“I have a passion for pasta,” says Carlos Montoya, his dark eyes moving from one eager participant to the next. “There’s something about dough that’s intimate and therapeutic.” The students, paired off and standing at the ready at their work stations, nod agreement. A pot rack with dangling ladles, whisks, tongs, and spatulas hangs over the center of the rectangular tables pushed together to form one. Mr. Montoya proceeds to talk about the fettuccine with kale pesto they’re about to make, informing the class that it’s a basic egg pasta that originated in northern Italy. He talks about ingredients. His favorite flour is Double O — a fluffy Italian import that makes a more velvety noodle. If he’s making pasta to freeze, he’ll use only the yolks of the eggs.
Then the magic commences.
Mr. Montoya creates a wide volcano of flour, cracks four eggs into the crater, sprinkles on salt, and pours in a stream of olive oil. After mixing the eggs, he begins to work flour in from the edges with a fork. When there’s a cohesive mass, he uses a pastry knife (a rectangular blade with a handle the length of the long end) to mush it together. Scraps of wannabe dough litter the table, and Mr. Montoya pulls as much as he can into the bulk. He begins kneading, pushing the dough down with the heels of his hands and folding it over on itself. He emphasizes that the dough should be worked for five to six minutes. The students look on as it becomes a smooth, buttery-yellow ball under his manipulation. He pokes a thumb in. “Look for a little bounce-back,” he says. When he pulls the thumb out, the dough tries to heal itself — the exactly correct reaction. He pushes it aside and covers it with plastic wrap. “Now you do it,” he tells his students.
The class, Artisanal Pasta and Sauces, is a product of Adult and Community Education of MV (ACE MV) and sponsored by Farm Neck Café, where Mr. Montoya is executive chef. Over the course of five weeks in the MVRHS Culinary Arts Kitchen, Mr. Montoya provides instruction for making fettuccine, agnolotti (like a small square ravioli), cavatelli, tortellini, potato gnocchi, and various sauces to go with them. “Basically I’ll be talking about all the traditional sauces that were served with the pastas,” Mr. Montoya explains in an earlier interview, “then do more contemporary, lighter preparations with them.”
Mr. Montoya, originally from New York, has been cooking on the Island since 2010, first at Sweet Life, then Farm Neck. Why the interest in pasta? “I’m really fond of it,” he says. “I worked at an Italian restaurant for a couple of years in my early 20s. It’s something I really enjoy making. At Farm Neck, I use pasta as a side a lot.”
While the students attempt to duplicate Mr. Montoya’s recipe, he makes the rounds, suggesting more flour, a sprinkling of water, pushing harder on the dough. When he gets to the end of the tables, Daniel Athearn of Morning Glory Farm and his sister-in-law, Robin Athearn, have already achieved a round, smooth ball of dough. When someone comments that they worked awfully fast, Robin tips her head toward her cooking partner and says, “Farm boy.”
Finally, the ingredients all come together and sit beneath shiny covers of plastic wrap. Mr. Montoya announces it’s time to make the pesto. Large leafy stalks are handed out, and the students begin to pull bite-size pieces off the stems. Mr. Montoya picks up a stalk, runs his hand down it, and the leaves fall into a bowl. People “ahh” their recognition and begin to follow suit, making quick work of an otherwise tedious chore. Ingredients prepared and assembled, two by two, they approach a pair of food processors and combine the kale with walnuts, oil, salt, and Parmigiano Reggiano. While they wait for their turns, the students chat among themselves while Mr. Montoya peels and chops garlic. Beth Butler talks about why she took the class. “It’s something to do in the winter,” she says. “It sounded interesting. And who doesn’t like pasta?”
Daniel concurs. “My kids eat tons of pasta.”
It turns out that neither he nor his sister-in-law knew the other had signed up for the class. “It’s purely coincidence,” Robin says. A full-time mom with an 18-month-old son and a 2½-year-old daughter, the class is a much-needed night out for her.
Once all the pesto is made, everyone gathers at the front of the room to watch Mr. Montoya roll the pasta. He begins with a rolling pin. He folds. He pushes air out of the dough with his fingers, then cuts off the ragged ends and pushes the dough through the rollers. “Put it through often on the first setting,” he says. “Six or seven times. Then once each on the rest.” When the dough is almost paper-thin, he sends it through the cutting rollers and creates perfect, long, smooth ribbons of pasta, ready for boiling water.
The students return to their stations and attempt the same. The room quiets with the mood of concentration, and the air is sharp with the scent of garlic. The first roll-through produces chunks of dough in various shapes. Chris McDonald, an attorney, comments, “Uh-oh. I have a situation.” Her dough is not holding together. Mr. Montoya dashes to her side and shows her how to solve the problem. Soon the students have found their rhythm, and while one partner feeds the dough into the rollers, the other catches it on the other end. Chris’ dough emerges perfectly rectangular and smooth. The woman across from her says, “How did you get from your situation to that perfect sheet?”
When all the pasta is rolled and cut, the students move to the stove. Large pots of water boil at several stations, and Mr. Montoya pours his into the one closest to the tables. While that’s cooking, he heats garlic in olive oil in a skillet. He pulls the fettuccine from the water and dumps it into the pan with the garlic. He lobs a tennis ball–size wad of pesto on top and adds a bit of water from the pasta. In the way chefs and no one else can do, he shakes and jerks the pan until the sauce is perfectly mixed with the pasta. When the dish is plated, the ribbons of pasta glisten bright green with olive oil, kale, and specks of walnut.
Now the students rush to the pots of boiling water, anxious to replicate the beautiful dish that Mr. Montoya created. In another 15 minutes, people are sampling their own fettuccine with kale pesto. Every project is a success, and they congratulate one another and laugh at the foibles of the process. Leftovers are packed into the plastic containers the students brought, and the cleanup begins. Dough is scraped from tables. Utensils and pots are washed. Mr. Montoya recommends that the pasta machines be wiped down with paper towels, not immersed in water.
When the borrowed kitchen is clean again, the students file out the door, shouting goodbyes and thanks to their master chef, their arms laden with treats for their families. With even more artisanal pastas and sauces to get through in the next couple of weeks, it’s obvious by their expressions and exuberance that they can’t wait to return.
⅓ cup walnuts
3 cups chopped kale
¼ tsp. kosher salt
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
Toast the walnuts in a dry skillet until lightly browned; let cool. Pulse in a food processor until finely ground.
Add the kale and ¼ tsp. salt, and pulse until finely chopped.
Add the Parmesan, and pulse to combine.
Slowly pour in the olive oil, pulsing to incorporate. Transfer the pesto to a bowl.