|Photo by Steve Shanahan|
First published Canberra Times 22 February 2012.
With the low carb fad that’s been around for the past few years, pasta has definitely been placed on the ‘B’ list in our house, along with bread and potatoes.
For some time now we have been dutifully eating our protein and vegetables without carbs. That is until recently, when I unpacked a long lost box of kitchen items that had been stored away and rediscovered my pasta machine.
Chef Giorgio Locatelli reckons that every authentic Italian is made up of two-thirds pasta and that pasta is the fuel that keeps Italy running smoothly. He also wonders that at ten to midday in Italy, how many millions of kilos of pasta are being placed in pots of boiling water ready to be transformed into lunch before siesta? Sophia Loren famously claims she owes her voluptuous figure to spaghetti, and Garibaldi vowed that it was pasta that united Italy.
With this level of devotion, and despite a lingering fondness for spaghettio’s out of a tin on white toast, Australians have become pretty sophisticated in the subject of pasta and embraced the bow ties and spirals with gusto.
Although we are likely to reach for whatever tin of tomatoes or dried pasta is available to us in our cupboards, Locatelli says that the different shapes and textures of pasta are meant to match their sauce. He instructs that you would not use penne to go with a tomato based sauce, you would use spaghetti. Similarly, you would not use spaghetti to make a cream based dish. There also seems to be a number of unspoken rules around dried and fresh pasta. Locatelli further instructs, you would only use fresh pasta to go with a ragu style sauce. He believes that Italian mothers and grandmothers just ‘know’ these things and it is purely instinctive.
So many rules! I’m feeling pretty confused by now, and resign myself to accommodating the harvest from my vegetable patch. It seems that I’m one of the lucky ones to have ripe tomatoes, which was more good luck than skill. So I bend the rules a little, deviating from tradition, with a sauce made from fresh, sweet cherry tomatoes mixed through a home made fettucine style pasta. I topped it with a pangritata, which is a garlic, herb and breadcrumb mix fried in olive oil.
Over the ten years I’ve owned my pasta machine and as many times that I’ve actually used it to make fresh pasta, I am reminded that it really is so easy to make. Although for me, it’s the sense of satisfaction to see it bubbling away in the pot that really does it. Then of course there is the fantastic eggy flavour and the silken texture, comparatively difficult to achieve with the dried variety.
When I made my pasta, it was early in the day. I then hung it over the rungs of a clothes airer, secured behind closed doors in the laundry, so the resident food focused spoodle would not be tempted. You can store the dried pasta for months in the cupboard in airtight containers or bags if you dry it properly. Alternatively, if you are using your pasta straight after making it, you can wind handfuls of it into little nests and store them under a damp tea towel to stay moist before you are ready to cook it.
Pasta making, like breadmaking, is the kind of thing I wouldn’t choose to do if I was in a hurry or not in the right frame of mind. If I was either of those, I would succumb to the instant variety and reach for a packet in the cupboard.
In saying that, I highly recommend giving pasta making a go, it’s incredibly easy and therapeutic, not to mention the sense of achievement and excitement you will feel when you tell people you made it yourself.
Home made fettucine
500g 00 flour or strong flour
3 large eggs
8 egg yolks
Place flour in a large bowl and make a well in the centre, add the eggs and yolks. Mix with a fork, breaking up the eggs as you mix the flour in from the middle. Mix until the dough forms a ball and you can work it with your hands. Tip out onto a clean, floured surface and knead well until the dough ball comes together and is silky and elastic. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and rest in the fridge for half an hour or so.
I use a pasta machine, but if you don’t have one you can roll the dough by hand, however it is a tough job and takes a lot of rolling to get it as thin as a machine can. A machine really is great if you can lay your hands on one. They are not very expensive and worth it if you love your pasta.
Divide your ball of pasta into 4 pieces and keep covered. Working with one ball at a time, dust the pasta ball with flour and flatten out by hand. Run it through the widest setting on your pasta machine. Do this 5 or 6 times, incrementally reducing the thickness until it is on the thinnest setting. You will get the hang of it once you do it a few times.
Once I have a long thin sheet I then run it through the fettucine setting to make the long flat noodles. Use one hand to lift the noodles as they come out of the machine and one to turn the handle.
I hang the noodles on a clothes airer to dry for a few hours. You can hang them over the back of a chair, just remember to cover the chair seat with a tea towel as the noodles will be coated in flour.
If you are using them straight away, just twirl each portion into a nest and store them between two damp teatowels while you are boiling your water ready for cooking them. They will stay fresh like that for a few hours if you store them in the fridge in the teatowel.
Repeat with the remaining portions of pasta dough.
Tip: keep the balls of dough coated in flour along with the fettucine noodles once they are cut. This will stop them from sticking together.
5 tbsp olive oil
200g of roughly torn bread into small pieces
1 clove of garlic, chopped
handful of fresh thyme or oregano leaves
salt and ground pepper
1 quantity of home-made fettucine, or use about 400g of dried pasta
6 tbsp olive oil
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
juice of 2 lemons
grated fresh parmesan
First cook the pangritata. Place the olive oil into a hot large hot frying pan. Add the garlic, thyme and bread. Fry until they begin to go golden. Stir around for a couple of minutes until they are crisp. Season with salt and pepper and drain on kitchen paper.
Cook the fettucine in salted boiling water until al dente and drain. While it’s cooking, place the oil and garlic in a frying pan (use the same one you used earlier) and heat gently. As the garlic begins to soften, add the anchovies and mix gently. They will melt into the mixture. Add the lemon juice and the chillies. Toss in the drained fettucine and coat it in the sauce. Taste for seasoning, you find you will need a little more lemon juice. Serve immediately sprinkled with the pangritata and a little parmesan.