Wednesday, 15 August 2007

Bella pasta

Continuing my blog-splurge for today, I finally got a chanch to have a go at using Aldo Zilli's Chitarra for cutting pasta. It's certainly a much easier way of cutting thin strips than using the cutters on the pasta machine. I've never had much success with this part of it, and usually make strips by rolling up the pasta sheets and cutting them into strips by hand. This is a good method for fatter types of pasta, but anything thinner than tagliatele gets too fiddly. I haven't done a pasta post yet though so I'l start at the beginning...

Pasta Dough

400g '00' grade plain flour (extra fine)
4 large eggs

Heap the flour onto a large clean worksurface and break the eggs into a well in the centre.

Using your fingers gently draw the flour in to the egg mixture (being careful to maintain the boundary walls!) until all the liquid is mixed in.

Knead for 5-10mins until the dough is smooth and slightly elastic: it will be less stretchy than bread dough however.

Wrap in clingfilm and refrigerate for 30mins.

Flavoured dough

Other bits and pieces can be added to the dough to give flavour/colour. You'll probably need to cut down on the egg and/or add more flour for the wetter additions, as long as the eventual texture is similar to plain dough it should work. Some examples:

Sun dried tomato paste

Pureed spinach or beetroot

Herbs and/or garlic

lemon zest and fine ground black pepper

Shaping the dough

The pasta dough can be rolled by hand with a rolling pin, but you'll get much smoother and quicker results using a pasta machine. The machine has two rollers that press the pasta between them when the handle is turned. A dial on the side controls the width of the gap between the rollers. Divide the dough into quarters, and re-wrap all except the one that is being worked on.

Shape by hand into a rough oblong sort of shape, and pass through the machine on the widest setting. Fold dough in half lengthways and pass through on this setting a couple of times.
Pass the dough through the machine once more on each width setting in sequence, until it is the required thickness. I find that I need to cut the sheet in half after around 3 passes so that it doesn't get too long to deal with easily.

My machine goes right up to level 9, but I tend to stop at 5-6 becuase it's already getting very thin by that point. The dough is quite strong even when it's very thin, as long as you handle it by hanging the strip over your hand rather than poking fingers through it.

If you're making lasagne sheets then there's nothing more to be done, but for other shapes the dough can now be cut into strips or put through a mould for filled pasta. There are some pics of our last filled pasta making session on Murphy's Mumblings - we did 3 types that day: spinach/ricotta, 4cheese/sundried tomato, and squash/walnut/parmesan.

Anyway, this time we wanted to test out Zilli's chitarra. It's basically a wooden box with wires strung across it (spaced at different widths on each side). You lay a sheet of pasta on top, roll over it to press it through the strings, and the pasta strips drop through into the box.

Filled pasta can be frozen, and the unfilled stuff can be left to dry overnight and stored in plastic boxes. It still takes a lot less time to cook than bought dried pasta, even when dry.

According to the world directory of pasta at (an 'integrated multimedia communication on pasta and related activities' -ooh!) this would be classed as tagliatelline or tagliolini. And here's a slightly more user friendly yet less exhaustive and less Italian pasta glossary.

I'm usually extremely bad at matching the right sauce to the right pasta - my plan generally consists of pick a shape that looks nice and put on it whatever is in the fridge that can be made into a sauce at that particular time. It's a sticky business becuase opinions seem to vary from region to region (as do pasta shapes), and I'm also convinced that there's a genetic component. It's very hard to have a feeling for these things without any Italian genes. My best guess for this pasta would be sage and butter - which is exactly what I'll be having for my tea tomorrow night. Yum yum. Am I breaking the rules Fabrizio?!??

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