We're going behind the scenes and getting up close and personal with some of the Valley's favorite chefs, learning what it takes to make one of their best-known dishes. Welcome to The Trail.
Tick, tick, tick, tick, tick . . . Chef Marcellino Verzino stands at a table in a back room of his restaurant feeding long, tan sheets of dough into an electric machine. It ticks rapidly and incessantly as it spits out increasingly smoother and softer lengths of fresh pasta dough. A cloud of flour hangs over the entire space, raining down and coating everything and everyone in it in a fine layer of white powder.
“One more time,” he says for what seems like the 10th time as he pulls out the dough and prepares to feed it through the machine yet again.
Verzino is making fresh porcini mushroom-infused fettuccine, a pasta made from dough with reconstituted dried porcini mushrooms mixed in. It will be served later in the day at his namesake restaurant, Marcellino Ristorante, in Scottsdale with fresh shiitake mushrooms, Maine lobster, and a drizzle of truffle oil.
Before that can happen, however, the chef has to make each and every noodle by hand.
The dish starts with mixing the pasta dough. For this, Verzino uses a large stand mixer tucked in the corner of the kitchen's pasta-making room. He flips the mixer on and a heaping mass of wet and dry ingredients begins to spin.
“I put all the flour here before, 'cause nobody gonna know the secret,” Verzino says in a thick Italian accent as he smiles and wags a finger in our direction.
He won’t share the exact ingredients or proportions that go into making his pasta mix, but he will say that he uses several different types of flour and a liquid infused with imported dried porcini mushrooms to make this particular dough.
On any given day, he might make three or four different doughs, including this one, a rosemary-infused dough for his rosemary-infused pappardelle, and a basic dough that can be used for different pastas including tagliolini, tortelloni, and ravioli. Each tortelloni and ravioli has to be folded by hand, and each type of dough has to be put through the pasta machine over and over and over again until it reaches the perfect texture.
“I don’t decide [when it’s ready]” Verzino says. “It’s a feeling.”
As it goes through the press — though most people would call it a “pasta machine,” Verzino refers to it as a “press” — the chef throws on handfuls of flour over the dough to combat its sticky texture. With each pass through the press, air gets squeezed out of the mixture and the dough becomes drier. Eventually, it begins to look more like soft, thick curtains of silk that fall gracefully onto the table. It’s smooth to the touch and somehow both airy and dense when cooked.
Verzino’s restaurant, located at 7114 East Stetson Drive in Old Town Scottsdale, specializes in handcrafted pasta. For each table, the restaurant’s staff presents a platter of various types pastas, explaining the differences in each variety and how they’ll be served in a dish that night.
The chef, who was born in the Campania region of Italy, has spent decades perfecting the art of making pasta; he owned or operated restaurants in Rome, Calabria, Abruzzo, and New York before he opened Marcellino’s. And this year, the restaurant celebrated its fifth anniversary at its Scottsdale location.
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After passing the dough through the press dozens of times, Verzino decides it’s ready to be cut. For the fettuccine, this means lying down and cutting long sheets of dough, and then slicing each sheet into strips by hand. The result is delicate noodles of irregular thinness that Verzino twists into neat nests and lies on a baking sheet, ready and waiting to be cooked and enjoyed.