In 2006, Perbacco opened in the Financial District of San Francisco, giving a legitimate option for Piemonte cuisine just a few blocks away from my office. It was at Perbacco that I first heard of, and tasted, what was to become one of my all-time favorite pastas: tajarin.
Tajarin comes from the Langhe region of Italy, an area known for its Barbaresco and Barolo as well as its white truffles. The pasta itself is simple but decadent: flour, egg yolks and a pinch of salt. Nothing more.
Rolled to the thinnest setting, then hand cut to the width of just a few millimeters, a well made tajarin is velvety and rich, but has enough structural integrity for each strand to be distinct. Dressed very simply either with butter and sage or a basic ragu, so much of the flavor resides in the pasta itself.
Once we moved to Seattle, we found an even more satisfying version at Spinasse. During our last meal there, LaV declared that their tajarin al ragu would be her pick for her last meal on earth. Yes, it's that good.
And that got me motivated to try making tajarin at home. In The Man Who Ate Everything, Jeffrey Steingarten offers these thoughts on tajarin:
Tajarin is Piedmontese dialect for the most rich and delicious tagliarini noodles made with egg yolks instead of the whole eggs used in the rest of Italy... They are best consumed after your routine cholesterol test, not before. In Alba they are rolled with a wooden dowel and hand-cut an eighth inch wide. I have found nothing like them, fresh or dried, in any pasta store I know. The Piedmontese refer to the "red" of an egg, not the yellow, because their egg yolks are orange-red and their tajarin are a deep golden color. Yours will be paler.He then goes on to provide the following list of ingredients for the pasta: 1 pound unbleached white flour, salt, and 20 yolks from extra-large eggs...
20 egg yolks?
Yes, that's not quite as ridiculous as it sounds because it's portioned against 1 pound of flour. But what home cook makes THAT MUCH pasta at once?
I figured I'd use 1/4 of the flour in his recipe and see how many egg yolks it would take to get a proper pasta dough. For 4 ounces of flour, it took 5 egg yolks. So it turns out he was spot on.
Here's a simplified recipe for making tajarin with a food processor. Granted it's better when you have the real deal kneaded by hand, but the food processor does a pretty darned good job.
Tajarin with butter and sage
tajarin al burro e salvia
4 ounces all purpose flour (just under 1 cup)
5 egg yolks (the best you can find)
pinch of salt
additional flour, for dusting
5 tablespoons butter
10 sage leaves, chiffonade
freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
salt and pepper
In a food processor, blend all ingredients until mixture forms a ball. On a lightly floured surface, knead the dough (incorporating additional flour if the dough is too wet/tacky) until smooth and elastic, about 5-10 minutes. Wrap in plastic wrap and allow to rest at room temperature for 30-45 minutes.
Cut dough into 4 pieces. Set your pasta roller on the widest setting. Flatten dough into a rectangle and feed through rollers. Fold sheet into thirds and feed through rollers 5-6 more times, folding in thirds each time and dusting with flour as necessary to prevent sticking.
Turn dial down to next (narrower) setting and feed dough through rollers without folding. Continue to feed dough through, without folding, making space between rollers narrower each time, until narrowest setting is reached. Fold the pasta sheet and hand cut noodles 2-3 mm wide, or run pasta through the narrowest cutters on your roller. Toss well with semolina flour to prevent sticking.
Use right away or refrigerate for up to 2 days.
To make the dish:
In a saute pan, brown the butter until lightly toasted. Add sage and remove from heat.
Bring a pot of salted water to a rolling boil. Add fresh tajarin and cook for 30-45 seconds, stirring constantly. Do not overcook. Remove from boiling water and add directly into pan of browned butter and sage. Add Parmigiano-Reggiano and toss lightly to coat. Season with fresh cracked pepper and salt, as needed.