Food For Thought: Lotsa Pasta
March 31, 2023 @ 12:00pm
Tigerella Executive Chef Vincent Falcone on pasta, pasta + more pasta.
Before even stepping into Tigerella at the Western Market food hall in Foggy Bottom, diners get a tantalizing peek at what they might eat. Gazing down through the street-level window into the open kitchen, one can catch a glimpse of a cook working the Italian restaurant’s Arcobaleno AEX30 pasta extruder, pushing out 30 pounds of noodles an hour at its fastest clip.
“You engage the guest before they even come in, because they’re excited about what they’re seeing,” says Tigerella Executive Chef Vincent Falcone. “They get to see someone taking the time to make something from scratch.”
The set up reminds him of visiting Georgetown institution Filomena Ristorante as a kid, where he would watch the sfoglina deftly turning out pasta with measured movements. He learned the art of pasta-making at home from his grandmother Wanda, “a mountain girl from Kentucky who somehow got looped in with an Italian family up in Cleveland,” as Falcone puts it. Wanda came by her deep well of pasta knowledge from her Sicilian mother-in-law.
“My grandmother did it all by feel,” says Falcone, who lived with his grandparents as a youngster. “She had no recipe and didn’t write anything down. She would take her mound of flour and enough eggs and just make it happen.”
When it came time to roll out sheets of pasta dough, she used the countertop and an old wine bottle. As she worked, Falcone would sit, just watching. Eventually, she started teaching him.
“She was very intentional,” he remembers. “As chefs like to do, she would do the same things the same way in the same manner every single time. She would get super flustered if anyone came in and tried to move stuff around. She really taught me to have a sense of purpose and organization.”
Her signature pasta was beef-spinach-ricotta ravioli, which she made every holiday season.
“Christmas didn’t happen unless that was on the table. That was a line in the sand for the family,” says Falcone, who took over the tradition when his grandmother passed.
Throughout his career as a professional chef, which included stops at Rose’s Luxury as sous chef, pasta played an outsized role.
“I’ve always felt an innate sense of joy when I make a delicious bowl of pasta for somebody,” Falcone says.
At Tigerella, he usually has half a dozen pasta options on offer, all made with nothing more than 00 flour and water, all passing through the extruder positioned in the window. By far the biggest seller is bumbola, a cute, crevice-laden pasta dubbed “bumblebee” due to its shape. The winged shells are tossed with a a bright pork-beef bolognese that makes its way into the nooks and crannies, so each bite offers a spoonful of sauce.
“Is it revolutionary? No, but it makes people happy when they sit down and eat it,” Falcone says.
The other mainstay on the menu is the bigoli, a thick, toothsome noodle the chef calls “bucatini without the hole.” The twirled hive of noodles comes with an oniony tomato sauce inspired by a recipe from Italian cookbook author Marcella Hazan, a favorite of Falcone.
“Whenever I don’t know what to cook, don’t feel like cooking or am having a bad day, I always turn to her tomato and onion sauce,” he says. “It’s literally four ingredients: olive oil, tomato, butter, onion.”
At the restaurant, he chefs up the sauce slightly by infusing the olive oil with basil, garlic and chili flakes, and finishes the dish with roasted red onions and a dollop of made-fresh-daily ricotta.
The remaining pasta offerings switch with the season and whatever the farmers bring in. During the winter, that could mean rigatoni paired with a prosciutto and brown butter-amped soffrito of rutabaga, parsnip and white sweet potatoes. Or it could be Japanese sweet potato gnocchi with maitake, shiitake and king oyster mushrooms. Or maybe comforting-to-the-core chicken parm laid out on angel hair pasta with the requisite marinara.
No matter what’s on offer, take a moment to watch it being made. There’s a captivating rhythm, a gentle beauty, a sense of magic unfolding — as nothing more than flour and water are transformed into joy-inducing pastas.
Tigerella: 2000 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, DC; tigerelladc.com // @tigerelladc
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