Pasta: the king of comfort foods. It doesn’t matter how bad a day you’ve had, pasta will always be there to make you feel better. As a staple food of the student diet, pasta was one of my main sources of carbs while I was doing my undergrad degree; but, as much as I love the easy to handle/buy/use dried pasta, it just wasn’t as good as the fresh stuff. Whilst I wouldn’t have made fresh pasta regularly if I had my pasta machine up at university, because – let’s be honest – no one has time for that, it would have been nice to have the opportunity when the cravings arose.
You can make pasta with basically any type of flour, but traditionally you would use durum wheat flour. Durum wheat is significantly harder than standard wheat (it is more difficult to grind up) and dough made from it doesn’t stretch in the same way that bread dough does. If, like me, you don’t happen to have durum flour (or pasta flour/ type 00 flour) lying around, you can simply use plain flour, which has a lower gluten content than bread flour. Egg pasta will be softer than the dried pasta you can buy and if you wish to have an end result which would be considered al dente, you would need to let the pasta dry out after you have cut/shaped it (it doesn’t need to dry fully but if you make it and boil it immediately, the pasta will come out very soft).
Pasta is one of the most famous things to have come out of Italy. In fact, so much is eaten there that the demand exceeds the quantity of wheat which can be grown in the country so flour has to be imported to produce enough pasta to feed everyone who wants it. Whilst there are mentions of Lasagna going back to the 1st century CE, the pasta and lasagne we know today did not emerge until around the 13th and 14th centuries. Dried pasta was incredibly popular owing to its ease of storage as it could be taken on voyages and long journeys without rotting. Unlike fresh pasta, dried pasta doesn’t contain any egg. It is comprised of flour, semolina and water so once it has been dried pre-packing, there is nothing left that could go off!
Like most doughs, pasta needs to rest before it is rolled. This allows the flour to fully absorb the water (from the egg). The resting also lets the gluten strands relax which gives the dough a smoother finish. In reality you should let your dough rest for at least an hour and then give it another quick knead before rolling but, using the method I outline below, you can just about skip this and reduce your resting time to about ten to fifteen minutes. I tend to find that the penultimate thinness setting on my pasta machine gives the best results as the thinnest setting results in soggy pasta without any sort of texture. Of course this will depend on the type of wheat you use, the resting time of the pasta if you wish to dry it a little before cooking and the ratio of ingredients and none of this even accounts for personal taste but, for me, setting five of six gives the optimum results.
Fresh Egg Pasta
Serves: 3 or 4 (depends on your portion size – serves more if you are making ravioli)
Work time: 30 minutes
Resting time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 3 minutes
200g plain flour (type 00 pasta flour if you can get it)
2 tbsp olive oil
Pinch of salt
Stir the salt into the flour in a bowl and make a well in the centre.
Add the eggs and olive oil and stir to combine.
When the mixture has mostly come together, pour it out onto a work surface and knead for five minutes. You do not need to knead the dough until it is completely smooth – this will come later.
Wrap the dough and leave to stand for ten minutes.
Make a pile out of the flour on a work surface (make sure to leave plenty of room around the outside.
Use your fingers to make a hollow in the centre and circle them outwards until you have a large ring of flour.
Add the eggs, oil and salt to the centre of the ring.
Use a fork to whisk together the eggs and oil and slowly bring in the rest of the flour from the edges.
Once the egg and oil mixture starts to thicken as you slowly add the flour, stop using the fork and use your hands to bring the dough together fully.
Knead for five minutes. You don’t need to continue until the dough is smooth as this will come later.
Wrap the dough and leave to stand for ten minutes.
Making the pasta:
Roll the dough through the widest setting of a pasta machine. You may have to slightly flatten one edge to get it to go through. Do not worry if it rips and is ragged.
Fold the dough in half and repeat on the widest setting.
Continue to roll the dough through, fold once and reroll until the dough has become smooth and there are no tears.
IF THE DOUGH STARTS TO BECOME TOO STICKY AND STICK TO ITSELF, DUST IT WITH FLOUR.
Move your pasta machine to one setting thinner (mine works upwards with higher numbers meaning thinner pasta but I do not know if this is true for all machines) and roll the pasta through.
Continue to decrease the distance between the rollers rerolling the pasta through each setting.
If the pasta sheet becomes too long, cut it in half and do each part separately. I find that this recipe gives about four or five pasta sheets as if I didn’t cut the pasta, it would not be manageable.
Use the pasta sheets from the penultimate thinness setting and cut them to the size of your dish. Use instead of normal shop bought lasagne sheets.
Take a sheet of dough on the penultimate thinness setting and cut it in half.
Make small dollops of filling in on one of the halves.
Make a ring of water around each dollop of filling.
Gently lay the remaining pasta over the top and press down around each section of filling to seal. You should try and seal as close to the filling as possible to ensure there is no air in the ravioli.
Use some sort of cutter (either a biscuit cutter or some sort of knife) to cut out the ravioli. Do not cut too close to the filling as you don’t want them to burst when cooking.
Cook the ravioli for three minutes in a pan of boiling, well-seasoned water.
Linguini and other pasta shapes
Most pasta machines come with some sort of linguini or tagliatelle cutter on them.
Roll out the dough to the thinnest setting and then roll the sheet through the linguini attachment (or other).
The moment the pasta comes through, dust it with flour and make sure each piece has a light coating to stop them sticking to each other. You can now leave the pasta to one side while you shape the rest – do not worry if it dries out as it will rehydrate in the cooking water.
For other pasta shapes – follow the instructions on the machine that makes them. If they are handmade shapes, there are lots of videos on the internet which can help you.
This recipe is super easy to make and really versatile. There has been at least one occasion when I was craving pasta and the shops were shut so I made it myself at home. If you are a fan of pasta dishes, you should check out my recipes for beef lasagne and spinach and ricotta lasagne. If you are more of a fan of pasta with sauces, why not try a bolognaise?
Have a good one and I will be back next week with a new sweet treat.