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Transcendence through pasta

The artistry of Fabiana De Savino
By LINDSAY STERLING  |  December 17, 2008

MADE WITH LOVE: Fabiana De Savino’s handmade pasta.
I've just added to the list of Things Humans Don't Completely Understand. After God, Cutting-Edge Science, Nature, Fate, Love, Music, Writing, Art, and Dance, there is now Fresh Pasta made by Fabiana, or more generally, the World's Best Cooking. On paper, the pumpkin ravioli she prepares is simply made from all purpose flour, semolina, eggs, water and salt. The filling is made out of steamed sugar pumpkin, amaretti cookie crumbs, nutmeg, and Parmesan. Though the amaretti cookies were an ingredient I'd never tasted before, this still doesn't add up to what it all inspired. In the three hours I cooked with her, I was transformed from bedraggled and fragmented into a whole person, full of revived love for food, for everything.

You can't just follow a recipe to make pasta the way Fabiana De Savino does. She was taught how to do it as a little girl, cooking daily with her grandmother, nonna Aurelia, on a mountain with two names, Tosco-Emiliani, in the Italian province of Bologna. You have to see what the dough looks like the precise moment Fabiana turns the mixer off. You have to see her handling the pasta sheets, growing out of the KitchenAid like a pet boa constrictor, her outstretched arms supporting it, and then calming it into a straight line on a rice-flour dusted table.

She teaches intimate classes (six people or fewer) on making fresh Italian pastas the first and third Fridays of the month. The $85 per person ($140 per couple) includes pasta for dinner and a fresh batch to take home. While you're at the shop, you'll likely be seduced into a State of Wholeness by more than just making pasta. She and her husband have owned two restaurants in Milan, and have brought to market shelves here the flavors they've spent half a decade seeking out: small-batch olive oils, taggiasche olives from Liguria, large dry-salted capers and plump large ones in sala moia (salted water), their favorite Italian wines, and balsamic vinegar from Modena, a little city they say is like Portland.

What brings this delightful Milanese couple here? A travel documentary about Maine on TV. Life in Milan had gone in the last decade from delightful to unsafe. After doing a little research online, they sold their two restaurants in Italy, applied for visas, packed their belongings into boxes, and lived temporarily with his parents while they waited to see if the ten-pound binder they submitted to immigration officials would result in visas. They waited eight months and arrived in Portland August 27. They open Paciarino just in time for last-minute shopping and festive holiday feasting. It's at the corner of Fore and Cross streets, a block up from Browne Trading Company.

Fabiana's freewheeling English and sweet accent is no small part of the great experience. Innocent blunders, while embarrassing to her, sure are funny. Instead of I live in a condo, she once said, I live in a condom. Instead of I'm looking forward to getting together, she said, I'm so exciting. But sometimes there are no mistakes. Fresh English can be as pure and beautiful as fresh pasta. If I am conscious of what I'm doing, she says, the food is going to be good. Otherwise, I'm just mixing flour and eggs, and there's no life inside. You have to have love in your food. A native never said it better.

Lindsay Sterling can be reached

Related: Classic retro, From Mangoland to Portland, Keep yourself alive, More more >
  Topics: Restaurant Reviews , Culture and Lifestyle, Food and Cooking, Foods,  More more >
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