PASTA FRESCA Cost 30p, 20¢ per person Takes about 45 minutes

Fresh Pasta A guide to buying and making pasta

Pasta is the subject of much misinformation these days. The worst example, in my less than humble opinion, is the notion that so-called 'fresh' pastas are superior to the dried varieties. The truth is often the reverse. Many supermarket products sold as 'fresh' pasta are not the 'real thing'. Just check out the list of ingredients and if it contains anything more than eggs, flour and salt, put it back on the shelf and head for the dried pasta.

To put things into perspective, I eat pasta about a dozen times a month. I make pasta once every 2-3 months and use the dried varieties the rest of the time. This closely matches what I have observed in Italy. People who use fresh pasta more frequently tend to be chefs or live near fresh pasta stores.

If you have a pasta rolling machine, making pasta is easy and can be fun. If you want to buy one I can recommend the Marcato Atlas. I have owned one for twelve years. It was inexpensive, still looks like new and they have a website. You can, of course, roll it by hand, but you will need a steady table, a long thin rolling-pin and a lot more skill.

The proportions given are per person or as stated in the recipes. If you wish to use different types or sizes of eggs, you will need to increase or decrease the quantity of flour used. This is also true when adding spinach or other moist ingredients. Have fun.
Standard egg pasta
  • 1 medium-sized egg, lightly beaten
  • 100g unbleached white flour (00)
  • Pinch of salt (optional)

    Spinach pasta add
  • 60g (2 oz )cooked spinach, finely chopped
    wieghed after squeezing it dry

    Tomato pasta add
  • 60g (2 oz) tomato pulp, well dried

    METHOD

    If you are pressed for time and have a food mixer with a dough hook, place most of the flour and the other ingredients into the bowl and mix together on a low setting for 2 minutes. If the mixture sticks to the bowl add more of the reserved flour. When the mixture moves freely leave it to knead on a low setting for about 5 minutes or until the surface is really smooth.

    For a superior result or if you do not have a food mixer place the flour (and salt) in a mound on a table or work surface and make a well in the centre. Pour the eggs (beaten with the spinach or tomato if using) into the well. Using a fork slowly work the flour from the edges of the well into the eggs (egg mixture) until they are no longer runny.

    Leaving a small amount of flour to one side, use your fingers and palms (well floured) to draw the mixture together until it forms a coherent mass. If it is too moist work in some of the reserved flour. When you can poke the mass with a (clean floured) finger and it comes out clean, we can proceed.

    You may choose to skip this section and head straight for the machine, but this extra effort will give you a better result. Knead the dough by stretching it out with one hand, fold it over, then give it a quarter turn. Continue this process, always turning in the same direction, for 5-6 minutes or until the surface is silky smooth (If you think this section needs diagrams e-mail me). Divide the dough into three separate pieces for each egg used (i.e. dough made with 3 eggs into 9 equal pieces).

    Take a piece of dough and using the palm of your hand, flatten it out to a rectangular shape. Feed it through the rollers, on their widest setting, while cranking the handle. Fold each end of the strip into the middle, overlapping like a letter, give it a quarter turn and repeat the operation twice more, giving it a quarter turn each time (if you omitted the kneading by hand you will need to repeat this process three or four times more). Place the dough on a cloth or floured work surface and roll out the remaining pieces of dough.

    Set the rollers to the next setting (narrower) and starting with the first piece of dough crank it through the rollers just once and lay it back down. Do the same with the remaining pieces and try to keep them in the same order. Set the rollers to next setting (narrower still) and repeat the process with all of the strips. You will need to do this 2 or 3 more times until you arrive at the thickness required. If the strips become to long cut them in half.

    On my machine there are seven settings numbered 1 to 7
    For pasta sheets I use 6 or 7
    For noodles fettuce to tagliolini I use 5 or 6
    For spaghetti or tonnarelli I use 4

    If you are using pasta sheets you should proceed with the dish immediately. If you are making noodles make sure that the dough is not too moist (it can get stuck when cutting). An easy way to cut noodles by hand is to lay a strip of pasta on a flat surface. Place a ruler (straight edge) on the dough and cut to the width required with a knife. For pappardelle use a pastry wheel instead of a knife.

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