One of the greatest things I ever learned and will use even in my old age whilst being senile and terrorising my grandkids, is the art of making a good pasta…from scratch. Yes, I’ll admit, like the majority of people, before I actually studied the craft of cooking, I had always believed that pasta came out of a packet made by some machines in Italy…or something.
I was about to type about how everyone loves a good pasta but my experience in the world of food has killed that view quickly. Not everyone likes pasta and not everyone knows how to make pasta, even the packet kind, properly. Old wives tales about pouring olive oil in the cooking water and making the water taste “of the ocean” with buckets of salt abound. Even the packets the dried pasta’s come in state that you should put oil in the water. No, don’t do it!
I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase “al dente”, it’s an Italian phrase that literally means “to the tooth”. Simply put, whatever you cook should still have something to bite into when you bite it. No soft mushy food. Pasta, risotto, vegetables and some poached fruits should all be cooked to al dente and not further. To achieve properly al dente pasta cook the pasta to just before it’s fully cooked (it should still have a little bit of hardness in the middle of it when you bite it) and immediately drain it and place it in ice water. The ice water prevents carry over cooking, a term we use as chefs to refer to food continuing to cook from its own heat even after it has been removed from the heat source. When you are about to serve the pasta you’ll warm it in a bit of the hot pasta sauce in a pan on the stove and this will finish off the cooking process.
Ok, let me put a disclaimer here. This is my blog, I’m a qualified chef with years of experience, I am NOT Italian nor am I knocking other people’s cooking method but this is simply what I have found to work and not to work. People pay to eat what I make so….
When cooking pasta DON’T:
- Put the pasta in the water if it isn’t boiling. Putting pasta in still water will still cook the pasta but it increases the likelihood of it sticking to each other and to the bottom of the pot.
- Over do the salt. Many recipes will tell you to make the water “taste like the ocean” by dumping a lot of salt in the water. I’ve found that too much salt actually effects the pasta itself in that it breaks up quicker. Remember the point of a good pasta is the sauce it is served with, so a whole lot of salt in the cooking water will also effect the taste of the sauce. If your sauce is good anyway, you really don’t need a seasoned pasta. The pasta dough recipe itself calls for salt anyway.
- Put oil in the boiling water. This is just a waste of good olive oil. If your water is boiling properly then you really don’t need oil in the boiling water. This is one of those debatable points that people can go on and on about for ages. The reason oil is added by some is to prevent the pasta from clumping during cooking and to keep it separate. It also, apparently, prevents the water from boiling over and it foaming. All these things are preventable by simply using a high enough pot and not over-filling it and also by making sure you put the pasta in boiling water.
- Pour oil all over the pasta once drained. I often argue with my junior chefs about this as they do it all the time when I’m not looking. This is done apparently also to prevent the pasta from clumping. Your pasta will only clump and stick together if you do not drain and rinse it after cooking (and cool it down in ice water if you plan on storing or serving it later). Pouring olive oil all over your pasta also prevents it from absorbing and sticking to any of the awesome pasta sauce you’ll be serving it with. I’ll repeat: the point of the good pasta is the sauce sticking to the pasta
- Break it up into small pieces. I cannot begin to explain how this bugs the hell out of me. My mom does this when cooking spaghetti and long pastas. Cooking is all about symmetry. The more similar in size things are the easier the cooking process as they’ll all be cooked to relatively the same degree. It’s why we measure things in the kitchen and why chefs are so precise about everything. Besides the look it also helps us with the cooking. It also irks me when you break pasta up before cooking because I know how painstaking it is to make pasta and get it perfect…and then to watch someone break it before cooking! Argh! If you don’t enjoy eating long strings of pasta than choose a different kind of pasta. There are so many different types of pastas in the world, choose one that doesn’t need to be broken up.
- Cook uncooked pasta in sauce. I’ve seen my bachelor and single male friends do this. Somehow they think it’s a genius move cooking pasta in a sauce. Ehh, no. Don’t do it. You’ll just be overcooking the sauce and the pasta will never be truly cooked to al dente.
- Stir the pasta with a metal spoon. This will cut the pasta up and break it apart. Use the back of a wooden or plastic spoon if your pasta is not moving about enough in the boiling water.
Ok, now that we’ve got the list of things that one shouldn’t do down, lets get to the nitty gritty. The actual pasta making process. Although I have the equipment, somehow there’s something about making pasta the old fashioned way with a rolling pin on a big granite or marble table that I love. It’s a mission though because you have to make sure the pasta doesn’t stick to the table and that its thin enough. A lot of energy and muscle strength is required and I assume that’s why we have the image of big Italian mama’s making it. To make you life easier and much simpler buy yourself one these babies…
I won’t be going into the process involved in using a manual pasta machine. They come with manuals and are pretty straight forward and simple to use. One thing I must make sure I state, though, is even if the manual says you can wash the thing. DON’T WASH IT. Get paint brushes and brush away any flour. If you make you pasta dough properly there should be any that sticks to the machine but if there is, pick off the stuck dough and brush it clean. These machines are notorious for getting rusted up and clogged and washing them effects the motors that roll around inside them. When in doubt, in this day and age, Google is your friend. Find out how to look after your machine properly. Luckily as more and more people buy into making home made pasta’s the machines have started to get cheaper and aren’t as pricey as they used to be. Buy Italian made! I have nothing against the Chinese, heck, they actually invented pasta and the Italians perfected (stole) the idea, but the Italians make the proper quality machines.
Herewith my recipe. This is for an enriched pasta…which basically means it has eggs in the recipe. It will be a yellow colour then and not that clinical white colour you associate with some pastas. Enriched pastas are more robust and will hold their shape better. They also have a bit more flavour to them than a simple egg-less pasta. This recipe makes 500g of pasta dough. Someone asked me why I always use such precise measurements and why they are always in metric measurements. I have posted an entry on this blog explaining my reasons for this and included a table that will assist you to convert. Please search for “converting” in the search box above and you’ll find the post.
- Cake flour – 454g
- Eggs – 4 & 1/2 eggs
- Olive Oil – 30ml
- Water – 15 – 30ml
- Salt – 12,5ml
- Egg yolks – 62,5g
- Make sure you have wiped down a large kitchen counter. You will need quite a bit of space to do all of this and it should be super clean. Any dirt or dust will show up in your pasta and end product.
- Mix the flour and salt together and place the mixture on a flat working surface.
- Whisk the eggs and egg yolks together and make a well in the centre of the flour and pour in all the egg mixture and oil
- Working fast and with your hands, combine the eggs, oil and flour well.
- Knead the mixture into a dough. Knead well, with time it will become elastic and start moving off the table surface without sticking. If it becomes difficult to knead due to sticking, dust the dough and surface with flour.
- Once done and elastic, wrap the dough in plastic wrap brushed with olive oil. Rest the dough in the fridge for an hour.
- Press your finger into the dough, it should slowly spring back. The dough should be slightly moist to the touch.
- If using a pasta machine, begin by rolling the dough on the number 1 setting (which is the biggest setting) and work yourself down to the thinnest setting.
- If using a rolling pin, roll the dough out onto a flour surface. Constantly lift the bottom of the dough up and off the table after each roll of the pin, this prevents the dough from sticking. Once thin enough (if you’re making lasagna the pasta should slightly thicker than tagliatelle pasta), shape the dough into any shape you’d like. Use a pizza cutter or sharp knife to make strips or a cookie cutter to make shapes and ravioli (pasta rolling cutters are sold at good supply stores, they make it much easier). Brush the edges of the pasta with whisked egg wash to close it shut if you’ll be filling it or stuffing it.
- You can freeze and store the pasta in the freezer.
- To dry your pasta you can use anything and everything. I’ve seen some use coat hangers, some use hat stands and some us newspaper stands. What I’ve found works is one of those indoor clothes hangers for drying clothes. Just make sure its super clean and sanitized. Rather go for wooden racks as they “breath” unlike plastic or metal ones. Dust your cut up pasta with flour and separate the sheets before placing onto the hanger or rack to hang.
- Here are a few pictures of the stuffed pasta I made a few weeks ago. I used a pea puree to stuff it. You may stuff pasta with anything you’d like.