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Making fresh pasta is a rite of passage


Leo Tolstoy thought it was good for the soul to make your own shoes. As a result he spent his later years hobbling around with terrible corns. Some things are better left to the experts.

For most people, pasta falls into that category. The dried stuff you buy in the shops is so cheap and good that making your own seems quite perverse. (This is not true, by the way, of the “fresh pasta” sold in supermarkets, which is, almost without exception, horrible and slimy.)

For the novice cook, however, making your own pasta can be a magical rite of passage. Knowing you have the ability to make a staple foodstuff that you thought was only available in shops changes the way you see yourself. “I am a real cook, hear me roar!” That sort of thing.

I first discovered the joys of homemade pasta when, in my early teens, someone gave my mum a pasta-rolling machine. I read everything I could find on the topic of pasta, and discovered that, while a high egg content gives the most luxurious pasta, you can make pasta dough with all manner of different liquids. The kitchen was festooned with my multicoloured experiments: beetroot pasta, Guinness pasta, red wine pasta (not a success). For weeks there wasn’t a chair back or broom handle in the kitchen that wasn’t draped in tagliatelle.

Today’s recipe, maltagliati pasta – literally “badly cut” – is even more liberating, in that it doesn’t require a pasta-making machine. It is fun to do on your own, wonderful to do with children, and the results are guaranteed to be more welcome than homemade shoes.

A note on flour

The recipe here recommends that this pasta is made with “00” flour from durum wheat, which gives the silkiest, smoothest result. This is an Italian classification. Italians grade their flour as 2, 1, 0 or 00. The lower the number, the less ash is left over when you burn it, as there is less of the wholegrain in the flour. Durum wheat is a “hard” species of wheat, meaning it has more protein in it than the common “plain flour” available in the UK. It also contains a lot less gluten. It is possible to make perfectly serviceable pasta from plain flour, but “00” flour is now available in most British supermarkets.

Maltagliati pasta

Preparation time: 20 minutes plus 30 minutes resting
Cooking time: 2 –3 minutes
Serves 4
200g pasta flour (00)
3-4 egg yolks
1 egg

Ground semolina for rolling

  • Making the dough:

Method 1 (Less washing up, fun with kids)

1 Tip the flour on to a clean work surface, make a well in the middle and sprinkle with a little salt.

2 Whisk together 3 of the egg yolks with the whole egg. Pour the egg mix into the centre of the well and work the flour into it. If the mix seems too dry add another egg yolk. Bring the mixture together and knead until you have a smooth dough.

3 It should be the texture of a waxy plasticine – you can squash it if you push quite hard, but it won’t stretch like bread dough. If the mixture feels a bit sticky, add more flour gradually and knead it in. If the mix feels dry add a little of the leftover egg white.

Method 2 (Faster)

1 Put the flour in the food processor – add the whisked eggs gradually until the mix resembles large bobbles. Empty out and knead well.

Making the pasta

1 Wrap the pasta ball in clingfilm and allow it to rest in the fridge for at least 20 minutes.

2 Roll out the pasta into a sausage shape and divide into 6-8 pieces. Roll out each piece with a rolling pin on a little extra flour or semolina. Lift the pasta pieces and turn around after each roll. Roll the pasta as thinly as possible and cut into random pieces – these can be anything from the size of a 50p coin to a sheet the size of a mobile phone. Be creative. Put on a tray sprinkled with flour or semolina and leave in a cool place until needed.

3 Bring a large pan of salted water up to the boil. Drop your freshly made pasta in and wait for it to rise to the surface. Boil for another minute before draining and tossing with your chosen sauce. This pasta is a great vehicle for fresh pesto, but if you fancy something more substantial try one of the following wintry sauces …

Sausage sauce

1 tbsp olive oil
400g pork sausages
2 tsp ground fennel seeds
A pinch of dried chilli flakes
Leaves from 1 sprig rosemary, chopped
5 garlic cloves, finely sliced
400g chopped tinned tomatoes
50ml double cream
Salt and black pepper
Grated parmesan (optional)

1 Heat the oil in a large pan. Cut a slit down the side of the sausages and take out their meat (fun). Add it to the hot oil and cook for about 5 minutes on a high heat, breaking the meat into small pieces with a wooden spoon. Pull the sausage bits to one side of the pan and add the fennel, chilli, rosemary and garlic to the middle. Cook for a minute, then mix with the sausage pieces.

2 Tip in the chopped tomatoes and bring up to a simmer. Cook gently for about an hour until the sauce is reduced and quite thick. Add a little water if it dries out. Season well. Add the double cream and cook for a few minutes until the sauce thickens to a silky consistency. Toss with the pasta and sprinkle with parmesan.

Leek and gorgonzola sauce

3 leeks, trimmed, washed and thinly sliced
1 tbsp marjoram leaves
2 tbsp olive oil
1 garlic clove, crushed
150g mascarpone
150g gorgonzola
1 tbsp grated parmesan
Salt and black pepper

1 In a large pan, cook the sliced leeks in the oil with the marjoram leaves for 10 minutes until tender.

2 Add the crushed garlic and cook for another few minutes.

3 Spoon in the mascarpone and heat it till it starts bubbling. Crumble in the gorgonzola and put to one side. If the sauce is very thick, loosen it up with a little cream.

4 Toss the pasta in the sauce, season well and sprinkle with parmesan.