Le Sfogline – sisters of pasta. More accurately, it means: those who make sheets of pasta by hand in the traditional way by using a rolling pin (mattarello).
Rick Stein met them once (these particular sfogline, who are indeed sisters) and they reminded him that never in Bologna – or Italy for that matter – does anyone ever make spaghetti alla bolognese. Tagliatelle are the ribbons which carry the slowly cooked meat sauce, ragù, the best.
We find Daniela and Monica Ventura’s fresh pasta shop (first established by their mother) behind Mercato delle Erbe at 4pm. Of course, by that time of the day, the trays on display are empty but for tiny traces of flour.
A Dutch mother and her son look lost when they learn that there is nothing left. “Did you place an order?” asks one of the sisters. They shake their heads. The sister (I’m not sure if she’s Daniela or Monica) looks pained, then after a fraction of a pause she says, “Give me 20 minutes, is that okay – va bene?“
The Dutch pair lose their lost look and take their relief that dinner won’t be a disaster to a nearby café, while the sister disappears out the back to prepare a fresh batch of tortellini. At a reported rate of 24 tortellini per minute, plus some time to prepare and roll the pasta, I’m guessing she will be able to make about 360.
We wander off too. No pasta for us tonight.
Next time we go back it’s Easter Saturday morning; the queue for Le Sfogline spills out onto the street. Minutes drift by but we don’t shift forwards at all, and the line stretches longer. The locals are used to this, and relax by exchanging pleasantries as they stand in the sunshine.
A stylish and diminutive lady with grey hair, tailored jacket, sunglasses and blue heels click-clacks up with her basket. She pushes past those patiently waiting with the expertise of someone who’s done this many times before. She ignores everyone but for an older gentleman close to the counter, in whose ear she quietly speaks. His eyes twinkle and she edges to the front; he is rewarded with the merest hint of a smile. It’s a masterclass in the Italian art of queue-jumping.
We are no match. So we decide to leave it to the natives and tut-tutting tourists, and turn our attention to cheese.
It’s a good decision. Tucked in the corner of Mercato Delle Erbe we taste crumbly pieces of Parmigiano Reggiano at Formaggeria Barbieri, and learn how wonderfully the piquancy, colour, and depth of flavour increase with age. A queue starts to form behind us, but neither the vendor nor waiting Italian customers are at all bothered. It’s important to know what you are buying (Italian lesson No. 2).
We learn two other lessons that day (the practice of eavesdropping on a guided tour is one I’m unashamed of):
1. Tortellini in brodo (in broth) is a first course that typically forms part of the Easter Sunday meal (and other festive occasions). Hence the long queue at Le Sfogline.
2. Tortellini are said to be shaped so as to replicate the navel of a naked Venus.
The final lesson is one I remember from Rick Stein’s show; it’s a tough job being a sfoglina, but it’s a labour of love. And love, the sisters say, is what makes the pasta taste so good.
How could we have missed out?
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