Fresh pasta is made with eggs and a soft flour which the Italians call ‘00’ flour or ‘doppio zero’ as it is extra fine. Fresh egg pasta is traditionally from Northern Italy and in particular the northern region of Emilia Romagna who have perfected it into a velvet like pasta which matches sauces that are often meat or cream based. These are ingredients that are easily available in this region, hence the happy marriage. Fresh egg pasta for centuries was only eaten by the rich and is still today mostly only prepared in the house for special occasions.
Fresh pasta comes in four basic forms, the long strips such as tagliatelle, pappadelle or fettucine, the filled pasta shapes such as tortellini, cappelletti or anolini, the small shaped pasta such as garganelle or orchiette and then lasagne or small cut shapes such as maltagliati or quadrucci. But there is also a fresh spaghetti style pasta made with water worth mentioning, found in Southern Tuscany called ‘picci’ and in Umbria called ‘umbracelli’.
As the pasta is fresh its shelf life is not the same as dried. The general rule of thumb if the pasta is properly stored is to keep the pasta for as long as the eggs are fresh. Filled pasta should be used the same day. But most fresh pasta does not last very long in my house and is soon eaten, as it is such a treat to have. Pasta should be stored in a dry cool place with lots of semolina between each layer to prevent the pasta from sticking together. Left on a tray and covered with a tea towel or an old chocolate box or shoe box layered with kitchen towel is the best way of keep the pasta in the best condition. Moisture wants to be avoided and so do not put pasta in the fridge, as it will deteriorate quickly.
One of the most confusing things when eating in a restaurant and choosing pasta is looking at the different names of pasta. Just when you think you have mastered the names of most of them another town or region will surprise you with yet another name often for the same shapes. The best attitude to adopt I find is of adventure; as long as you can understand the sauce or filling, it’s fun to anticipate what shape or sized pasta will arrive.
MAKING FRESH PASTA
It might seem daunting to make your own fresh pasta, but once you have attempted it you will find it hard to buy any bought variety, the quality is just not the same.
- 12oz [350g] ‘00’ pasta flour
- 5oz [150g] fine semolina
- 10 free range egg yolks [medium]
- 3 free range whole eggs [medium]
- Extra semolina for drying the pasta
To make the pasta:
It is always difficult to measure the ingredients exactly with pasta as egg sizes vary and the humidity of a room will effect the moisture in the flour. So you might have to add a few more eggs or more flour. The dough should be hard to knead and dry. This might seem hard work, but results are better.
Place the flour and semolina in a bowl, make a well in the middle and add the egg yolks and whole eggs.
Mix the eggs together briefly. Using ones hand, start to blend the eggs in with the flour and semolina eventually kneading into a ball of hard dough.
Knead for about 5- 10 minutes until the dough is smooth and velvety to touch. The dough should not stick to the finger if pressed in the middle.
Cover the dough with cling-film and leave to rest for 15 minutes. Use within 24 hours or it will start to oxidise and black spots will appear.
Storing fresh plain pasta:
Fresh pasta will last longer if it is rolled out and dried. I have made sheets of pasta in advance and left them wrapped in a tea–towel on a tray dusted with semolina flour or even in an old shoe or chocolate box lined with kitchen towel. Make sure it has dried out properly before storing. Cover each layer with a little semolina to prevent it sticking. Remember once dried, can not be cut up, as too brittle. Store in a cool place, but not the fridge as too humid and will deteriorate very quickly. Plain pasta should last for at least 3 days. Ravioli only 24 hours.
To roll out the pasta:
Divide the pasta into 6-8 flattened, rectangular pieces and cover with the cling film to prevent it from drying out.
Assemble the pasta machine. Turn the rollers to the largest setting. A large kitchen table is ideal for making pasta as you will need quite a large surface to lay the pasta out on. Dust the work surface with semolina. Never use flour as this makes the pasta heavier. Flatten the first segment of pasta so that it is easier to roll through the machine. On the widest setting feed the pasta through the rollers. Fold the flattened pasta in half or 1/3 so it fits across the rollers. You want the pasta as wide as possible for best results. Repeat this process a couple of times to knead the pasta through the machine, creating a velvety texture.
Now start to thin the pasta down by turning the rollers to a narrower setting after each roll. The pasta might be quite long and difficult to manage as it gets thinner. If you have help at hand then each take one end of the pasta to prevent it getting twisted or stuck together. Otherwise cut the pasta in half or into a manageable length and carry on rolling through the machine. Repeat this process until you reach the narrowest setting. The best pasta is the thinnest. For ravioli you might find the narrowest setting too thin.
When the pasta is done, spread out onto the semolina surface and repeat. Make sure semolina is between each sheet to stop it sticking. Don’t roll out too many sheets at a time if making ravioli, as will dry too quickly before you stuff them. But the sheets of pasta can be covered with a damp cloth if problems arise.
Once your sheets of pasta are ready they can be cut into whatever shape and size you want.
For lasagne: just cut the pasta into oblong shapes that will fit into the dish you will be using. Place on a tray covered with a tea towel. [See storing pasta above].
To make tagliatelle / linguine: Make sure the pasta is not too dry. Attach the tagliatelle or linguine cutter to the machine. Cut the pasta sheets into manageable lengths and feed the sheets through the machine as you would when rolling out the pasta. Divide the tagliatelle into loose individual bundles and place on a tea towel or kitchen towel to dry out. The bundles will make it easier to handle later when they are dry. [See storing pasta above].
To make and fill ravioli: Prepare the filling first – see next week’s blog for recipe. Try to make the sheets of pasta as wide as possible. Trim the sheets of pasta to make a complete oblong, so the filling is covered by both sides of pasta. Take a sheet of pasta and brush the bottom half of it with egg wash. Place a small teaspoon of filling onto the middle of the egg washed half. Leave a gap of about 2cm between each spoonful. Fold over the top of the dough and press down around the filling, getting rid of any air pockets that might appear and sealing in the filling. With a knife or crinkle cutter trim up the dough into what ever shape ravioli you want. Place onto a tray dusted with semolina, making sure none of the ravioli is touching each other. Leave to dry for a few minutes before cooking.
There are obviously lots of different shapes and sizes that you can make but the method above is just the most economical way with pasta.
To do large ravioli, cut up the pasta into squares or circles of whatever size you want, place enough filling in the middle, so that there is not too much pasta to filling. Egg wash one of the pieces of pasta and press together, trimming off the edges if necessary.
Tortellini or Cappelletti: is achieved by making a square, putting the filling on one side of the dough and folding it over diagonally, then holding both ends of the pasta and pinching together. [Large tortellini are called Tortelloni]
To cook the pasta:
Once the pasta is rolled out it can be cooked immediately or left to cook later. Bring a large saucepan of well salted water to the boil. If cooking ravioli and lasagne you can add a dash of olive oil to the pan, to prevent the sheets from sticking to each other. Do not add oil to tagliatelle or unstuffed pasta with sauces. Cook the pasta until ‘al dente’- just cooked, taste a small piece first. Don’t cram the saucepan full of pasta, if cooked in batches it is easier to handle. Remove the batches of pasta with a slotted spoon and rest the spoon on a tea towel to drain any remaining water.
If cooking lasagne, immediately cool the pasta in a bowl of cold water then remove and spread onto a clean table ready for use.
Like our guide to making and cooking with fresh pasta? For more delicious, authentic Italian dishes, check out our pick of top summer pasta recipes.« Back to blog