THE PASTA MACHINE
I have a number of machines, relics from when I had my cookery school, all of them very old – mostly they are Atlas and Imperia brands. If you are going to buy one, either of these products is good and should last your lifetime. Some of the newer models have plastic workings that may snap over time. I do have an ancient Bialetti with textured nylon rollers, but the place where the plastic meets the steel has come to grief and it’s is a frustrating operation. Between repairs with my screw driver, it produces lovely textured pasta whereas the metal rollers make a smooth, slippery one. I must abandon my faux emotional attachment and throw it out. I have never heard of someone needing a replacement for an Imperia nor an Atlas.
However, don’t ever wash them. Though the exterior is stainless steel some of the internal mechanisms are not, and they will rust. Use a bespoke, dry brush to clean the machine between uses. Store the machine back in its box with all the components, and its brush, in a dry place.
The machine consists of four parts. The main part is for kneading and rolling. It will have an attachment for cutting into thin tagliolini/taglierini and slightly bigger tagliatelle. (Sometimes this is fixed to the machine, in mine it is not.)
You will have a clamp to attach it to your table. (I set a rubberised mat between the table and the machine and clamp so the table is not damaged.)
And you will have a detachable handle. For the first step, this handle goes into the hole on the main part of the machine.
If you cook alone, you might care to invest in a motorino for the pasta machine. It will come with a grooved stand for the motor to rest on. You will need to screw this onto the base of the machine and attach the flimsy clamp that holds the motor against the pasta machine. If you have a Kenwood or a Kitchen Aid – buy the pasta attachment, you won’t regret it.
Wretchedly, these machines make a racket. I am sure they were designed by a Formula One engineer. All romance of following an ancient lifestyle goes out the window. But you will have both hands free to ease the pasta out of the machine.
You can set up the pasta machine while the kneaded dough is resting.
The dough I use for making pasta with a machine is different from the dough I use for fresh pasta but the eggs, the ratio and the kneading all remain the same.
This is the dough for 5-6 people depending on the balance of the meal. (see post from Jan 24th -Pasta: Mythology - for a discussion of an Italian meal structure.) Remember, if you don’t use all the pasta you make, you can freeze it or allow it to dry completely and store in a carton, tin or tightly lidded plastic box.
150 g unbleached plain flour (not necessarily 00 if you don't have it)
150 g semola, this is durum wheat, NOT semolina (see photo of packet below)
3 large, very fresh eggs
(if I am making stuffed pasta – ravioli or tortellini – I add 1 teaspoon olive oil to help the pasta stick)
Mix the flours together and place in a mound on a pasta board or clean bench, avoid marble or stone. Use your fingers to make a well in the centre. Break the eggs (and any flavourings) into the well (see post from Feb 6th - Making Pasta from Scratch - for directions on making the dough and kneading it).
Using a fork, mix together the eggs and gradually incorporate the flour from the inner rim of the well. Clean the fork from time to time. Always incorporate fresh flour from the lower part, pushing it under the dough that is forming to keep it from sticking to the board.
When most of the flour is incorporated, bring the dough together with your hands.
Scrape the board with a pastry scraper, gathering together all the unincorporated flour. Using a sifter, sift this flour and discard the lumps, they will not incorporate into the wet dough and may cause holes in the stretched dough. Use this flour to dust the pasta in the next steps.
Start kneading the dough using the heel of your hand. Fold the dough over with the other hand, absorbing the leftover flour from the board. Continue to knead for 5-8 minutes until the dough is elastic and smooth.
If the dough is too wet, add a small amount flour to the board, not on top of the dough, and continue to knead until it is smooth and cohesive.
Cut into small portions. I cut it into twice the number of eggs I have used – so 3 eggs, 6 even pieces of dough. Leave a little flour on the board.
NOW YOU ARE READY TO WORK THE PASTA BY MACHINE
Attach the machine to the bench and tighten it with the clamp.
With the palm of your hand flatten a small ball of dough so it can fit between the rollers. Now, setting the wheel for the rollers at the widest setting, pass the dough through the rollers.
With your hand, remove the sheet of dough from underneath the pasta machine and lightly draw it across the flour on the board. Fold this sheet of pasta into thirds. Repeat the rolling and folding 8-10 times with the roller at its widest setting. Each time you put the folded sheet of dough into the machine, turn it round to a new edge. This is the kneading section of the machine.
STRETCHING THE PASTA
Now you will stretch the pasta. Pass the dough through the rollers once again but do not fold any more from now on. Move the wheel to the next notch, passing the dough through the rollers just once,
without folding. At the beginning of this process stretch the dough sideways so that it will be the same width as the machine. Each time, after passing, sprinkle the sheet of pasta with the tiniest amount of flour if it's sticky. Each successive notch down will produce a thinner sheet of pasta. Do this until you reach the desired thinness of pasta for your dish.
For lasagna, ravioli, tortellini I go to the thinnest setting. For tagliatelle or taglierini, I stop at the penultimate notch and for fettuccini, the notch before that. All machines are different so I can’t be too prescriptive on this point, you will learn on your machine and by trial and error.
I know it is fun to see how long you can make the pasta sheet but it is such a waste of time. Use small portions of dough to finally achieve a sheet of about 30-40 cm which is manageable for cooking and eating.
The brilliant colour of my fettuccini is directly attributable to the quality of the eggs.
As you make each sheet, put them on a clean tablecloth sprinkled with semola flour. Do not overlap the sheets or they will stick.
USING THE CUTTERS
When you have finished passing all the dough allow the sheets to dry out a little if you are making flat pasta. The sheets should not be tacky because then they will stick together in the cutters, but neither should they be brittle.
On the other hand, if you are making ravioli or tortellini – use the sheets while they are still soft and sticky and keep the sheets of dough covered with a dry cloth while you are working on the rest of the dough.
Take the crank handle out of the main machine, attach the cutters and put the handle into whichever thickness you require. Feed the sheet through the cutters (having a helper is invaluable here), collecting the strips either with your hands or by easing the handle of a wooden spoon behind the strips as they emerge. Transfer to a floured cloth and toss the strips in enough flour so they do not stick together. If you have a patient helper, they could arrange the strips side by side to dry.
Photo Credit: Italo Vardaro. "A Year's Supply" by Matto, Previn and Vardaro.
If you feel nostalgic and want the strips to dry completely for cooking on another day, set a clean piece of dowling, very well floured, between two chairs, cover the floor with clean tea towels and fold the strips over the wood. Allow to dry completely and store in a box or tin.
Photo Credit: Italo Vardaro. "A Year's Supply" by Matto, Previn and Vardaro.
These very thin tagliolini/taglierini are great in broth or with a rich meat sauce. The next post discusses pasta shapes and their sauces.
The tagliatelle and/or fettuccini are the most versatile but you can also hand cut the sheets into pappardelle to have with chunky meat sauces.
Of course, you can make lasagna sheets for authentic lasagna, and with these thin sheets make ravioli or tortellini. I roll cannelloni sheets one notch thicker than lasagna for ease of handling.
As a treat, I like to imprint my pasta with herbs – here I am using sage from the garden because my preferred herb for this, parsley, has gone to seed. Any soft herb will do – basil for a tomato consomme, dill for a clear fish soup, sage with a rich chicken broth. Or, if I have a lot of time on my hands, I use each square of herb embossed pasta as the top sheet for ravioli. (I need to get a job.)
Take the pasta sheet to the third to last notch then lay the herbs down the length of the sheet with about 4 cm between them. Cover with the other half and pass it through the second to last notch. Taking it finer, stretches the herb too much, I think.
My herb embossed ravioli filled with shredded duck meat (recipe in next week's post) and sheets of pasta that I will cut into pappardelle - every third one will have a sage leaf. I know.
THE FINE ART OF MAKING TORTELLINI
Tortellini are tedious to make. When we stayed at the Agriturismo Le Arcate just out of Alba, the women were making tiny tortellini, no bigger than a thumb nail for brodo di gallina. Oh, and they were singing folk songs all the while. Mine will be bigger and without song.
Tortellini are traditional in Bologna, but in Romagna barely a few miles from Bologna they are called cappelletti. Same dough, same process, just a different name.
Make the dough as described with no more than 1 teaspoon of olive oil in it. Roll it out by machine to the thinnest setting. Work quickly as the dough must be soft and still very moist. Take a band of pasta and cut it into squares of 4 cm. Put about 1/4 teaspoon of very fine filling in the centre. Fold the square diagonally across forming a triangle. Press down firmly along the edges to seal them well. Wrap the two ends of the triangle around your thumb or index finger and press it firmly into place. Bend back the peak and round off the rim and slide it off your finger. If your dough is drying quicker than you can make the shapes, dip a finger in a little water and smear the tiniest amount on the edges.
Tortellini are great to have in the freezer to serve with broth or a creamy sauce. Put them onto baking paper on a tray and freeze them in a single layer. After a couple of hours, you can drop them all into a freezer bag.
The next post is all about the sauces - bringing magic to the dough.