Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Bella pasta

For Christmas 2010, my wonderful girlfriend Miss Crumpet gave me the gift of pasta with an Imperia pasta machine. I have never looked back.

Making pasta from scratch, process-wise, is surprisingly simple and a great way to involve the whole family (mainly small people that like to get their fingers sticky!) to learn the origins of the classic Italian staple.

I loosely follow Lorraine Pascale's method, halving the quantities to:
  • 200g of type '00' flour
  • 2 medium free range eggs
  • a healthy glug of extra virgin olive oil
  • a 360 degree twist of mixed peppercorns (white, red and black)
Begin by adding the flour to a bowl and creating a well in the centre in which to crack the two eggs and add the oil and pepper. With a fork, start working the flour into the eggs until a crumb-like texture forms. Now the fun bit. Add a light dusting to the head chef's hands and get them in the bowl! Bring the dough together and gently knead for a few minutes until it comes together fully, but being careful not to overwork - "simplified science" flour contains wheat; wheat contains gluten; kneading combines proteins that give the dough its structure. Over knead and the pasta will be tough and rubbery - not yummy.

Once you're happy the dough is ready, pop it in the fridge for at least 10 minutes before you roll it out. After many botched rolling efforts, this step has proved crucial.

Set your pasta machine up on a sturdy bench, take your dough from the fridge and with a rolling pin, give the machine a head start by rolling it out to an inch or so thick. Then on the highest setting, feed the pasta through the machine, and work through all the settings, down to the thinnest roll. Be careful as your dough will get collosal, so unless your work bench is the size of a diving board, you may want to make the pasta in batches.

Now you have your sheets, the pastaworld is your oyster. From rigatoni, to fusili, to lasagne, there are over 35 different pasta shapes, and that's before you get into the realms of your raviolis and other filled pastas. My advice, start simple. My pasta machine came with a spaghetti and taglietelle attachment, but if yours doesn't, simply fold the pasta end on end, twist and cut into thin strips and unfold - taglietelle, voila.

With your pan of bubbling hot, salted water crying out to be filled, place your pasta in, give it a quick stir, and literally a minute later when it's slightly lightened in colour and risen to the service - off the heat; drain it, pop it in a warm bowl and there you have your very own, handmade, mumma's special recipe, pasta!

But what to have with it? Again, simplicity can often be divine. One of our faves is courgette, lemon and basil. Simply heat some oil in a pan, cut the courgettes in half, add them to the pan and cook until they have a healthy brown colour. Add a squeeze of lemon, quick stir, then straight onto the pasta, garnished with a few chopped/ripped leaves of basil and some parmesan. Delicious.

That may all sound like a lot, but now that I've got my technique down, it really does only takes a few minutes longer than emptying dried pasta into a pan and the result is so much nicer. If you are loyal to your dried pasta, opt for de cecco, pound for pasta, it's our personal fave.

I love pasta, we eat it weekly so in a few weeks time, I'll follow this up with a seasonal recipe for filled pasta.

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