January 11, 2010

Making fresh pasta!

Spaghetti and pasta machine-1The great thing about having a blog that your other half reads is that he/she can really get to know you and what you really enjoy.

Steve must have read my post about how much I enjoyed watching Theo Randall make fresh pasta at the BBC Good Food Show/MasterChef Live London as he bought me a pasta machine for Christmas!

Christmas 2009 Mandy pasta machine

As an extra surprise he’d also requested a signed photograph from Theo Randall with a personal message saying “To Mandy, Good luck with the pasta machine! Best Wishes Theo Randall”.  The signed picture was a great surprise and a lovely touch to my gift – I’m a very lucky girl!

Anyway, enough gushing about my husband-to-be and onto the pasta machine. He bought me the Imperia Italiana Italian Pasta Maker Set from Amazon, plus The Pasta Machine Cookbook: 100 Simple and Successful Home Pasta Making Recipes.

The machine comes with a clamp and detachable handle, a star shaped ravioli tray, small wooden rolling pin and two cutting attachments so you can make ribbon shaped pasta.

On each of the attachments there is a very fine cutter and a wider one. After some research from other sources (the instruction booklet doesn’t really tell you anything about the attachments) I have ascertained the following:

  • Spaghetti – the cutter gives rounded strands less than 2mm wide
  • Taglioni (referred to as tagliatelle but this is not what I consider tagliatelle) – the cutter gives very narrow flat strands about 2mm wide
  • Fettucine – the cutter gives flat ribbons about 6.5mm wide
  • Lasagnette – the cutter gives flat ribbons about 12mm wide

The machine is really easy to put together, apart from the clamp can be a bit fiddly, especially if you don’t have a table with a decent overhang to be able to fix it securely. Unfortunately all our tables have an annoying curved edge, so I can’t get the machine to clamp very well and it takes two pairs of hands to roll the pasta whilst holding the machine down. Luckily I had Steve to help me and we had loads of fun making pasta!

I’ve watched Alton Brown’s episode on making fresh pasta and he secures his machine to an ironing board, which is a great idea but the design of the Imperia machine means you can’t do this and I don’t think Steve’s Mum would appreciate me using her ironing board for pasta!

Anyway, I’d read a few recipes on how to make basic fresh pasta, including the Imperia instruction book, the pasta book Steve bought me, Alton Brown and Jamie Oliver (from his first book The Naked Chef) and they are all different. Some use just flour and eggs, whilst others add water/oil and salt. I decided to go very basic and start with just flour and eggs. I went and bought the special type ‘00’ flour as recommended. It’s quite expensive at £1.45 for 500g from Waitrose, but I bought two bags plus some vanilla pods to make more vanilla sugar as I had a £10 John Lewis gift voucher from my Uncle as a Christmas present (I think most women my age would spend it on clothes and make-up, but I would rather spend it on food!).

Pasta Recipe:

The recipe for pasta is a complete doddle, it’s even easier than pastry! Just use 1 egg for every 100g of flour. So I’ve been using 300g of flour, so that’s 3 eggs, and this makes approx 500g of pasta dough. Of course there are special recipes that use tons of eggs, but I’ll stick with the basics for now.

Making The Dough:

The first time I made the dough, I used a food processor as you just need to whizz up the flour and eggs until it forms big lumps and then you need to knead it by hand for a couple of minutes until the dough is smooth, silky and elastic.

The second time I made the dough I did it by hand, as I didn’t want to dirty the food processor for such a simple thing. So I just placed the flour on a board and made a well in the centre, where I put my beaten eggs. I then started to draw the flour in from the sides using a fork, but disaster struck and the wall of my flour volcano collapsed and sent egg running everywhere! (So next time I think I’ll do it in a bowl, but I will still make it by hand as I hate washing up the food processor!). So once you have rescued any escaped egg and you have a semi-soft dough, then you can start using your hands and knead the dough for about 3 minutes or until smooth, silky and elastic.

If your dough isn’t coming together, i.e. there is a lot of dry flour left, then you can add a few drops of water to help bind it together. All flour and eggs are different, so you just need to adjust accordingly.

Whichever method you choose, you will need to wrap your dough well in cling film or in a zip-lock bag and chill in the fridge for at least 1 hour (don’t try and cheat by putting the dough in a bowl covered with a plate as the dough WILL dry out – I did this on my first pasta-making attempt!).

Rolling The Pasta:
  1. Take the dough out of the fridge and divide it into 4 pieces, roughly the size of your fist. Recover the other 3 pieces that you’re not using straight away to prevent them from drying out.
  2. On a lightly floured surface, flatten the ball of dough you’re working with until it’s about 0.5cm thick so that you can run it through the pasta machine at its widest setting.
  3. Fold the sheet of dough into thirds and then turn it 90° (so an unfolded edge goes into the machine) and run it through the machine again at the widest setting. Repeat this about 5 or 6 times. I don’t think there are any hard and fast rules about how you fold the dough, as from my reading there seems to be more ways than you can fold a napkin! What you’re aiming to do at this stage is work the gluten in the flour by using the machine to knead the dough every time you pass it through. Plus by turning the dough 90° each time, you are creating a nice square shape for when you start rolling the dough thinner.
  4. Lightly dust both sides of your ‘kneaded’ sheet of dough with flour and then run it through the machine on a thinner setting. Do not fold the sheet. Then turn the machine onto the next setting and run the dough through again, dusting with flour if you think it needs it.
  • If you’re making a stuffed pasta, e.g. ravioli or tortellini, then roll your pasta to the thinnest setting. Stuff the pasta straight away.
  • If you’re making other types of pasta like spaghetti or fettuccine, then leave the dough a little bit thicker, dust with flour and leave it to dry for about 5 minutes before attempting to cut into shape.

Taglioni

With some of the first pasta dough we made, we used the taglioni setting and we ate it straight away with roasted butternut squash and sweet potato, peas and a bit of cream cheese thrown in to make a sauce. I just boiled the pasta for 2 minutes and finished cooking it in the sauce. We were surprised how good it tasted and it was all the more satisfying because we’d made the pasta! This style of pasta was a lot like egg noodles and we both said we preferred a wider pasta.

With the rest of the pasta dough I made ravioli stuffed with the rest of the roasted butternut squash, sweet potato and cream cheese. I didn’t use the ravioli tray that came with the machine, I just followed the method that Theo Randall used. (I aim to do a step-by-step write up with photos on how to do this). I then put them in an airtight container and put them in the fridge. I should have let them dry a bit first and put non-stick paper between the layers because they had all stuck together when I went to cook them the next day. Luckily Steve managed to save most of them by using a wet palette knife to tease them apart. He’s such a clever boy.

So we boiled the ravioli for a few minutes until they floated to the top of the water. I did add oil to the water to stop them sticking, but a couple stuck to the bottom of the saucepan, so you need to watch out for that. I was surprised that despite some of the ravioli having holes, hardly any of the filling came out into the water.

We then drained the ravioli and then fried them in butter until golden brown. We didn’t have any sage, so just finished them off with some freshly cracked black pepper. Here’s the finished result:

Squash, Sweet Potato Ravioli-1

Squash, Sweet Potato Ravioli Inside-1I have to say that they tasted really delicious. The flavour of the filling was able to stand out because the ravioli wasn’t drowned in a sauce. So here’s a rough recipe for the filling:

Peel and chop into 1cm cubes a medium butternut squash and a large sweet potato. Put them into a large bowl and toss with about 1 tsp of cumin seeds, chili powder and dried thyme, some salt and pepper and enough oil to coat. Roast on a baking sheet for about 30 minutes at Gas mark 6/400°F/200°C turning occasionally. When the roasted vegetables are cool mash them up a bit with a fork and mix in a tub of soft cream cheese (I always use the value stuff) and then it’s ready to use.

I made about 15 raviolis and the rest of the filling I used to make tortellini (with another batch of dough), which I have put into the freezer. I laid them out on a tray so that they weren’t touching each other and froze them for about 3 hours until they were rock hard before putting them into a freezer bag.

Here are my frozen tortellinis, ready to be cooked. They look absolutely fine on this side….

Tortellini copy

….but turning them over reveals how they’ve cracked.Tortellini (1) copy When I cooked them they all split and some of the filling came out, but we still ate them and they were nice. I think I should have let them dry first before freezing them, as perhaps the fierce cold was a bit of a shock to them. So next time I will air dry for about 1 hour, then put them in the fridge until they’re cold and then put them in the freezer.

With the rest of the second batch of dough we made spaghetti, which I left spread out on a board to dry and I have stored in an airtight box. I cooked the spaghetti for 3 minutes and then finished off the cooking in a Bolognese sauce I’d made. The spaghetti was nice, but it was almost exactly the same as the taglioni and not really like the dried spaghetti that we’re accustomed to. We think this is because normal spaghetti is extruded through a machine, whereas this was made from a flat sheet of pasta.

It’s been a lot of fun making pasta so far and there is still loads of learn and try out, so I don’t think it will be a gadget that is lost at the back of the cupboard never to be seen again. The Imperia machine is very well made and I would recommend it if you really enjoy cooking as much as I do!

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