Once you try your hand at making pasta from scratch, you'll wonder why you didn't do it earlier. Simple and satisfying, it also guarantees a quality result, says Lisa Featherby.
You have to wonder when things became so convenient that homemade cooking turned into a chore. Understandably, we all lead busy lives and it's easier to grab a bag of pasta from the shelf than make it yourself. While there's plenty of quality store-bought pasta available, it's worth the effort to experience the beautiful time-honoured tradition of making your own.
Pasta holds many shapes and forms, and every Italian region has its own specialty. The method of making it in the traditional handmade way, without the aid of a pasta machine, is termed artigianale.
The following recipes were inspired by a trip through Tuscany and, in particular, a meal at a tiny casa-style restaurant in Lama Lisa. One of the local artisanal specialties here is the pici con salsa verde. I imagine this thick, hand-rolled pasta of varied length, coated in a fresh mint sauce, is made almost to order by a little Italian nonna out the back.
Rustichella casarecci, a pasta from Puglia, translates as 'rustic homestyle' and is a rolled, curved or twisted pasta that is made with a length of wooden dowel, the likes of which you can find at any hardware store. It is then twisted by hand to give it its 'S' shape. The grooves and hollows of this pasta catch the sauce and, as for freshness, it is full of life, slipping, slinking and sliding across the plate in a way that other pasta just doesn't have the guts to.
Traditionally, casarecci is made with an eggless and sometimes semolina-based dough. We've added eggs in our recipe and have used wheat flour to create a silkier, firmer and richer result. After all, let's face it, the beautiful imperfections of homemade food leaves room for adaptation.
We like to work with a '00' farino (flour), also known as strong or pasta flour. The gluten content of this type of flour is higher, making it stronger than other flours and more durable when cooked. You'll find it in select supermarkets and Italian delicatessens.
The ratio for good egg pasta is one egg to 100gm strong flour, but this may vary depending on the size of the egg and the quality of the pasta. Kneading is an important part of the pasta-making process since it strengthens the dough. Don't skimp on time with this - you'll have to knead for at least five minutes. The finish you're looking for requires a firm, elastic and dry-but not crumbly-dough. This texture is so important for hand-rolling pasta. You may need to add dusted flour sparingly until the right consistency is reached.
The rest is in the rolling. Using dowels of different sizes, you can create different shaped pasta, such as maccheroni from Naples or strozzapreti from Emilia-Romagna. Other shapes, such as orecchiette, can also be made without the use of a dowel by rolling, ridging and pressing the dough with your hands to create unique shapes and sizes. All that's left is to find your own olive grove and 'mangia bene'.