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Contessa’s Tagliatelle

Jun 29, 2015

IMG_9797Homemade pasta, house-made pasta, fresh pasta; it’s all the rage. Extra virgin olive oil is de rigeur. But there’s “homemade” and then there’s pasta and oil rich with history, passion, know-how, quality soil, and personality—with terroir.

Such is the world of pasta and olive oil when one steps into Contessa Collections on South Lake in the Burlington Arcade.

Owner Maria Luisa Fabbri welcomes us with a hug and joyful greeting before speaking knowledgeably and lovingly about the pastas, olive oils, balsamic vinegars, and array of organic legumes she imports from her home country of Italy.

We’re invited to sit at a table outside Contessa Chocolates. Raquel and Kathryn are the women behind the counter. Raquel comes outside to ask our flavor and pasta preferences. We say we like most everything and wait to see what shall be delivered for lunch.

 

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Luisa returns carrying a basket full of olive oil bottles. The first pour is a sample of Pruneti‘s Olio Extravergine di Oliva, consigliato per sapori Leggeri.

Luisa gives us a small plastic cup with a taste of the oil and tells us to hold it in our palm, then cover it with our other hand. The idea is that the flavor is appropriately pronounced this way and covering it captures the aroma. When we pull away our top hand and bring the cup up to our nose and sniff, the richness is apparent.

We follow Luisa’s instructions and tip the olive oil into our mouth, swish it around, then press our tongue up to our palate and open our mouth, breathing in (which sounds too loud and we feel as though we’re the kid brashly blowing bubbles in our milk while sitting at great-grandmother’s formal Sunday dinner). But, Luisa explains that in doing this, we’re forcing the aroma up into our nasal passages, completing the taste-testing experience.

 

Luisa with Pedrini's white and black label extra virgin olive oil blends

Luisa with white and black label extra virgin olive oil blends by Pruneti

 

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Olive oil is rich in antioxidants, which are diminished if exposed to heat, light, and air. A proper pouring spout is sectioned and has a ball within that keeps out as much air as possible.

Olive oil is rich in antioxidants, which are diminished if the oil is exposed to heat, light, and air. A proper pouring spout is sectioned and has a ball inside that keeps out as much air as possible.

 

Pedrini's monocultivated extra virgin olive oils. These are not a blend as is the norm, but oil from a single type of olive. This is a relatively new means of making olive oil, and it's also rare and more expensive, but it's the olive oil one wants rather than needs

Prunetis monocultivated extra virgin olive oils. These are not a blend as is the norm, but oil from a single type of olive. This is a relatively new means of making olive oil, and it’s also rare and more expensive, but it’s the olive oil one wants rather than needs

 

The first word that comes to mind after tasting, swishing, pressing and breathing is “grass” and we’re happy to learn when we visit the Pruneti website, that Leggero is indeed described as having “notes” of fresh grass. And, we taste the heat of pepper with a slight bitter edge. Luisa says a quality olive oil doesn’t leave a film on the tongue, it’s not heavy like a fat, but leaves a residue of flavor.

Because we’re slowly emerging from a cold, for the next tasting Luisa heads right to the most intense of Pruneti’s monocultivar extra virgin olive oils—Frantoio. And it is intense; bold, bitter, and peppery without being overly spicy. Marvelous.

We’d love to try all the different types of olive oil but Raquel appears and places in front of us a white oval bowl filled with our pasta entrée. She tells us that this is tagliatelle with tomato caper sauce with fresh parmesan, a small ball of ricotta and chives, and a splash of Pruneti’s black label blend.

 

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One word. Scrumptious.

The pasta is al dente, but not the al dente we so often create, which is under-done and unpleasant to bite into or overdone and mushy. The sauce is sold in the shop and has a strong yet subtle tomato flavor with the tangy, lemony, salty capers; the ricotta and chive addition an excellent touch. The flavors don’t compete but compliment.

Luisa is from Tuscany and explains that Tuscan cooking uses only four or five ingredients for each dish, as “everyone can taste four to five ingredients.”

 

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Luisa recommends that people get rid of all the condiments in their fridge and invest in quality olive oil. She favors the Mediterranean diet that emphasizes seasonal vegetables and fruits, legumes, and lots of fish. The diet is not just about food choices, though. It’s also about atmosphere, appreciation, and enjoyment. Luisa tells me as I pick up my fork to dive into the tagliatelle, “Take your time, put away your phone, don’t read a book or take notes. Enjoy the food.”

And, enjoy we do. Sitting alone, relaxing in the quiet arcade that’s reminiscent of old England, we put down our fork between bites to actually focus on the food, the textures, the flavors. By the time we finish, the two-day old kink in our neck is gone and we feel like we’ve been offered a delicious respite from the daily grind, two hours of learning, good conversation, and incredible food served in a lovely setting and the quiet in which to enjoy it.

 

Indulging in Contessa's coffee Shakerato

Indulging in Contessa’s coffee Shakerato

 

Whereas baking is a science, cooking is an art form, open to improvisation, Luisa says. Come in for lunch and Luisa and Raquel want a conversation. They are open to options and you are the designer. If someone enters a restaurant in Italy, Luisa says, and asks for a menu, they’ve just labelled themselves as tourists. An Italian will ask, what should I have today? Give the chef the option to offer the best of her best. “My pride is what I can serve,” says Luisa.

Contessa does not offer a set menu, but pasta is the staple. People are encouraged to step in and explain what they like, what they dislike, any allergies they have, and then a lunch will be created. Maybe gnudi—or “naked ravioli” as Raquel calls it—that’s ricotta cheese with egg and parsley, a little flour, then boiled or pressed in the waffle maker. Maybe a spelt salad with tomatoes, cucumbers, green pepper, black olives, basil, and black label olive oil. Maybe a waffle with ricotta cheese and cinnamon.

 

Contessa's gnudi; courtesy photo

Contessa’s gnudi; courtesy photo

 

Regularly, a lunch plate at Contessa costs $13.

For the rest of the summer—every Wednesday, dine-in only—a plate is only $10, which includes a serving of pasta (our serving was generous and it didn’t leave us feeling bloated, only happily satiated), plus a Shakerato with cream or a wild berry juice.

 

Pure wild berry juice

Pure wild berry juice

 

Additionally, Luisa’s having a face-off…

Italian Regional Face-Off
Nothing new really, we have had it going for centuries… this will be Contessa-themed for the hot month of July!

Pick a side or participate in all of them! 

Call us and Contessa can plan a Regional face-off at your home!

Friday July 10 – 5 PM
VIP SARDINIAN MENU

Friday July 17 – 5 PM
VIP LOMBARDIAN MENU

Friday July 24 – 5 PM
VIP UMBRIAN MENU

Friday July 31– 5 PM
VIP LIGURIAN MENU

At Contessa, you will learn the values of ancient grains, of real food, and of passion and traditions

Cost: $50 per person –
Reservations are always required and space is very limited
Please call 626-793-7761 to assure your spot.

GRAZIE, BUON APPETITO E A PRESTO

 

 

Raquel creating

Raquel creating

 

Dinner at Contessa
Fridays, starts promptly at 5 p.m., runs 1+ hours
Contessa Chocolate Collection
380 S. Lake Ave., #111, Pasadena 91101
Cost: $50, limit 6 persons
For reservations, call 1.626.793.7761
For dates of upcoming dinners, join Contessa’s email list
ContessaChocolates.com
See videos and daily info on the Contessa Facebook page

 

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Entrance of Burlington Arcade from South Lake Avenue

Entrance of Burlington Arcade from South Lake Avenue

 

Contessa Chocolate Collection
380 S. Lake Ave., #111, Pasadena 91101
626.793.7761




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