Making pasta is one of those things that really makes me think about how far I’ve come in the kitchen. Once upon a time I ate microwaveable snack pots of baked beans, topped with grated cheddar, straight from the pot and called it lunch. I didn’t eat meat for the whole first year of university because I was scared I wouldn’t cook it properly and might die. Come the second year I was boiling shop-bought ravioli like a pro and adding Dolmio like a demon, but my housemates would still have to standby, armed with tea towels, every time I attempted to sizzle sausages – much to our smoke detector’s disgust. So, it’s nice to think, when I’m rolling my own pasta dough and turning it into tagliatelle to add to my own home-made sauce, that just a few years ago, things were quite different.
And for anyone who, like my younger self, is pretty sure that a 5kg of Asda fusilli is as adventurous as you’ll go, making your own pasta really isn’t that hard. It’s not as much faff as you’d think, and for that tiny tiny extra bit of faff that it does involve, believe me, the pay off is tenfold. The taste of fresh pasta is like nothing else, and the taste of made-by-these-here-hands fresh pasta is, well, also like nothing else, but in a much more impressive way!
To make your own pasta you’ll need two things (and eggs): ’00’ flour and a pasta maker. There aren’t any short cuts here, plain flour simply won’t do. It’s easy enough to find in bigger supermarkets and is priced similarly to good quality plain and self-raising flour. I get mine from Sainsbury’s, it’s Dougall’s ’00 Grade flour for pasta’ and it works a treat. As for the pasta maker, you don’t need anything fancy. Mine was a gift from my dad (he got one first and wanted to share just how wonderfully different its produce tasted), and it’s available for £20 on Amazon here. There are even cheaper ones if you’re on a stricter budget and fanciful ones at extraordinary prices if you envisage yourself opening up an Italian restaurant any time soon. Once you’ve got the essentials it’s time to clear a worktop and get cracking…
For 2-3 people
200g ’00’ flour (sieved)
2 medium free range eggs
Put the flour into a large bowl and make a well in the middle. Crack both eggs into the well and slowly fold the flour into it with your hands. Make sure you break up the eggs and really mix everything together thoroughly. The mixture should be quite stiff and dry, but with enough pulling, patting, churning and rubbing it should all come together and form a light yellow dough. I find that working it with warm hands once it has formed a doughy ball really helps when it comes to creating your pasta sheets.
Pop the dough in a bowl and put it in the fridge for 5 minutes. This makes it easier to work with.
Next cut your dough into four equal parts. Take the first part, roll it into a ball, sprinkle with a little flour and then flatten it with your fist. It doesn’t need to be super thin, but it does need to be even.
Your pasta maker may be a little different to mine, so make sure you read the instructions that come with it, but ultimately you’ll need to turn the dial on the side to the widest setting. For mine this is number 2, and when you turn the dial the mouth of the first press will open as far as it can. Feed your dough through this, turning the handle to press and pull your dough into a sheet. Do this no less than ten times on the number 2 setting. At first the dough may break up and look a little straggly – simply fold it in half, tuck in the unruly edges to make the sheet even and feed it through again. Fold again and feed it through.
Now you need to change the setting on your dial to number 3. Feed your pasta through five times and go to number 4 and so on. When you get to the last number your pasta sheet should be thin and long and even. Put it to one side to firm up while you start the process again for the three remaining dough balls.
When you come back to the sheets they’ll feel a lot more like the pasta you’re used to handling and will be more yellow in colour. Lovely, isn’t it?
Now it’s up to you whether you use these sheets for lasagne, stuff them for ravioli or create stringy spaghetti or tagliatelle. Since the machine is all set up for the latter, that’s what we’re doing here.
It’s super simple – feed your pasta sheets one at a time, through the next mouth on the maker. Try to keep your sheet straight and position a bowl underneath it if there’s room. Turn the lever and spindly lengths of pasta will drop out of the other end.
To cook, add a little salt to a pan of water, bring to the boil and pour in the pasta. 3-4 minutes later you’re done.
And while this stuff is pretty tasty on it’s own, with a little olive oil and salt or accompanied by grated Parmesan, in my opinion, pasta needs sauce. Grab a wok or casserole and team 1 white onion with 2 handfuls of cherry tomatoes, 1 chilli, a bit of paprika, chilli powder and oregano, add chorizo if you fancy a meaty hit, add a little white wine and let it reduce down. Alternatively, whizz up your own pesto with a few bunches of basil, a little olive oil, lemon juice and some Parmesan. Easy.