There seems to be a strange reverence around making fresh pasta…few seem to attempt it, and most of those who do view the process as a dinner party chore that takes too much effort; their pasta machines destined to remain dormant at the back of a kitchen cupboard.
It’s easy, it’s quick and it makes a huge difference to the quality of your dish.
But first off, whether you’re using dried or fresh…here are a few tenets that will improve any pasta dish:
Use more water than you think necessary. Don’t boil pasta in a small pot – reach for your largest to give it room to move. This avoids it sticking together
Salt! Salt your water…this will compliment your sauce when you…
Retain a small cupful towards the end of cooking. The starch from the pasta will bulk out a thin sauce and packs plenty of flavour
Plating up and then adding the sauce? Stop this now. Unless you’re using very delicate filled pasta you should always add the pasta to the sauce. This allows you to get your ratios right, maybe add a bit of reserved cooking water and garnish with…
Fresh herbs! They’re your greatest asset to lift dishes (a bit of lemon zest sometimes works a treat too…). Parsley is very versatile, as is basil but don’t sniff at thyme and coriander if your sauce is of the heartier variety. And don’t bruise them by over-cutting
Avoid over-cooking. No one likes flabby pasta
You can buy great quality dried pasta, which is generally superior to most supermarket 'fresh' offerings
On to the main event: the dough.
You can make this easily by hand (which saves on washing up) but it’s just as good in a processor/mixer with a dough hook. The secret is timing – you must allow enough time for the glutens to rest after you knead it. Roll it out straight away and you’ll create a lumpy and rigid pasta sheet. There is a saturation point at which my simpleton-taste buds just can’t notice the difference – I would say upwards of an hour is good. Make in the morning and roll out in the evening works for me. Also, once you’ve reached steps 9 or 10 in the directions below, you can freeze it and then cook straight from frozen by chucking it into boiling water.
Simple…use ‘00’ flour if you can find it but general purpose is fine. You’ll get a silkier, smoother pasta if using the former due to its finer milling but it’s not a huge difference. Feel free to add semolina, but I generally only use this at the end as a texture enhancer, and that’s only if I have any.
It’s easy to get your hands on cheap, high-welfare chicken eggs these days so you really shouldn’t need to muck around with eggs from battery farmed chickens. Plus, they taste better. It’s almost as if happier chickens produce tastier eggs… For the ratio of eggs to flour: you’ll want 1 egg and 2 yolks for every 150g (for our American audience, I think that’s 5 ounces). This is give or take a little bit of flour as egg sizes vary, but is a good general rule. This ratio will produce enough pasta for two people/portions, and the recipe below will suit 3 hungry or 4 modest people:
A Simple Fresh Pasta Dough
300 grams 00 flour
6 eggs (two whole, 4 just yolks)
1 tea spoon sea-salt
The dough: you’ll need a large surface onto which you pour the flour into a mound…make a well in the centre and try to make sure its walls are complete to avoid egg-spillage
Pour the eggs (keep the 4 whites for something else) and salt into the well and really carefully beat them together…when it’s combined start to mix into the flour until a congealed and very unattractive mixture is formed.
At this point you need to get messy…use your hands to begin folding the dough into itself and kneed for roughly 4-5 minutes until it is firm and relatively dry. If it’s still sticky after kneading you’ll need to add a TINY amount of flour and knead until incorporated. Similarly, if it’s too dry after kneading add a really super small amount of water (less than a teaspoon) and knead
Wrap the dough in cling film and leave to rest for at least 30 minutes, but ideally a couple of hours. I often make mine in the morning and roll out in the evening
Rolling: set the pasta roller to its widest and cut your dough into 5 pieces (or 4 if you’re good at handling longer pasta sheets).
Lightly flour your work surface and press and work the piece of dough to be rolled into a square-ish shape roughly a cm thick (about ½ inch). Lightly flour and roll it through the machine in a consistent motion (try to avoid stopping mid-way through). Roll it through again on the same setting
Gradually work it through the settings and be careful not to miss a wrung on the machine, as your pasta dough will do funny things. That being said, if it goes wrong (which it probably will first time) it’s absolutely fine to start again. Making ravioli? This will need the second smallest wrung as it will be folded over but it’s a question of taste and how ‘bitey’ you like your pasta.
Once it’s to the desired thickness, lightly flour and store on either a coat hanger or floured parchment.
Repeat steps 6-8 for the remaining pieces of dough. If you’re making ravioli then move onto the ravioli recipe below
Cutting: pass each piece through the desired cutting bit on your pasta machine (to give it its proper technical name). Dust cut pasta with flour and lightly fold into little nests. Freeze or move onto…
Cooking: 1 ½ to 2 minutes for tagliatelle, spaghetti and pappardelle. Observe the tenets above!
A Simple but Beautiful Ravioli
Simple pasta recipe
1 egg, beaten
Finely grated zest of ½ lemon
Make your mixture. I like to use ricotta, spinach, parmesan, nutmeg and a small pinch of lemon zest. Nice, simple but glorious. There are some wonderful fillings that involve mascarpone, ricotta and butternut squash (baked with garlic, chilli and an earthy herb like sage or rosemary), which I will try to find and include in a subsequent blog.
Mixture: add your spinach to boiling water and cook for a couple of minutes, drain and squeeze out as much of the moisture as you can. Leave to cool on kitchen paper or a towel to get rid of the last of its moisture.
Chop the now cool spinach and add to a bowl along with the other ingredients. Fold it all together and leave in the fridge for at least 30 minutes
Perform steps 1-9 above
Now you have a choice...you can either lay one sheet onto a floured surface, spoon your mixture on top and then lay another sheet on top of this, or - as I like to do - spoon your mixture onto one sheet and then fold it in half length-ways.
Lay your sheet onto floured parchment/surface and spoon out a tablespoon of your mixture at regular 10cm intervals (or however you want to space them…you might like – which I do – fairly imperfect looking filled pasta).
Using a pastry brush you need to brush either water or an egg wash at the points where the pasta will be folded over and needs to stick. Fold it over and press lightly with your fingers to release any air and encourage the folds to stick.
Cut with a knife or better yet a pasta cutter, lightly dust with flour and place on a floured surface
Cooking: 4 to 5 minutes. Observe the tenets above!
For guests staying at Casa del Colle, all the equipment to make fresh pasta is at the house but if you want to spend your time admiring the view and less time in the kitchen...there's always Dora - Pasta Fresca All'Uovo by Penne Arch (link).