village Gravina in Puglia in southern Italy, chick peas are often served with cavatelle. Maria will often make a light sauce using some of the water the dried chick peas soaked in overnight, and makes a sauce with the water, chopped cherry tomatoes, carrots, celery, onion and garlic. In the following pasta dough recipe for cavatelle, a customer favorite at Tarantino’s, the cavatelle is then tossed with browned sausage, steamed broccoli rabe, olive oil and salt to taste.


Pasta Dough
Serves 8-10

24 ounces semolina
8 ounces durum wheat
1 ¾ cups water

Place mixed flours in a bowl of a mixer and with a dough hook, mix at a low speed. Slowly add the water until the mixture forms a ball. Remove from bowl, and wrap in plastic until ready to use.

Run through the pasta machine on the widest setting, #5, then run it through on #4 and end on #3. Cut the pasta into strips as shown. With three fingers roll the dough until it curls around itself. Boil until it rises to surface and is el dente.

Columbus Park Trattoria 205 Main Street, Stamford. 203-967-9191.

Osteria Applausi 199 Sound Beach Avenue, Old Greenwich. 203-637-4447

Tarantino's 30 Railroad Place, Westport. 203-454-3188