The magic of pasta

So, I just promised that I wouldn’t talk you through everything we do each day – and now I’m going to break that rule, and tell you what we did today. What can I say – I make these rules so that I can enjoy breaking them.

Today’s workshop was on pasta – we made fresh egg pasta and 3 different sauces that we then had for lunch. Now, I’m sure you have heard this before somewhere, but making pasta isn’t hard. However, this time I want you to believe it – it really isn’t. In fact, it’s not much more difficult than making playdough.

Having said that, there is a caveat – you need a pasta maker. Nothing else will do unless you really want to get to work with a rolling pin. However, they are not expensive – John Lewis has one for £35, and in the US they are between $30 and $80 depending on how many accessories you get. Imperia is a good make – it’s has interchangeable cutting attachments, which is useful.

Pasta dough is a lot like bread dough – a very simple mixture:
1) The ingredients are flour, water, salt, plus optional fat. Eggs can provide both fat and water.
2) The dough is kneaded in both cases, to develop the gluten and make the dough stretchy. Fat in the dough gets between the gluten strands and makes the dough more silky.
However, in the case of pasta, you don’t have to worry about yeast, or rising, or baking, making things *much* simpler.

The steps in making pasta are as follows:

  • Combine the ingredients into a dough. This can be done equally well in a food processor or mixer as on a counter. It’s better to leave out some of the flour, as it can always be added in later.
  • Knead the dough (like kneading bread dough) until it is a smooth ball. Add extra flour to prevent it sticking, but not so much that the dough dries out. This can also be done in a processor or mixer.
  • Rest the dough. This is important as it allows the gluten in the dough (which you just developed into nice stretchy strands) to relax, making the dough easier to manage later on.
  • Knead the dough further to make it smooth and silky. For this use the widest setting of a pasta machine, feeding it through several times until it feels super-smooth. Dust the dough with flour each time to prevent it sticking in the machine. If you don’t have a pasta machine, you should knead it by hand for about 10 minutes until the same consistency is reached, and rest it after this instead. The dough should be quite stiff and solid.
  • Roll the dough out by feeding it through the pasta machine one setting at a time, to make it thinner and thinner, or by using a rolling pin and plenty of elbow grease. If the pasta ribbon gets too long, cut it in half and continue one piece at a time.
  • When it is thin enough (apparently fettucine and other flat noodles should be thin enough to see through when it is done), use the appropriate cutter attachment to slice into noodles or whatever other shape you need. Filled pasta is trickier and waits for another time.
  • Dry the pasta for at least 30 minutes, with the pieces separated, before cooking just like dried pasta, but for a shorter time.

And that’s it. Smooth, silky, tasty pasta dough. Ideal for light, creamy sauces and delicate vegetables like asparagus. For a more complete description, try the links below, or your favourite recipe book. Italian cooking books will be a good starting place, and Jamie Oliver is keen on making fresh pasta (not surprising given his time at the River Cafe).

A recipe for fresh pasta from Epicurious.

Jamie Oliver’s basic pasta recipe on his website.

The recipe we used today at Tante Marie’s was 8oz all-purpose flour (plain flour is fine too), 2 large eggs, 1 tsp olive oil and a pinch of salt. We didn’t use all this flour, but keep the surplus to hand to flour things as you go.

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