On the weekend, I like to get into a bit of fiddly cookery. Something that will need fresh produce, maybe a fancy machine or at least an hours worth of chopping, simmering and stirring in the kitchen.
Homemade Pasta isn't that difficult at all, but there are some tricks to make it so much more of a pleasure to eat. The recipe is basically eggs, flour and salt; knead into a smooth dough then let sit for a while; roll out thinly; boil.
Let me share my tips with you.
Regular plain flour is fine, but using '00' flour will give you a more delicate result. You only need a pinch of salt, so use the good stuff.
A recipe will tell you to use 2 eggs per 165g (6 oz) of flour, but if the flour is drier, (this can be caused by the age of the flour, or even the weather when it was ground) it will need more eggs. This 500g packet of flour used 5 large eggs.
Sift the flour on the kitchen bench with the salt. Make a well in the centre and crack your eggs straight in. I started with 3 and then added 2 more, because the dough wasn't developing the way it should. Combine the eggs using one hand, gradually bringing in flour from the edges of your well until all the flour is used and you are using both hands to knead the flour into a smooth, elastic ball of dough. Don't hold back on the kneading, because this is what causes the protiens in the dough to break down and relax, and this is what will give you tender pasta.
Wrap the dough in glad wrap, then leave it somewhere to rest. It doesn't have to rise so don't leave it in the sun. A cool place on the bench is fine. Leave it there for a few hours.
I went to the vege garden and found some greenery to use in the ravioli filling. I was planning on making spinach and feta ravioli but when I retrieved the feta from the fridge, someone had nibbled most of it away, so there was hardly enough for 6 hungry people! I decided to make as much ravioli as I could, and use the rest of the dough to make fettuccine.
The filling was chopped silver beet, shallots, ground white pepper and feta cheese. I steamed the silver beet for a few minutes in the microwave before letting it cool and adding to the rest of the ingredients. Besides taste, the most important thing about ravioli filling is that you want it to be dry. Very wet filling will leak out during cooking.
Cut your pasta dough into pieces about half the size of your fist. Work with one piece at a time, and keep covered what you are not working with otherwise it will dry out and wont roll properly.
Flour your surface, and squash the pasta down a bit. If you don't have a pasta roller you can use a rolling pin, but your arms will get a big workout. If you have a pasta roller, keep it floured at all times otherwise bits of dough will break off and stick inside the rollers. This will be very bad.
The roller has notches on the side that go from 1 to 7, 7 is the widest. Roll your lump of pasta through on 7, then reduce it until eventually you are at 1, and your pasta is super thin and super long. You can fold it over a bit to tidy up the sections if you need to, just give it a few extra rolls.
More rolling = more tender pasta. When you have finished, cut it in half so that the long lengths are easier to work with.
Put teaspoons of filling (not too much or it will explode during cooking) at regular intervals along the long bit of pasta. Using a brush (I use a 1 inch paintbrush, because it is cheaper and I like the job it does) paint some water around each lump of filling. Carefully place the other piece of pasta on top, and press down around each lump. Your goal is to eliminate air bubbles without breaking the pasta. Be gentle!
Once you have done that, use a pasta cutter or a sharp knife to cut into squares. Place uncovered on a chopping board to dry for about 30 mins or so, this will help the pasta retain it's shape during cooking.
I made a big pot of simple tomato sauce, using onions, tomatoes, garlic and wine, then let it simmer for 20 minutes. Once it has simmered for a bit, my favourite thing to do is to just turn the heat off and let it sit. I think this lets the flavours marry and intensify nicely. It works really well on spag bol as well.
Back to the roller to make the fettuccine. Roll the bits of pasta out as before, but then roll them through the fettuccine attachment at the other end of your roller. I get the kids to do this, they think it is fun!
Cooking the pasta is easy, but make sure your water is absolutely boiling and salted before you put the pasta in. Packaged pasta can be added to the pot before the water is on the boil and it won't be a disaster, but you cannot get away with this when cooking fresh pasta. It will be a big sludgy swampy disappointment.
So bring water to boil in your largest saucepan, add a big pinch of salt, then gently put in the ravioli. When it has risen to the top it will be almost cooked; give it a minute then take one out to taste. Cut it in half to check the filling before you eat it. Scoop the ravioli out of the pot using a slotted spoon. Bring the water back to the boil if you are cooking fettuccine, and the trick is here to keep stirring until it is cooked to taste.
I ended up saucing the fettuccine and placing in bowls, placed some ravioli on top, then sprinkled over some grated cheese and a small hand full of chopped shallots.
Do you cook your pasta from scratch sometimes? What are your favourite tricks? What is your favourite recipe using fresh pasta?