Pasta earns its 15 seconds of fame

LOS ANGELES — When Evan Funke bought a ticket to Italy and went off to study pasta making in Bologna for three months in 2008, it changed his trajectory as a chef. Now chef-owner of the Italian restaurant Bucato in Culver City, Calif., he found a calling in his love for handmade pasta.

His obsession with pasta began long before, during the six years he was at Spago. The garde-manger station where he worked at one point was just beside the area where Wolfgang Puck’s longtime pasta maker made agnolotti. “Small, as small as the end of your pinkie,” Funke remembers. “That was the first shape of pasta I fell in love with.”

The chef became fascinated with how the pasta seems to hug the filling. “It’s a very elegant and sensual shape,” says Funke. He began to experiment with ways of pleating or pinching the pasta around the stuffing. That led him to Italy and to Bologna, where making sfoglia (an uncut egg pasta sheet) is an art.

In Italy he apprenticed at La Vecchia Scuola Bolognese. When he arrived at the school, which was much smaller than it is today, there were four other students, three of them Italian and all of them young women. “They looked at me like I had three heads. Why would a guy want to learn to make pasta?” Soon Funke was making pasta 12 hours a day, six days a week. “I found out who I wanted to be in Bologna.”

In 2013, Funke opened Bucato, to his knowledge — and he’s always checking — the only restaurant in the U.S. to make pasta by hand with no machines involved at all.

Last September, as a way of paying forward everything he’s learned, Funke started putting videos and photos of his pasta making up on his Instagram account. “For me,” Funke says, “Instagram is a tool. It’s also a form of expression. I have just two apps on my iPhone, Instagram and a translator.” Just 15 seconds long, the videos are beautifully shot — with his iPhone. “I’m a photographer’s son,” Funke says. “My father is a (director of photography) and ... Oscar winner, so I have photography in my blood.”

Funke’s original idea was to film one shape a week to make a lexicon of pasta shapes. “In my mind, I can make about 180 shapes,” says Funke, who goes back to Italy as often as possible to seek out pasta makers. But it takes time to shoot the videos.

“I have to make the dough, roll out the dough, make the shapes — and then use what I’ve made,” Funke says, “because there’s no waste at Bucato.” Then he has to edit the video and post it. So far, he’s put up 18 15-second videos on his Instagram feed, which has more than 4,600 followers — chefs, customers, pasta makers, farmers, artisans, bakers, architects, tattoo artists.

It’s a thrill for him to find that cooks are learning from his short videos. “The beauty of pasta is in the details,” he says again and again.

“The strascinati video really took off because it’s really vivid. You see the pasta reacting to the force of my finger and then bouncing back with its elasticity, and then I flick it away,” Funke says about the comments he’s gotten. The other video that has had a big impact is the one for sorpesini.”It’s a little Bolognese shape that no one had seen before. And now a handful of restaurants around the world — in New York, Toronto, Vancouver, London, Portland and Brunswick, Ga. — are making that shape. It’s an extraordinary feeling for me to be part of a global pasta community.” And it’s all because of Instagram.

STRASCINATI WITH SPROUTING BROCCOLI, FENNEL SAUSAGE AND FRESNO CHILES

55 minutes, plus resting times. Serves 6

STRASCINATI

1. Dump the flour onto a table or wooden cutting board and hollow out a well in the center with your hand. Pour the water into the well, then the oil. Using a fork as if you are scrambling eggs, gradually incorporate flour from the inner walls of the well into the liquid. Mix until you reach a pancake batter-like consistency, using a bench scraper to transfer the remaining flour, a little at a time, into the well. As dough comes together, form it into a loose, shaggy mass. Wash your hands, then move the dough to a clean surface, and scrape up and transfer any flour or dough bits left on the board

2. Begin kneading the dough by folding the far edge toward you and pushing the dough down and away with the heel of your hand. Rotate dough a quarter turn and repeat, continuing to turn, fold and push for 2 to 3 minutes. The dough will gradually come together into a semi-smooth mass. Clean the work surface of any dried dough flakes as you work and continue to knead dough gently until it is smooth and supple, and springs back when poked, about 10 minutes. Wrap the dough ball tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, ideally for 24 hours.

3. Find a textured surface, such as a sushi mat, a tightly woven basket or even a place mat. What you are trying to achieve is a texture on the surface of the pasta in order to capture and grip the sauce.

4. Remove dough from refrigerator and slice off a 1-inch section, then slice that in half. Roll both pieces out to form snakes slightly skinnier than your pinkie. Cut tubes into segments about 2 inches long.

5. To begin shaping the strascinati, form your index, middle and ring finger into a hook. Place a section of the dough onto your textured surface. Maintaining even pressure, press and drag the piece of dough toward you and up, like an airplane taking off. The dough should spring up and form around the curve of your fingers.

6. Transfer the strascinati to a baking sheet covered in parchment paper and sprinkled with flour, making sure no pieces of pasta touch. Continue until all dough is used. Let the pasta dry slightly, about 30 minutes. If not using immediately, cover the baking sheet with plastic wrap and refrigerate up to 1 day.