Anna Maria Squarcia is the aunt of a pal of mine, Paolo Ciccioli, who runs Agriturismo Ramuse and he is the one who volunteered her for the Pasta Grannies project; note she is wearing the traditional rural dress of Le Marche.
In Britain, wearing historical costume tends to be confined to historical reenactment societies and morris dancers – but not so in Italy. Men and women climb into medieval gear whenever there’s a town or civic celebration (Siena’s horse palio is probably the most famous example). And when Anna Maria was invited to give a demonstration, she conferred with her girlfriends and they decided she should wear this dress as a way of showing how deeply felt and important the handmade pasta tradition is for marchigiana women – of her age group, at any rate. Anna Maria’s pretty daughter has a nose ring, doesn’t make pasta and wouldn’t dream of wearing such clothes.
Anna Maria makes tagliatelle on a daily basis and it’s all done by eye and feel, not weights and measures. In fact she does it the other way round to most of us: she decides how many eggs she’s going to use, and then uses as much flour as she needs. Suffice to say, it’s the usual 1 egg for every 100g of plain flour ratio. The eggs aren’t any old eggs; they were laid that morning by a flock of Ancona chickens – a breed that lays beautiful white eggs, which enthusiasts say are excellent for pasta making.
Rolling out the dough is a good upper arm workout – Anna Maria muttered it is hard work – and the aim is for a sfoglia which is one to two millimetres thick. She checks by holding it up – if it’s thin enough to allow light through, it’s okay.
Her favourite ragu is a classic meat sauce, but on this occasion, she crumbled up a fresh, garlic infused sausage and fried it until cooked before adding some homemade bottled passata and cooking the sauce down until it was thick. The favoured cheese is not Parmesan (it’s expensive) but the local pecorino, a sheep milk cheese which tastes a little bit like a young Manchego.
I hope you enjoy the video.