Inspired by Tuscany, hand-made in India

Updated: Jan 05, 2020, 08:18 IST | Nasrin Modak Siddiqi | Mumbai

Colourful pasta bursting with flavours is what Mumbai's Italian food aficionados want. Home chef Apeksha Agarwal's Pali Hill kitchen is dishing out just what they like.

Apeksha Agarwal holds up trays of freshly made beetroot dough stuffed with caramelised onions, roasted garlic and homemade ricotta, and the classic cappellacci. Pics/ Ashish Raje
Apeksha Agarwal holds up trays of freshly made beetroot dough stuffed with caramelised onions, roasted garlic and homemade ricotta, and the classic cappellacci. Pics/ Ashish Raje

Beet dough caramel with slow caramelised onions, roasted garlic and homemade ricotta or freshly rolled and cut spaghetti alla chitarra—these are names of handmade pastas by Cacio e pepe that look just as beautiful as they taste. In September 2018, when filmmaker Apeksha Agarwal returned from a trip to Italy, she came back with memories of cooking with her friend's mother in their small Tuscan kitchen. Inspired, she began making fresh pasta for friends and family. Nothing overly sauced or complicated.

The dough is stuffed with mushrooms, thyme, garlic, walnuts, ricotta and parmesanAgarwal rolls out the classic egg dough to make cappellacci or pasta dumplings

"I couldn't consume all of it, so I kept giving it away. Everyone loved it and encouraged me to go commercial," she remembers. She launched an Instagram page in February last year and that was that. "I wasn't confident that it would work. We are all used to buying pasta out of packs and really cheap. I was wrong."

The dough is stuffed with mushrooms, thyme, garlic, walnuts, ricotta and parmesanThe dough is stuffed with mushrooms, thyme, garlic, walnuts, ricotta and parmesan

It's in Tuscany, both at her friend's kitchen and at the cooking lessons she signed up for, that she fell in love with their food. "Cooking and eating is an important family bonding experience, where everyone comes together at the dinner table, and cooks together sometimes. Their passion for their food is infectious. We'd often go picking tomatoes from my friend's backyard, use olive oil from her grove, make fresh pasta and crostatas, and toss them in simple ingredients," says Agarwal.

The dough is cut into circles around the stuffing with a mould The dough is cut into circles around the stuffing with a mould 

This year she went back to Italy for a month to explore cities and small towns beyond Tuscany, cooking with locals instead of going to schools in Modena, Bologna, Palermo, Roma, Tuscany, Napoli, parts of Puglia for the southern Italian cuisine. "The food is different in every part of Italy, but the soul is the same. Cooking there is still old-school where the nonnas [grandmothers] hand roll pasta for dinner, teaching their grandkids. It's a special experience."

It is kneaded into hat-shaped pasta

Since Agarwal makes all her pasta at her Pali Hill kitchen, she produces a limited batch every week. She sends out a weekly menu with a rotating roster of varieties, whether ravioli, agnolotti, cappelletti, caramelle or non-stuffed ones like tagliatelle, spaghetti, Garganelli, cavatelli and busiate. "I lock the ingredients for the stuffings depending on what's in season and usually mix that with homemade ricotta or other cheeses," she adds.

It is kneaded into hat-shaped pastaIt is kneaded into hat-shaped pasta

For Agarwal, Cacio e Pepe is more like a homegrown idea rather than a brand. "I work alone because I want to stick to tradition. Ill try as far as possible to not pass on the work to assistants. I don't want to lose the joy while trying to grow a business too big and fast. The dream is to have a farm to table pastificio or a fresh pasta shop, using priced local and homegrown ingredients, where people come and grab pasta while enjoying a simple meal with the family. Just like they would in a small town Tuscan home."

For: Rs 300 per 200 gm (non-stuffed); Rs 400 for 12 pieces of stuffed pasta
Instagram: @caciopepeindia
Call: 9820647918

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