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Assunta's Semolina Battuta

This ancient recipe is found in Puglia under different dialect names and there is a similar crumbled pasta in Greek cooking. We know it as Semolina Pasta because Raf's mum, Assunta made it and that's what she called it here in Australia. This may well be a recipe she made her own because in Italy it is made with Semola, a flour made with hard wheat. I am sure when Assunta arrived here in South Australia in the 1950s, there was no such thing available. The closest would have been semolina, which was made as a porridge to feed babies.

This pasta is comforting and warming, usually served in chicken soup but it's also delicious with some sugo from a ragu, both dishes topped with pecorino cheese. To make it traditionally, the dough is made dry and tough and then chopped or crumbled into little irregular chunks. The word "battuta" means a beating, but it can also mean a joke or a tennis serve or a hunt or a tap on the keyboard and a musical beat. With so many variations in meaning, it is therefore quite appropriate for Assunta to not only improvise with the flour, but also invent a whole new way of making this lovely pasta.

She made the hard, dry dough and then pushed it through a meat mincer which produced little chips of pasta. The meat mincer was one of the old-fashioned kind with the mechanism on the outside. The modern ones have a cover and the dough gets stuck. Assunta gave her meat mincer to Raf and so it feels very special to be able to continue this unique technique with the exact same machine. It is now a strange but important family heirloom.

This is a satisfying, gobble-up, mother-remembering pasta. Raf makes it in large quantities and freezes it in portions, which means we always have this gorgeous comfort food on hand when our sprits are low or the world is exhausting.

Assunta's Recipe *

2 cups of course ground semolina

4 eggs

a handful of very finely chopped parsley

1/2 cup of finely grated pecorino

salt and white pepper to taste

Combine the semolina, parsley, cheese and salt and pepper on a pasta board or in a bowl.

Make a well, break the eggs into the middle and beat them, then mix all the ingredients together to create a very stiff dough.

Rest the dough for around 30 minutes.

Pull off small pieces and put them through the meat mincer.

Spread the pasta out on the board or a clean tea towel and dry.

To cook, boil salted water in a pan and put in the pasta. Cook until soft ( around 5 minutes). Drain the pasta and put into a pasta bowl pouring home made chicken broth or sugo over the top. Finish with grated pecorino cheese.

*None of this is precise as it has been learnt through watching, feeling, tasting and practicing.

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