Fresh pasta was one of the first things I learned how to make in a professional kitchen. Actually come to think of it, it was the very first thing I made. It was in grade 9, for “take your kid to work day”. Thing is, my dad’s job for an oil company wasn’t cool enough for me, so I decided to go work with a real, live chef instead. We made butternut squash ravioli flavoured with Sambuca. It’s a combination that you never really see but more people should try it because it is awesome! Liquorice and squash, they’re basically the next pb and chocolate. Ha, yeah right!
Anyhow, the fact of the matter is, pasta making is a skill that everyone should have in their arsenal. It’s so easy, there’s no excuse not to channel your inner Nonna every once in awhile and whip up a batch. *Disclaimer (I seem to be doing a lot of these lately) – I would NOT recommend making the specific cavatelli shape unless you enjoy yourself a bowl of chewy pasta. I made these puppies Sunday night and have been trying to come up with an answer as to why they turned out the way they did. I just can’t do it. There are typically 2 ways you can screw up fresh pasta; either you over-work the dough or you cook it for too long (once it floats, its done, that’s it). But I did neither of those things. Thus I have concluded that cavatelli is simply too much dough wadded together and inevitably, it’s going to be more chewy than long, thin noodles. So do yourself a favour and opt for fettucini or pappardelle instead. You will thank yourself in the end because you won’t be disappointed that all of your hard work resulted in mediocrity.
On to how to make pasta from scratch. I refuse to give an exact recipe because it is ALL about the method. You need all of 5 ingredients; flour (bread, semolina, 00, AP, really whatever you have), eggs, olive oil, salt and maybe water. Pasta dough is a heck of a lot more forgiving than something like bread dough because you don’t have to worry about adding the right proportion of yeast to make it rise. And because there’s no yeast, you also can’t kill the yeast, therefore killing your bread/pasta.
Ok so you have all of the ingredients I mentioned above, now how do you combine them? Take about 2.5-3 cups of flour and put it in a bowl, or on your counter if you are feeling really rustic. Add a few good pinches of fine salt to the mix (you don’t want to be crunching into coarse salt or have the sharp salt tear the gluten in the dough). Make a well in the centre of it, essentially a nice big nest to hold in all of your eggs and other liquidy goodness.
Here’s where you have to make a choice. You can go all eggs, some eggs, or no eggs. All eggs (meaning mostly egg yolks but it’s ok if some whites get in there) makes for the richest dough, obviously as you are adding more fat. Whereas with no eggs, it’s pretty darn lean. However, it does make it vegan if that’s something you are going for. Most of the time I go for part egg, part water. Mainly because I get sick of separating eggs and end up dumping in some water to make the works hold together. But that’s the beauty of it, no matter which alternative you choose, you can get great results.
For the ~3 cups of flour I used 2 eggs, 4 yolks, 2 tbsp. olive oil and 1/2 cup of water (unlike bread the temperature isn’t all that finicky, just as long as it’s not boiling hot). But don’t take for granted that such a ratio will work for you. Calgary has a very dry climate so you may only require 1/4 cup of water. I recommend starting with smaller measurements and adding if necessary. You want the dough to be smooth and moist, but not sticky. So if it’s too dry, add more water or more egg. If it gets too wet, add more flour. Knead it, just like bread dough, until it becomes smooth and elastic. About 3-5 minutes will probably do the trick.
Then wrap it in plastic and let it rest for at least 30 minutes, allowing the gluten to relax. Giving it this time will make it significantly easier to roll out as it won’t shrink back on itself nearly as much. You can even make the dough a day ahead, or make a batch and freeze it. My only warning is that if there are a lot of eggs in your dough, it will lose its beautiful yellowy colour and go grey over time. From an aesthetic standpoint, egg-rich pasta dough is best made the day you want to serve it.
Now that you have your dough, it can serve as the base to whatever pasta shape you desire. If you are going to make sheets or noodles, you will be happiest if you get yourself a pasta machine. Rolling pins will work (I’ve even done it with a wine bottle) but it’s not fun. Cut off a small piece of the dough (you may have to flour it if it feels sticky) and feed it through the machine on the thickest setting. Fold it in half and do it again (putting it through folded side first to prevent air bubbles). Then change the machine to the next thinner setting and feed it through. Keep going until you get it as thick as you want. This is usually anywhere from 4 to 6, 4 being the thickest. Remember to flour as needed if it is sticking everywhere.
You can leave the dough as sheets if you are making lasagna or open-faced raviolis. Or you can run it through a fettucine attachment. Don’t have a noodle cutting attachment? Flour the sheet and fold it in half. Fold it in half again…and again and again. Once it’s about an inch wide, you can cut the pasta however thick you like it. Not matter what shape you are making, always LIBERALLY flour it when you are done. Nothing is worse than a clump of pasta that won’t unstick itself. Place it on a sheet tray lined with parchment and more flour, in a single layer. Cook immediately, leave it out to dry, or freeze for future use (this pasta can be dropped straight from the freezer into boiling water, don’t thaw it first). As a rule of thumb, once it floats, it’s done. This never takes more than about 3 minutes I would say.
As for the sauce? I like to keep fresh pasta nice and simple. Let it speak for itself, you know? All I did was sauté some mushrooms, broccolini and cherry tomatoes (added in right at the end). I tossed it all together with the juice of half a lemon and a good handful of grated feta. Summer in a bowl folks!
For those of you who would like to make bite sized pasta shapes, I highly recommend checking Youtube for videos. It’s much easier to watch it than try to figure out what I mean as I explain it. Good luck!