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Photography by Chip Chockley
Enter the Memphis Farmers Market on an early Saturday morning, and the suspended wooden “handmade pasta” sign will inevitably catch your eye.
Soon after, Miles Tamboli’s demeanor and eloquent descriptions will swoon you into purchasing spaghetti, basil and tomato—cueing an impromptu pasta night you hadn’t planned, but now couldn’t imagine your weekend without.
Before I plucked a dozen eggs and duo of spaghetti for the ultimate carbonara (see recipe), I sat with Miles to grasp the motive for his latest venture in the local food and farming arena.
Miles was pursuing a degree in public health down at Tulane University in New Orleans, where he also enjoyed working in local restaurants. Early on, he thought he’d become a doctor—but as he began to follow the curriculum’s path, Miles became especially fascinated with the nutrition and preventative community health components that influence health.
“The institutionalized inequalities that distribute resources unevenly and lead to poor health gripped me,” says Miles.
“It’s not always about decision-making. The problems go deeper than telling someone to live differently.”
As college continued, Miles would regularly spend the first hour of his restaurant shifts sweating in the storage room, uncovering waxy, rock-hard tomatoes and pondering the contrast between the tomato in his hand and “one that actually tastes good.” He soon began to grow his own delicate vines of tomatoes, embracing and absorbing the science of good food from the ground.
His gardening only grew from there. Miles traveled around California and Portland to contribute to (and co-found) small urban farms, and even studied for some time in South America.
Back in Memphis, Miles led farm operations and taught driven young women the meaningful work of growing food at Girls Inc. for four years.
To Miles, urban farming is public health work.
Miles Tamboli at the Memphis Farmer’s Market
“If we bolster the economy with locally-raised ingredients, we can foster something that builds everybody up,” he says.
So how did the Memphis master of vegetables quickly become the most popular pasta maker at the Memphis Farmers Market?
“I used to think of pasta as something that’s put under food, something as a vehicle for sauce. Empty carbs, if you will,” says Miles.
Until he went to Italy.
With a twofold goal to reconnect with his namesake and eat excellent food, Miles traveled to a small town on the Adriatic coast where the Tambolis originated. Though he had connected with a distant cousin on Facebook, he discovered in-person an entire branch that his immediate family didn’t know existed. They spent evenings on end enjoying pastas and pizzas, celebrating food and family. Miles became infatuated with the dishes and the secrets behind their tomato sauces, doughs and noodle shapes.
“There’s something about Italian food, in that it’s less about process and more about ingredients. You simply can’t skimp,” he says.
While in Italy, Miles learned the art of pasta. Following the Italian philosophy, a batch needs humble yet high-quality ingredients: good flour and great eggs. Unsurprisingly but thankfully, Miles raises chickens in Memphis, so great eggs are plentiful and the end product surely benefits. Preparing his pastas out of Binghampton, Miles works in three egg yolks per hand-kneaded batch to develop as much natural flavor as possible.
Flavor found, Miles. Bravo.
– 2 containers Tamboli Produce Co. spaghetti
– 6 Tamboli Produce Co. eggs (2 whole eggs, 4 egg yolks)
– 3 tablespoons kosher salt
– 4 ounces pancetta (Italian bacon), sliced into 1/4-inch cubes
– 2 ounces pecorino, finely grated
– Freshly ground black pepper
– 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1. Heat 6 quarts of water over high heat. Once steaming, add salt and bring to a boil.
2. Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whisk 4 egg yolks and 2 whole eggs until no streaks remain. Add 1 ½ ounces pecorino (reserving the rest) and black pepper. Whisk until fully combined.
3. In a large Dutch oven pot, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add pancetta and cook, stirring occasionally, until crisp, around 7-8 minutes. Remove from heat.
4. Using a wooden spoon, remove pancetta and transfer to a small bowl. Pour all fat into a heatproof measuring cup. Add back in about 3 tablespoons to the Dutch oven, and discard remaining fat.
5. Cook pasta in boiling water, about 2 minutes. Scoop out 1 ¾ cups pasta water with the heatproof measuring cup. Drain spaghetti in colander.
6. Add 1 cup pasta water to Dutch oven, and bring to a boil. Transfer spaghetti to Dutch oven and, using tongs, constantly stir until water reduces by half, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat.
7. Whisk ¼ cup of the reserved pasta water into the egg mixture. Then, slowly pour into the Dutch oven while stirring constantly, until cheese is melted and egg is thickened. Thin the sauce with remaining ½ cup pasta water, one tablespoon at a time, until the sauce reaches consistency of a heavy cream.
8. Stir in pancetta and divide pasta among bowls. Top with pepper and reserved pecorino.
You can find Tamboli’s Produce Co. at the 2019 Craft Food and Wine Festival on June 23rd. Buy your tickets here.
Cara Greenstein is founder and author of award-winning, Memphis-based food and lifestyle brand Caramelized. A bonafide foodie and entertaining expert, Cara offers a wealth of inspiration for the kitchen and home, as well as food and itinerary suggestions for outings in Memphis and beyond.
Chip Chockley, an attorney by day, has been a professional photographer since 2008. Things that make him happy include tacos, mai tais and his wife and kids.