Fileja is a traditional pasta found throughout Calabria. The dough is made of water and flour only. Yes, this pasta contains no eggs or salt. The pasta is shaped by quickly rolling out small pieces of dough around a thin iron rod (a ferro in Italian) and stretched outward. Each region has its own version. For example, fusilli pasta is made in the same way, but rolled in more of a spiral fashion and is typical of Campania.
This rolling out technique can be a little tricky, but easily mastered with practice. Please see the video below for a quick demonstration.
The main concern when making this pasta is the consistency of the dough. It is crucial to have a dough that is not too moist so it does not stick to the metal rod when rolling out. Conversely, you do not want a dough that is too dry; it will not roll and stretch properly around the iron and can be very difficult to work with. Needless to say the recipe below is very good and works consistently every time.
Tip: Do not add all the water at once.
I add about 3/4 of a cup of water and knead the dough together, either by hand on a smooth work surface or in a stand mixer. I add a few more drops of water, only as needed, to bring the dough together. Remember, the type of flour and its freshness, and the humidity will determine how much liquid you’ll need to use. Eventually you will have a feel for this dough. The next important step is the kneading. This is best done by hand so you can feel the texture and create a smooth homogeneous pasta dough. You will have to roll your sleeves up and work it! As you knead it, you will notice that the dough will become lighter in color and smoother. This is exactly what you’re looking for. I knead for at least 5-7 minutes. Then I wrap the dough in plastic and let it rest in the refrigerator for at least one hour or overnight.
Tip: Leave the dough out at room temperature for about 30 minutes before rolling out your fileja.
This will help the pasta roll out and stretch easier. When rolling out the pasta, I work on a clean surface. Then I VERY LIGHTLY flour my work area ONLY if the pasta is slightly sticky. Too much flour will make the pasta very difficult to roll on the work surface. It will wind up sliding around, rather than gripping the work surface and nicely stretching around the wire to make those typical fileja or fusilli shapes. Eventually you will get the knack of it. It’s all about having fun!
Fileja is usually served with spicy ragu made with ‘nduja, a spreadable cured pork and hot Calabrian pepper sausage.
It is very typical of Calabria, but nearly impossible to find in the United States.
However, a nice spicy Italian sausage from your local butcher or supermarket will be a good substitute. That is what I made in the above photo.
Fileja (a typical Calabrese pasta) tossed in a Spicy Sausage Ragu
Fileja pasta ingredients:
- 1 ½ cups (213 grams) All-Purpose Flour (unbleached)
- 1 ½ cups (250 grams) fine semolina
- 1 cup – room temperature water, more or less depending on the flour and humidity
- Mix the flour and semolina together in a bowl to combine.
- Create a well in the center of the flour and mix in ¾ cup of the water until well incorporated. Gradually add the rest of the water, little by little, if needed. Dough will be firm.
- Knead the dough on your work surface (5-10 min) until smooth and pliable.
- Cover and let rest at room temperature for 30 minutes. (Or refrigerate until ready to use. Let stand at room temperature for about 30 minutes.)
- Once the dough has rested, knead again for a few minutes to make it pliable.
- Pinch off a marble-sized amount of dough and roll it out to the size of a small rope.
- Roll each piece around a metal skewer or knitting needle, stretching it outward with the palms of your hands as you roll to form the Fileja shape
- Carefully remove the pasta by twisting the needle while gently holding the pasta.
- Place on a tray to slightly dry for about 30 minutes.
Spicy Sausage Ragu
- 1 pound (16 oz.) Italian pork sausage (spicy with no fennel seeds)
- 4-5 tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- 2 cloves garlic, crushed with the back of a knife
- 2 medium-sized red onions, chopped, or cut in thin half-moon slices.
- 2-3 tablespoons red wine (optional)
- 1 can of tomato puree (28 oz.)
- 1 chili pepper, sliced in half (optional) or serve red pepper flakes on side
- 1 tablespoon fresh oregano or 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- Pecorino to taste (grated)
- Salt to taste
- Remove the sausage from casing. Crumble it with your fingers and set aside.
- Heat a large sauté pan with the olive oil and add the garlic over a medium flame. Sauté garlic until lightly golden.
- Remove the garlic at this point, or leave it in if you prefer.
- Add the crumbled sausage and toss well to coat in the in the oil. Then leave to cook. Stir occasionally once the meat starts to lightly caramelize.
- Add the onions and toss well. Let cook an additional 5 minutes, until the onions soften.
- Deglaze with the red wine, if using. Once the red wine had reduced, add the tomato sauce, the chili pepper, if desired, and a little salt.
- Cover and let cook on a low flame for 20 min, stirring occasionally.
- Once the ragu has thickened nicely, taste it and readjust for seasoning if necessary.
To cook the pasta and finish the dish:
- In a large pot of boiling water, add 2-3 tablespoons of salt. The water should taste slightly salty.
- Add the Fileja and cook for 3-4 minutes. You will finish cooking the pasta in the saucepan.
- Reserve 1 cup of pasta water. Strain the pasta.
- Add the pasta to the saucepan, increase the heat and add the oregano, a couple of tablespoons of Pecorino, and some of the pasta water, little by little, as necessary.
- Toss well and reduce quickly to create a nice ragu. This should take about 2-3 minutes.
- Turn off heat and let the pasta sit as you prepare to plate it.
- Just before serving, toss the pasta with 2-3 tablespoons of Extra Virgin Olive Oil.
- Serve the pasta on warmed plates.
- Add a little extra ragu on top and a sprinkle of Pecorino
- Serve red pepper flakes on the side to increase the heat, if desired!
(See video below for rolling procedure)
Video: How to roll out fileja pasta.
I recently gave a pasta making class and fileja and one of the pastas that I taught the group to make. You can read more about the class here. And be sure to view the video at the end of this post where I demonstrated for the class how to roll fileja and fusilli pasta. And gave them a tip on how to carefully remove it from the iron (ferro) if it sticks.