Making your own pasta: A life-changing experience

Posted on 28/03/2011. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , |

I guess everybody is familiar with “slow food“. When you look into the philosophy behind it, it’s not surprising that the movement had its beginnings in Italy, where food is not just appreciated but worshiped and whole conversations can be taken up with a particular dish the way that the English can while away hours discussing the weather.

If you want to understand and appreciate the philosophy behind slow food you could do no better than reflect on that essential Italian dish: pasta. It comes in many varieties, each boasting its own particular origins and bearing its own story  .

In the way pasta may be experienced in Australia, we can observe the complete fast – slow continuum. At the fast end, we find the Heinz Spaghetti in Tomato Sauce. Most Italians will tell you “That’s not spaghetti!”, but for many of us Australians it was the only form of spaghetti we knew and judging by the supermarket shelves, it still has a sizeable following here.

Moving along our fast-slow continuum, we come to the dried pasta. As far as the preparation time of this is concerned, nothing (except Heinz spaghetti) could be much faster – just boil for however long it says on the packet. The issue of time only becomes relevant when we consider which sauce to serve. My favourite is perhaps the most simple, consisting of nothing more than olive oil and roasted garlic. But my wife and La Nonna have been known to work lovingly most of the afternoon to prepare a ragout consisting mainly of veal and tomatoes which is so rich that you can’t believe that you won’t weigh an extra 2 kilos at the end of the meal. I intend to devote some later blogs to the preparation of sauces for your pasta.

For now, however, let’s turn our attention to the slow end of the fast – slow continuum – home made pasta. I’m going to assume that you have access to a pasta maker, whether it’s manual or electric. If you have an energetic partner, you could consider the manual one, but the electrical one isn’t particularly expensive. My wife tells me she has seen La Nonna do this entirely by hand, but even she has bowed to technology and uses an electric pasta maker.

Home-Made Pasta Dough

INGREDIENTS
400g plain flour
4 whole eggs, lightly beaten
salt to taste
METHOD
Place flour onto a clean work surface. (We have a granite cupboard top which is excellent, but a marble or laminated surface will be fine.) Make a volcano shape with the flour, forming a crater in the centre.  Put the eggs and the salt into the “crater” and  gradually work them into the flour until a soft and pliable dough forms. Dust your hands with dry flour if things get a bit messy.Knead the dough until smooth and consistent – 5 minutes should be enough.
Cover the dough and place it in the refrigerator for about 20 minutes. Divide dough into 4 balls. Flatten each ball into a disk so that it passes through the pasta machine on the widest setting. Fold in half lengthways and repeat. Keep rolling several times on each setting until you reach the narrowest setting.
You may need to cut the pasta to make it more manageable if it gets too long.
Dust rolled pasta with extra flour and allow to sit for 10 minutes before using, or air dry the pasta until required.

In later posts I’ll show you how to use the dough to make a variety of types of pasta.

In the meantime, if you would like to checkout a You Tube video of a demonstration of fettuccine being made, click here

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Pasta: You ain’t tasted nothin’ yet

Posted on 17/03/2011. Filed under: Italian cooking, pasta, spaghetti | Tags: , |

When I was a kid, growing up in Australia, I used to think it was pretty exotic to sit down to a meal of Heinz Spaghetti in Cheese & Tomato Sauce. If we were particularly hungry, Mum would serve it on a slice of toasted bread.

“The Italians have this every day,” she would announce. “Thank your lucky stars you were born in Australia!”

Mum was a very good cook and when we compared her magnificent casseroles and oven-baked pies with Spaghetti in Cheese & Tomato Sauce on toast, we felt very sorry for the Orlandi kids who lived down the street. I was well into my teens before I tasted pasta as the Italians know it.

We lived in far North Queensland and lots of Italians had migrated there after the Second World War to cut sugar cane and later to become owners of sugar plantations. My Dad had business one Saturday which took him to a timber mill in the tropical rain forest near Ingham. They had barracks for the single mill workers and employed an Italian woman to do the cooking. They invited us to stay for lunch which turned out to be a simple spaghetti al pomodoro. On the table was a bowl of something that looked a bit like sugar and turned out to be grated parmesan cheese.

“You lika pasta?” the Italian woman, Mariana, said to me with a friendly smile. What was in front of me looked nothing like what I’d been used to as spaghetti. I’d never heard of pasta and spaghetti meant Heinz.

“I don’t know,” I said truthfully. “I’ve never eaten it before.”

She looked across at Dad, accusingly. “Why don’t you feed the boy?”

Dad looked very defensive. “We often have spaghetti at home, but it comes out of a can.”

Mariana exploded. “Out of a can! You gotta be jokin’. You ain’t tasted nothin’ yet. Here, darlin’. Give me your plate.” And she heaped it up with the spaghetti and its rich sauce.

I was about to take the plate when she stopped me.

“Hold on! It ain’t pasta without the parmesan.” And she sprinkled two heaped tablespoons of cheese on the spaghetti. “Try that!” she ordered me with a smile.

I somehow managed to get a forkful of the pasta from the plate into my mouth and underwent a life-changing experience. From that moment, I have always judged pasta against that  “food of paradise” served that day by Mariana. I have eaten pasta in some of the finest restaurants in Italy, but I have never had anything which affected me the way that plate of food affected me that Saturday in the 1950s in the sawmillers’ barracks in far North Queensland. Even now, I am still affected and tears well up in my eyes as I remember this unforgettable experience.

Some of you may think I am exaggerating when I describe the effect this incident had upon me. But my fate was sealed. From that moment, I was an Italian who would one day marry into the Italian community.

To commemorate this life-changing experience, I intend to end this post by giving you the recipe that Mariana may have used to prepare her spaghetti al pomodoro.

Ingredients

  • 500g spaghetti
  • 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced thin
  • 1 teaspoon hot chili flakes
  • 3 cups of chopped fresh tomatoes and their juices
  • 20 leaves fresh basil, cut into fine slivers (chiffonade)
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese

Procedures

1. Bring 6 litres water to a boil in a spaghetti pot, and add 2 tablespoons salt. Heat a 10- to 12-inch sauté pan over medium heat, add the oil and garlic, and cook until light golden brown, about 2 minutes. Add the chili flakes and the tomatoes, and cook over medium heat, stirring to keep the garlic from cooking any browner until the tomatoes just start to burst or deflate, about 5 minutes.
2. Remove the pan from the heat, and set aside. Drop the spaghetti into the boiling water, and cook until 1 minute less than the package instructions call for. Drain and toss in the pan with the tomatoes; place the pan over high heat and toss to mix well, about 45 seconds.Remove the pan from the heat, add the cheese, then the basil, and toss well to mix. Then pour into a heated bowl, and serve immediately.

NB. You can buy the spaghetti from your local grocer. However if you want the very best spaghetti, you will make your own. In a future post I’ll show you how to make your own pasta. You’ll never be the same again!

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