Whalley’s First Law of Pastatherapy: To make pasta successfully you need three arms + a table 12 inches wide x 18 feet long + one of those old-fashioned clothes drying racks that winds up to the ceiling.
Fresh, homemade pasta is so much better than anything you can get at the shops. In Ireland, at least.
My pasta recipe is pure Marcella Hazan (Classic Italian Cookbook)* For 1 person 1 medium egg + 100g ‘00’ flour, no salt or oil and positively no water. You can scale up exactly to accommodate a larger number 6 eggs + 600g flour for six persons. A good tip she gave, which I’ve adopted is, when making pasta for stuffing (tortellini, ravioli etc) add 1 tsp milk for every 100g flour. This makes the pasta easier to seal after the stuffing is added.
I start the process by heaping the flour into a pyramid on the granite worktop, pushing a hole in the middle and drop the eggs, one by one, into the crater. You can use a large bowl if you wish. Stir the material briefly with a wooden spoon, roughly combining the eggs and flour. Then work the embryo dough into a ball by hand, giving it a light biffing. Hurling it down on the counter is very theraputic if you are having a bad day!
Clingfilm the ball of dough and chill in the fridge, for thirty minutes. Next, it’s out with my Imperia Pasta Presto, the electric version (so much easier than the hand-cranked version because the speed is a constant. Also you have a spare arm). Stretch the dough, flour both sides with a little ‘00’ and feed the dough through the rollers on the widest setting (6 on this machine). Repeat another 9 times, flouring the dough each time. Don’t worry about over-flouring, any excess will fall off when the pasta eventually meets the boiling water. Then reduce the machine setting by one notch for each pass and continue the process, only don’t fold the dough.
Trim the strip of pasta to keep the ends square – amalgamate the trimmings into a ball and save for cleaning the machine afterwards. Never be ashamed to cut the strip of dough for easier handling – it gets longer as it gets thinner. The less you cut it, though, the less work the process is and the less risk of the pasta sticking to the worktop. But it takes an expert to keep 18 feet of pasta in the air – and I’m not.
For most pasta – lasagna sheets, fettuccini, tagliatelle, linguine – stop at notch 2. If you are making, say, wontons, you can pass it through to the thinnest setting. When you reach the desired thickness pass the machine through the cutters. The Pasta Presto has two – for tagliatelle and linguine – but others can be bought as accessories that fit all Imperia machines.
Hang the pasta to dry – keeping the strips as far apart as you can. This is not terribly important if you are going to cook the pasta straight away. You can hang it over the back of a chair. Or make or buy a version of what I call ‘a pasta tree’, a wooden rack with a number of arms, specifically invented for the purpose. Lastly, clean the machine by stretching, folding and passing through several times on the 6 setting the ball of pasta trimmings. Finish off with three folds of kitchen towel passed through a few times on the 2 setting. Finally, pass the kitchen paper through the cutters. Dust off any excess flour on the sides of the machine with a soft cloth or pastry brush. On no account let water near the machine, this is a formula for grief.
I love my Pasta Presto. The hand-cranked machines are much cheaper, though. The Imperia and the Marcato Atlas are the only ones to have. I’ve inspected a few budget machines and the workmanship (and probably materials too) is poor and I wouldn’t expect them to last too long. The good makes are cheap enough – Amazon.co.uk is a good source and their delivery is prompt. The Imperia is £43 at the writing, plus delivery (around a tenner). Both Imperia and Atlas have a bolt-on electric motor as an accessory for the hand-cranked model.
You can also make pasta entirely by hand. It’s easy enough, if exhausting. I did quite a bit for practice before I bought the machine. Just keep rolling the dough out, remembering to flour. After all the rolling you’ll feel as though you’ve been to the gym.
Cut the strips with a very sharp knife and a metal ruler or by eye alone and hang at least half an hour to dry. When cooking the pasta use a large pan, with plenty of water and a generous measure of salt (remember, there’s no salt in the recipe). I use about a slightly heaped dessertspoonful per 600g. Don’t introduce the pasta to the pan until the water is at a rolling boil. Don’t overcook, tagliatelle cook in under two minutes. Remove, ideally with a pasta grabber (most cook shops sell them) and drain before serving. If you can’t use the pasta immediately it will keep 5 minutes or so in the drained pan, coated with a little extra virgin olive oil.
*In a later cookbook Marcela used 1 egg to 90g of flour but I’ve stuck with the original.