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Monday, 16 July 2012

How to Make Fresh Pasta

I have recently conquered the skill of making fresh pasta. I have said conquered, and not acquired, for a specific reason: just like it happened before with shortcrust pastry, I had previously attempted to  make ravioli at home following a recipe from one of my cookbooks. To say that the results were disappointing, is to pay myself a compliment. The filling was good, but the pasta was too thick and rubbery, and I just could not figure out what had gone wrong in the process. This is not acceptable, I thought. I am Italian, for goodness' sake, pasta making is in my genes! However, given that I moved to the UK to go to Uni and lived abroad ever since, I never had the opportunity to learn this skill from the source, i.e. my grannies. Therefore, I decided to take the bull by the horn and signed up for a pasta-making class, taught nonetheless by the brilliant Valentina Harris (the course took place at the Bertinet Kitchen in Bath, and it was an amazing birthday gift from my boyfriend's parents and grandparents). Thanks to Valentina, I have learnt that pasta is a temperamental lady that will come to you if you follow a few simple steps with the utmost care, but will unceremoniously stand you up if you rush through the process and do not treat her with the respect she deserves. This said, please know that after a couple of attempts you will find that making pasta is surprisingly easy and oh so rewarding! The possibilities for shapes and flavour combinations are endless, and it is such a great dinner party trick to have up one's sleeve. One of my earliest memories is that of my grannies in the kitchen; one of them making ravioli, the other tagliatelle, to feed our immediate family of 25 :-). I am proud to be perpetuating this tradition - even though there's only two of us, for now!

INGREDIENTS (for two people)

  • 2 large eggs 
  • 200 gr flour (I strongly recommend to use Italian "00" flour, if you can find it. Otherwise, you can use plain white flour.)
The ratio for making pasta is always 1 egg + 100 gr flour per person, so use this principle to make the desired quantity. It's recommended to make pasta for at least two people - the quantity for just one person will make it too difficult to work the dough, and since you are going through all this effort, you may as well make some extra to keep!

Let's start by putting your flour in a pile on a clean work surface. Using your fist, make a hole in the middle. Break the eggs in a bowl, whisk them thoroughly then pour them in the hole. Using your fingers, or a fork, mix in the eggs and flour together, until you have a pliable ball of dough and there are no traces of flour left on the surface. Depending on the size of your eggs, the dough may be a bit wet: in this case, add a tiny bit more flour and work it in, until the dough is no longer sticky. If you have the opposite problem, i.e. the dough appears dry and cannot take all the flour, break another egg in a bowl, whisk it and then add a spoonful of the egg mixture to the dough. Knead it in, then add some more if necessary. The end result should be a smooth, supple ball of dough that you can be kneaded easily.

Knead your dough for about 10 minutes - put some energy in this! The wrap it in clingfilm and let it rest for about 20 minutes, outside of the fridge.

Afterwards, divide it in four smaller balls (about the size of your fist). Take one ball (wrap the other ones in clingfilm to prevent them for drying) and flatten it with a rolling pin. If it sticks a little to the work surface, dust it with semolina flour.

Now push it through the widest setting of your pasta machine, then fold the pasta sheet in half, and once again push it through the machine on the same setting, taking care of inserting first the two extremities of the sheet that have been folded on top of each other. You need to do this exercise (pushing the pasta sheet through, folding it in half, pushing it through the machine once again with the two extremities of the sheet that have been folded on top of each other inserted first) three times for each setting of the machine, until you hear a snapping sound coming from the pasta. This means that a chemical reaction has occurred, the pasta has changed texture and you are now able to forget about folding it in half every time, but can just roll it through each setting of the machine once, until you end up with a thin, almost see-through sheet of pasta. 

You can now use your sheets of pasta as they are to make lasagne, or cut them in strips with your pasta machine to make tagliatelle or tagliolini, or with a knife to make stracci and maltagliati. Alternatively, you can prepare wonderful ravioli or tortellini with any filling that tickles your fancy. Fresh pasta can be used immediately, or can be hung to dry for one or two days (depending on the percentage of humidity in the air); if you don't own a pasta drying rack, then you can use a normal drying rack and hang them as if they were socks :-) Once dried properly (the pasta should snap easily and feel brittle under your fingers) it can be stored in a air tight container and kept for a couple of months. In the case of ravioli/filled pasta, you can freeze them on a tray to prevent them from sticking to each other, then once frozen transfer them in a plastic bag and cook them straight from the freezer in boiling water whenever you want to.


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