The first pasta I ever made was a very soupy looking lasagne when I was a teenager & it didn’t improve much until my twenties – it tasted very nice, but you needed a spoon to eat it (although my boyfriend at the time was far too polite to mention this). My pasta skills have progressed a bit since then & I am happy to say, you don’t need a spoon to eat my lasagne anymore (although I do recommend wearing an elasticated waistband).
Some people may think of pasta making as a bit fiddly or time consuming (it’s like the bread making scenario all over again). I appreciate this, because I too had a few issues in the beginning (actually, I still do on occasion) & that’s OK, because your kitchen isn’t a Michelin starred restaurant – you’re making it for family & friends, not paying customers! It just takes a little practice, that’s all. The best thing is pasta takes very little time to make from scratch, plus it’s fun to make when the weather is a bit pants & the kids are “bored” – get them making pasta! Ready to get stuck in? Hands washed, aprons on & here we go!
What you need:
The recipe I use is 100g of strong ’00’ flour (or strong bread flour) & one large egg, per person (so if you’re cooking for three people, that’s three eggs & 300g of flour). However, I like to mix half flour with half fine semolina, which gives it that gorgeous golden, sunshine yellow colour (& everyone likes a little sunshine).
Forget pudding semolina in those tiny boxes, have a look in your local shops & markets for the proper semolina flour. I tend to buy a bag each of coarse & fine semolina – coarse is great for sprinkling on trays before baking grissini, freestyle bread shapes or pizzas (it’s also good for crisping up your roasted potatoes).
Also, I recommend buying good quality free-range eggs – trust me, it makes all the difference. Here’s a little test to see if your eggs are really fresh. Half fill a jug with cold water & gently plop the eggs into the jug, one at a time. If they sink, they’re fine & fresh; if they float, it means they are not that fresh & probably shouldn’t be used.
What to do:
Measure your flour into a bowl & tip onto a clean work surface. Make a well in the middle, crack your eggs in carefully & combine them a little before using clean, cool fingertips to bring the flour in from the sides & gently combine into a lovely golden dough (it’s messy, but that’s half the fun).
Knead for about five minutes until flexible, then wrap in cling film & leave to rest in the fridge for half an hour. After that, you can roll it out, stuff it with some fabulous fillings, or cut into ribbons (such as tagliatelle) & even hang some up to dry for another day (if you don’t have a rack, use a clean clothes horse). It’s that simple! If you do save some, remember to store in the fridge because it’s got fresh egg in it.
While that’s chilling out (I hear you groaning at my jokes), here’s a fast filling that I love – ricotta & spinach. You can make your own ricotta, I do it & it’s really easy, but we don’t all have the time so grab a regular sized pot (about 250g) from your deli for this.
Wilt a couple of generous handfuls of fresh, washed spinach in a dry frying pan or skillet. Don’t have the heat too high though, you want to wilt it not fry it. The spinach will shrivel up into silky emerald coloured swirls. Put this in a blender with the ricotta & give it a good whizz around. If it’s not firm enough, add a grating of Parmesan. Put in the fridge until your pasta is ready.
To make ravioli, roll the dough out until it’s almost thin enough to see through. Lay it down on a flour dusted surface (sprinkle some semolina too – this will stop it sticking). Then simply add small splodges of your filling (about a teaspoonful), roughly an inch apart, down one side of the pasta sheet – sometimes I use a piping bag to do this (less mess & a bit quicker). Dip your finger in a cup of cold water, run it along the edge & between the fillings, before folding the other side of the pasta over the top. Press the edges down firmly, using a cupping action with the side of your hand to separate the fillings into individual bumps & remove any air. Cut them into little parcels using a ravioli or pizza cutter & set aside on a plate or board, again dusted with flour or semolina (or both).
Bring a pan of water to a rolling boil, chuck in a couple of generous pinches of sea salt, then gently add your pasta to the water. It should cook in about 2-3 minutes, so pick one out & have a taste to check – obviously, if you’re cooking ravioli or similar stuffed pasta, use your judgement on this & make sure the filling is piping hot. Then drain (saving a cup of the water) & serve as you like it- spoon on some sauce, or just add a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil & a sprinkle of black pepper. If your sauce is a bit too thick, add some of the cooking water to loosen it up a bit & make it silky smooth (you really don’t need much). All you need to do then is eat it!
Speaking of sauce, usually I make my family recipe tomato sauce for this, but sometimes there’s a bag of salad that needs using up. Try blitzing a couple of generous handfuls of fresh washed rocket, basil & spinach in a blender with a little olive oil, a few pine nuts & about an ounce of grated hard Italian cheese – I use either Parmesan or Grana Padana (sometimes a mixture of both), but it’s down to your personal taste here. Add a little of the pasta water to thin it out a bit & spoon over your handmade ravioli!
One of the best tips I can give is to treat yourself to a robust pasta machine – forget brand names here, go for the one that you feel most comfortable with.
When I first began making pasta, I would roll out the dough by hand with a rolling pin (several times until it was thin enough & my arms ached), so my pasta machine is one of the best purchases I’ve made. With the turn of a handle you can have perfectly precise spaghetti (they are also really good for rolling out fondant icing too!).
These plump little pasta parcels are perfect for meat-free Mondays, or mid-week suppers with friends! Why not get everyone involved & make it a family event! Stay hungry! 😉 A x