Saturday, 17 August 2013

Tips On Making Fresh Pasta At Home

Anyone that regularly follows my blog will know that I often make fresh pasta at home, when I do so many people say they have never tried making it but they think it's difficult and requires a lot of skill and practice. There is some truth in this when it comes to making the various pasta shapes, but the basic practice of making pasta at home ally is very simple and anyone can do it. Once you start making your own pasta you will be making it all the time as shapes such like Ravioli, Tortelloni, and so on are great ways of using up leftovers, you can flavour your pasta with so many ingredients (beetroot, spinach, herbs, peppers, chocolate, squid ink) and for all those of you with children it's great fun to make and eat pasta together as a family, it's a skill that is really best passed from generation to generation as it has been in Italy for decades. 
Basic fresh pasta dough is so easy to make all you need is pasta flour, eggs (or egg yolks) and salt, it's that simple and the recipe is so easy to scale up, or down, for whatever number of people you are cooking for - 100g of "00" pasta flour, 1 egg (or 2 yolks only) and a pinch of salt will give you enough fresh pasta for two people. 
I always make pasta by hand, but you can put all ingredients into a food mixer and pulse till you have a dough, but I prefer the hands on approach as yo can feel the dough and you know  instantly if it's to wet or to dry and when it needs to rest. A food mixer, though quicker than by hand, will heat up the dough and ever so slightly cook it which means your dough will rarely be as elastic as when made by hand. 

For a recipe for fresh pasta dough click here, but below are a few hints and tips on getting started making pasta at home.

Get Your Hands Dirty

The best way to mix your dough together is by hand on a clean work top, the way it has been made by Italians for many years.
Sieve your flour out into a pile on a clean work surface, then once you have a mound of flour use your hand to make a well in the centre, so it resembles the top of a volcano. Crack your eggs into a bowl, add the pinch of salt, and beat lightly. If your using whole eggs you will get a pale yellow pasta dough, if you use just the yolks your dough will be much richer and a very deep golden yellow colour. 
Pour the egg mixture into the well in the flour centre, it should not leak out through the flour but be careful. Using two fingers held together, make circles through the egg yolk but on each circle bring a little of the flour into the egg, keep making circles and pulling the flour into the eggs until it begins to form a dough. Once all the eggs and flour are incorparated your pasta is sad to knead.

Kneading And Working The Dough
Pasta dough, when made by hand, should be worked for at least ten minutes, kneading it and working it over and over again. After kneading if you cut your dough in half it should still have big air pockets (see above). It also still had crumbly bits of unworked flour sticking to the outside. When the dough was finished, on the other hand, it was completely smooth and elastic to the touch.
Stoping Dough Drying Out
After the dough is kneaded smooth, separate it into a few small balls. Keep each ball of dough covered with a clean kitchen towel while rolling out the first ball of dough. It's important to work quickly, because dry dough is harder to work through the machine.
Once You Have A Smooth Elastic Dough
Thats the hard work part over with, If you work your dough until it's completely smooth to the touch, the rest is easy. Leave your dough to rest in the fridge for at least an hour, but over night is much better. When you take it out, don't work it straight away give the dough a while to warm up before you use it. A good test for the quality of your dough is to push a clean finger into the dough and make a hole, if the dough is made correctly when you pull your finger out the hole should remain there and the dough shouldn't spring back and close the hole.
You can now make various pasta shapes from your dough. Shapes such as Malloredus, fusilli, orecchietti are all made from pulling off pieces of pasta dough, rolling thin sausage shapes and shaping them.
Using A Pasta Machine
I think it's quite sad how hundreds of pasta machines are purchased each year, but so many of them never make any pasta, they a confined to the back of kitchen cupboards and never see the light of day . . Such a crime. If you have a pasta machine which you have never used, get it out, dust it off and have a go. Secure your pasta machine to your work top, this will make life much easier when you begin winding the dough through. The trick with pasta machines is keeping the dough manageable, divide your dough into smaller pieces and work on each one individually one at a time, it's so much easier. 
Set the rollers of your pasta machine to their widest setting. Once your dough is divided flatten a piece with your hand slightly then feed one end into the machine rollers and turn the handle in a steady motion as the dough goes through. It is best to run the dough through a couple of times on this widest setting as I will make the dough more managable before you begin making it thinner, so fold the dough in half again and run through the machine, repeat this step a couple of times. 
Now it's time to steadily reduce the width of the rollers, click the side knob down one setting and run the dough through again, keep repeating and reducing the width until your pasta machine  is almost on its thinnest setting. I never take my pasta to the thinnest setting as it makes the dough very difficult to shape and work with, the last but one setting is moe than thin enough I think.
When your running the dough through the machine you will end up with a long sheet of pasta, Don't Struggle!!!.  Cut the sheet into two and work on it one sheet at a time, but don't forget to take the rollers back to the wider setting again before you work on another pasta sheet. Once you have these pasta sheets you can cut them into Lasagne sheets, make ravioli, tortelloni,  or cut them by hand into tagliatelle, fettucine, Lasagnetta or run them through the cutter settings on your pasta machine to make tagliatelle, linguine, fettucine and so on. 
Making Pasta Without A Pasta Machine
In many Italian households pasta is rolled with a rolling pin, granted they aren't often much longer, about a metr, than the ones you will have in your kitchen but you can still roll the dough flat with a rolling pin. The trick is making it manageable, divide up you dough into smaller pieces and work on them one at a time, rolling a large piece of dough thin is very hard work so. Just roll pasta as you would any other pastry, dust the surface with flour to prevent sticking, but don't over dust as this will effect your dough and make your pasta very dense and harder to work.
Pasta-Making Is Better With Two, Or Three, Or four Or . . . . 
I usually make pasta by myself, but in Italy pasta making is a social occasion, often whole families will get together in the kitchen and share the work between them. If you have children it's great to get them involved, let's face it pasta is just modelling clay that you can eat when you've finished. There's something magical about making something, cooking it and then eating it which kids love and your also teaching them a skill that will last them there whole lives.
Well I hope this may have insprired you to give pasta making a go at home, it really is easy, great fun to make and just as much fun to eat with family and friends who will all be very impressed at your homemade pasta.

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