Making Perfect Pasta in Your Villa
The Secret of Making Perfect Pasta in your villa
Only the very best ingredients are suitable for making pasta as it’s just eggs and flour. There are few secrets for making perfect pasta - but they’re vital! To begin:
1. Choose the right flour
2. Never add salt to the flour
3. Use only flour and eggs to make pasta dough: never, never add water!
The eggs are easy: choose organic. The flour is a more complicated. While you are here in Italy you can buy “00” - Italy’s soft-wheat flour with a reasonably high gluten content, which is perfect for pasta. Once you are back at home choose plain, unbleached white flour.
Now lets consider what equipment you’ll need for making the best tagliatelle you’ve ever eaten.
You need a large wooden board, called a “spianatoia”, for mixing, kneading and rolling freshly made pasta. Marble won’t do - it’s cold and will make your pasta cranky and tough. Wood is best but formica if fine - and your villa will certainly offer one or the other. In theory you should roll out your pasta with a very long, very thin rolling pin, but it's tiring work if you aren't used to it, especially if it's hot! It’s easier to use a machine. A traditional noodle making machine will roll your dough into perfect ribbons with no effort at all. And it’ll cut perfect tagliatelle. “Imperia” have been making pasta machines for decades and that’s the brand I’ve used happily for many years. The pasta machine is a specialist item and your villa probably won't have one. So - give yourself a very special holiday souvenir and go out and buy one at your nearest large Co-op or decide you'll roll your home made pasta with a rolling pin in best Signora manner.
So now you have your ingredients and your equipment, we are ready to begin.
The rule is: 100 grams of flour and 1 egg per person - a neatly simple secret!
Let’s make tagliatelle for 4 people, so: 400 grams of unbleached white flour and 4 eggs.
Place your flour in a neat mound on your wooden spianatoia. Make a wide, deep hollow in the middle. Break the eggs into the hollow. Use a fork to lightly beat the eggs together. Using your fork, lightly draw down some of the flour from the mound’s walls and start to mix things together. When the mix is lumpy, but no longer runny, use your hands to draw everything together, scraping all the outlying crumbs and floury bits into the dough. Scrape up any last remaining bits with a knife and work them into the dough, leaving your work surface clean. Once your dough is amalgamated, pause to wash and dry your hands.
Now you are moving into a crucial stage in crafting perfect pasta - kneading. You knead pasta dough in the same way as bread. You can’t hurry this phase. Be prepared to dedicate a full 10 minutes to kneading. This is the secret of success for a silky, glistening ball of perfect pasta dough! Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and set it aside - you’ve both earned a rest! Rest the dough for at least 20 minutes, or up to 4 hours, as suits you best. It must be wrapped tightly to keep out the air and it should rest at room temperature. Don’t put it in the fridge!
We are now at the rolling stage - so set up your pasta making machine. Take your ball of rested pasta dough and cut off about a third. Quickly re-wrap the remaining dough - it’s absolutely vital your dough doesn’t dry out! If you don’t want to mess around wrapping and unwrapping, store your dough under a small glass mixing bowl. Now, quickly shape a ball from your first piece of dough, then flatten it between your palms. Start working with your rolling pin or get your pasta machine out of its box. Set your pasta machine onto its widest setting and run your flattened dough ball through the rollers. Now, reduce the roller width by one notch and run your pasta through a second time. Reduce the roller setting yet again and run your long, lithe ribbon of pasta through one last time. Lay the pasta ribbon on your clean spianatoia to rest - you may want to cut it into shorter strips to make handling easier - but ensure the strips don’t overlap. Go back to your ball of dough, take off another lump the same size as before, roll this in three steps as before, starting with the widest setting of you pasta machine and finishing the third rolling with perfect thin-ness. Lay out the pasta ribbons, ensuring none of your freshly rolled pasta is touching its neighbour, then roll your last remaining lump of pasta 3 times too. Now it’s time to rest those lovely ribbons - 10 minutes would do nicely - then feed the ribbons through your pasta machine’s cutting blades to gather up showers of stunning, golden tagliatelle. It’s like magic!
If you prefer, the tagliatelle can now be formed into little nests and left to dry for use in a day, a week, a month, whatever suits you best. Remember, freshly prepared pasta takes only a little more than a minute to cook. Dried pasta will take anything up to 10 minutes to cook.
The final secret of perfect pasta lies in the cooking. Using your largest pan, bring plenty of water to a fast boil and - our final 2 secrets - add a tablespoon of rough rock salt plus an egg-cup full of best quality olive oil to the pan, before tossing in the pasta. Test your tagliatelle regularly to ensure they are perfectly cooked - tenderly firm is what they should be.
Serve with your favourite pasta sauce and relax into loud applause for your perfect home made pasta!