Pasta is one of the most basic of all foodstuffs – just flour and eggs or water – and its nowhere near as hard to make as it seems. You dont need any fancy kit, either
Theres been no pasta at the shops for weeks, apart from own-brand orzo (whats that all about, by the way?). So theres nothing else for it but to try DIY. Any beginners tips? The more idiot-proof, the better, please.
Ive no idea what shoppers have against orzo, either, Maggie – the little, rice-shaped pasta (hence its alternative name, risoni) is ideal for bulking out soups, using in fake “risottos” (or orzotti), or as an alternative carby side (season generously and dress in butter or good oil, depending on what youre serving it with). But to cut to the chase, pasta couldnt be more basic if you tried: just flour and water or eggs. At its simplest, pasta is cucina povera (“the cooking of the poor”) in spades.
Chef and restaurateur Giorgio Locatelli explains that egg pasta is more common in the north simply because its wealthier than the south. “There are some exceptions,” he laughs, “such as Liguria, which is renowned for being stingy, and some mountain areas, but eggs add nutritional value as well as a glorious, golden colour, while the protein gives the pasta its al dente [literally “to the tooth”] bite.”
Purists insist the flour has to be Italian “00”, but regular plain will also do the trick (assuming youve got some, that is, flour being almost as rare as pasta these days), and the process couldnt be simpler. You dont need any fancy kit, either, Locatelli says. “All my chefs have to know how to make it by hand, without a machine.”
Put 350g flour in a bowl – “At home theres no point in flouring an entire worktop, because youll only have to clean it after” – make a well in the centre and add three eggs and a small pinch of salt. “With your hand, pull the eggs through the flour until the mix comes together into a ball, and congratulations: youve just made five portions of pasta dough.”
Theres more to it, of course, but not much. If the dough is on the dry side, dont be tempted to pour in any liquid, Locatelli warns. “With wet hands, work it again – itll come together soon enough.” Knead for a few minutes – “It will be hard going, because its a pretty stiff dough” – then wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
When you want to cook, unwrap the dough and poke a finger into the ball – the resulting indentation should pop straight back out. “If it doesnt, the doughs too soft and needs more flour, but dont worry: youll add a bit of that when you roll it out anyway.”
On a floured surface, use a rolling pin to roll the dough from inside to out – “You need to put some effort in, and most of the force should come from your hips, not arms” – to a 90cm x 90cm square, and youre good to cut it into your shape of choice: “Cut into neat slices, roll these up, cut again into noodles and shake out the strands.” Cook your fresh pasta in boiling salted water – “A litre for every 100g, to give it room to move” – for just 30-45 seconds for thin tagliolini and up to a minute and a half for wide pappardelle.
In the south, however, water takes the place of eggs and the flour is coarse semolina, or durum, flour, which gives the pasta a firmer bite. River Cafe chef Carlotta Soper explains: “For six, pile a 400g mound of semolina on a worktop, make a well in the middle and add up to 180ml water a few tablespoons at a time. Mix with your hands until it just comes together – dont be tempted to add more water at this stage, because it will soften as it relaxes – then knead for five to 10 minutes, until smooth and elastic. Cover with a clean cloth and rest for half an hour.”
Use it in the Italian souths classic pastas – ear-shaped orecchiette, canoe-shaped cavatelli, hollow ferretti: there are numerous online guides, Pasta Grannies being one of the best. “Or just create your own,” Soper says. “No one will judge you.”