Quick Bite: On a Roll
Brian Bertolini reveals a few of the secrets behind his pasta-making success
You may not know Brian Bertolini, the chef-owner of Rio Bertolini’s Pasta, but chances are, you’ve seen him zipping around town in his 1967 Italian Vespa Ape, a cargo of fresh noodles in the back. This 30-year-old has plenty of stops to make, serving 50 kinds of pasta to 120 local restaurants, plus a steady stream of customers at local farmers markets.
“Six years ago, I started making pasta at home with just a rolling pin and a freezer,” says the Culinary Institute of America grad. His beginnings may have been humble, but he’s worked his way up in high-end restaurants from Connecticut to Charleston. “I made pasta for many different chefs, learning their techniques,” he explains. That knowledge paid off—today, Bertolini’s business includes a staff of three working in a commercial kitchen in West Ashley.
But, he promises, culinary tutelage isn’t required for great homemade pasta. “Gnocchi is good to start out with because it’s one of the easiest pastas to make well,” Bertolini notes. The dumpling-like balls can be formed from a variety of substances, including cheese, potatoes, and winter squash.
Bertolini’s favorite base is ricotta, which “produces a nice, consistent gnocchi.” There are several options for obtaining the cheese: make your own; order Ricotta Impostata online or through Bertolini; or purchase it from the supermarket, then use cheesecloth to drain it in the fridge for a day or two. This is important, because your base should be as dry as possible. “If the dough looks like mashed potatoes, it’s too wet,” he advises.
A little flour will help if the dough sticks to your hands a bit, and don’t worry, “Gnocchi don’t have to look pretty. They’ll still be delicious.”
Keep this Italian specialty even simpler with Bertolini’s suggested sauce, a combination of butter, cooking water, and minimal seasonings. “It really lets the pasta shine,” he says. Gnocchi should be served immediately, “so have your sauce simmering, then spoon the pasta right in.”
- 1.5 lbs. ricotta cheese
- 1/2 lb. mascarpone
- 1 Tbs. kosher salt
- 1/2 tsp. white pepper
- A pinch of nutmeg if desired
- 1/2 lb. flour, plus extra for dusting
- 1/2 cup cold butter
- 7-9 sage leaves, julienned, 1/3 cup finely chopped chives, or 10-12 basil leaves, julienned
- Pecorino, to taste
Combine ricotta, mascarpone, salt, pepper, and nutmeg (if desired) and blend well with a spoon or using a mixer on medium speed. Add the flour in one increment, slowly incorporating it with a spoon or with the mixer on low speed until flour is incorporated and dough just begins to pull off the sides of the bowl—about 30 seconds in a mixer. Do not overmix, as this leads to tough gnocchi.
Cut a portion of dough into workable, fist-size pieces. If it is slightly tacky, dust it with a little flour. Roll one piece into a half-inch thick tube. Lightly dust with flour and set aside. Repeat with remaining dough.
Fill a large pot with 2.5 gallons of water and place over high heat.
With your fingers (not your thumb), press into each of the dough rolls at about 1/2-inch increments. Using a bench scraper or knife, cut in between each of the fingerprints. Lightly toss with flour to prevent sticking.
Once the water reaches a rapid boil, add the gnocchi. Keeping the heat on high, quickly bring water back to a boil. When boiling, turn the heat down to medium and cook until all the gnocchi rise to the surface.
After gnocchi begin to float, allow them to boil 20 to 30 seconds longer, then use a slotted spoon to add them to a saucepan over medium heat without rinsing or draining. Pour about 3/4 cup of the cooking water into the pan. Add butter and sage, chives, or basil, keeping the pan moving to emulsify the butter into the water. Toss the gnocchi until sauce begins to look creamy. Remove from the heat, add pecorino, and serve.
Chef’s Note: Don’t need eight servings? Freeze some for later, or simply cut the recipe in half.