Part 2: In Which We Talk PASTA

September 8, 2010 § 2 Comments

Still with us? Over the pork-sandwich-induced coma? Good: let’s proceed to the fun part and talk about pasta. For a girl who didn’t taste this food of the gods before the age of 18 (no joke) I’ve devoted enough time to catching up over the intervening years that I can say with degrees of confidence that this is some really good pasta. And although making your own definitely requires commitment in an age where penne has become the ultimate acceptable fast food, the play-doh-reminiscent stage of mixing and kneading is sufficiently therapeutic that you might just become addicted to the process as well as the amazing end result. For this recipe we’re back to Locatelli and judging from reports of friends who have eaten at his London restaurant, this is a man who knows his ravioli.

At this juncture, you need to indulge me a soapbox moment. The quality of your finished pasta is entirely dependent on the quality of the eggs you put in so please please please get the absolute best you can. Have your coffee at home that day, make your lunch, whatever you need to do to justify the extra $3 or so you will have to spend. My eggs came from Eatwell Farm on this particular occasion (via Rainbow Grocery) and were from pasture-raised, non-beak-clipped chickens who lay fertile eggs. Their yolks are firm, creamy and a sunny orange which lends its hue to the finished dough.

You will also need some way to roll out your pasta, unless you have, or want to acquire, forearms of formidable strength. I use a roller attachment for my beloved KitchenAid which frees up both hands to direct the sheets through the roller. But if you aren’t going to be making pasta regularly (which once you taste the results you might find impossible) you can often pick up barely-used, unwanted hand-cranked pasta machines at garage sales, thrift stores and the like for a song.

Fresh Egg Pasta: Adapted from Georgio Locatelli’s Made in Italy

Yields around 600g fresh pasta, which makes around 120 ravioli or serves 4-6 as fettuccine

500g 00 flour
3 large eggs
2 large egg yolks (all at room temperature)
a pinch of salt
water

If you are nervous about the mixture escaping all over the counter, you can start the dough in a bowl, but nothing compares to the fun of going freestyle! You could also use a kneading attachment on a stand mixer but I’ve tried both ways and by hand gives better results and is in the long-term more convenient (less washing up, takes about the same amount of attended time etc).

Sift the flour into a bowl then turn out into a mound on the countertop. Make a well in the centre of the flour and add a good pinch of salt into it. Add the eggs and the egg yolks to the well.

Start off by gently mixing the eggs together using your index and middle fingers. Once the yolks are broken and the eggs mixed, start to draw a little of the flour from the walls of the well into the centre, very very gradually. The wet mixture will start to firm up: keep going until you have incorporated all the flour. You might find at this point that you still have some dry mix which isn’t incorporating fully. Hold off on the temptation to add water at this point as the humidity in the room should help the dough come together once you start kneading.

The kneading process is a little different from that you might be familiar with from bread-making. You want to use the heel of your hand to flatten and stretch the dough away from you, then fold it over on itself, rotate, and repeat. The dough is likely to feel pretty stiff for a while: do not worry. If you have been kneading for 3 or 4 minutes and the dough is not holding together, wet your hands in a bowl of water at your side and return to the kneading. You might have to do this 4 or 5 times – it depends on the size of the eggs you have used, the particular flour and even the atmospheric conditions in the kitchen on that particular day. Just keep resisting the temptation to add water, keep wetting your hands, and it will come together in due course.

The kneading is complete once the dough feels smooth and slightly springy to the touch, around 10-15 minutes in all. It will still feel tougher than you might like but again, don’t worry, it will loosen up when it rests. Divide the ball of dough in two, wrap each piece firmly in plastic wrap and put in the fridge for at least an hour to rest. I often leave it overnight to good effect.

If you are going the whole hog and making the ravioli, you will want to roll the dough immediately before the assembly stage, as detailed in part 3, so it doesn’t dry out. If you want to use this recipe to make fettuccine, tagliatelli or other pasta shapes, you can cook it there and then or dry it out for storage. Press the pasta as per the instructions below, run it through the cutter (or shape by hand) and dangle over the back of a kitchen chair or form into nests and lay out on clean towels until fully dried. At this point you can store it in an airtight container in the cupboard, as you would regular dried pasta. But be sure the pasta is fully dry before you put it away as it can go mouldy otherwise.

Whenever you are ready to roll out the dough, take one of the two balls of pasta from the fridge and divide in two again. Keep the half you are not using wrapped firmly in the plastic to prevent it drying. Take the piece you are going to work with and use a rolling pin to flatten it such that it will go through the widest setting of your pasta roller without over-straining the machine. (I can’t personally give advice for rolling by hand but Marcella Hazan has an excellent discussion of the process if you want or need to go down that route.) Feed this piece through the roller on its largest setting, three times. Take the machine down a notch and feed the pasta through again. Repeat 3 or 4 further times, on each occasion reducing the gauge by one notch. The pasta is likely to have some streaks remaining at this point but don’t worry as they will be worked out at the next stage.

Take the rolled piece and fold it along the longest edge (i.e. width-ways) so you have a piece that is about the width of the roller (the pasta will now be being rolled at right angles to the first round of rolling so that it stretches evenly). You will need to work it a bit with the rolling pin so that it will be thin enough to fit through the largest gauge of the machine once again. Feed the pasta through on the largest notch, again repeating three times before you start reducing the gauge. As before, take the pasta down to the 4th or 5th notch. You then want to repeat this entire process for one final time. Fold the pasta width-ways so it will be returning for the third roll along the same direction as the original and repeat the whole process, this time taking the pasta all the way down to the 6th notch or until it is smooth and almost translucent.

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