Time is still money, and there are some things that even the most honest of cooks won't bother making from scratch. Bread, stock and pasta top that list. But pasta is the most obvious one because it's SO quick to make a pasta dish from a of packet dried pasta, and even quicker (often shy of five minutes), to make a dish using fresh, refrigerated egg pasta.
So why make it yourself? Because it does actually taste better of course! It's also not that tricky to do, and once you know how you can give your basic pasta a bit of a kick by adding flavours like basil, chilli or sundried tomato to it, before you get to the toppings or sauces phase.
In pasta 101, the first thing you need to be aware of is that one pasta is not like another. The first division is between dried pasta and fresh egg pasta. It's about the flavours that best compliment each other, with fresh egg pastas leaning themselves more towards creamy or buttery sauces and rich meats, where as dried pastas make excellent bases for toppings and sauces of tomato and olive oil.
The basic pasta recipe relies on good quality, very fine flour, Tipo 00 is the best because it turns out pastas with the softest texture. In Italy they call this sort of flour farina di grano tenero, which means soft flour, so keep an eye out for those words on any packets.
Step1: Take 600gs of this flour and place it on a board, or in a large bowl, and make a hill out of it, then a hole in the top, like a volcano.
Step 2: Break six eggs (or one egg for every 100gs of flour – 600gs will make more than enough for four.) into a jug and give them a light beating until the yolks have all broken up. Add a pinch of salt.
Step 3: Pour your eggs into your flour volcano and use your fingers to mix the eggs and flour together, taking it a bit at a time. Once it starts to combine you should end up with small lumps of dough which you can then combine into one big lump which you then let rest of ten minutes. This short reprieve for your dough comes before a big old kneading. Pull, push, squash and reshape, and maybe beat it around a bit if you have any aggression you need an outlet for – your pasta dough won't mind. It will take a while, so stay strong – you'll know when it's ready because it will feel soft and silky rather than grainy as it felt at the beginning of the process. Once it's silkened up give it another rest, but this time wrap it in cling wrap
By Flickr user Kincuri
Step 4: This is the rolling phase. Obviously the easiest way to get your pasta into shape is in a pasta machine. These would be frowned upon in Italy, but if you're not in Italy then it's OK to use one. And if you're going to make pasta regularly then it might be worth investing in one, they're not particularly expensive. If this is your first time, or you want to do things the Italian mama way, then you need a big ol' rolling pin and a big ol' board to start rolling on. The point of the exercise is to get your pasta dough really flat so that you can cut it. If you don't have a machine it's hard to roll your whole lump of dough out, so break it up and do pieces at a time. Either way you need to dust some of that fine flour down onto your surface before you start rolling or machining.
If you're using a machine start off on the fattest setting and work it though, then fold it over and run it though the next fattest setting. Repeat until you're on the finest setting.
If you're using a rolling pin remember to attack your pasta from both sides, turning it 90 degrees after every fold will help keep it even.
Step 5: Once your pasta is flat enough, and bear in mind that different pasta shapes should be different widths: lasagne sheets are quite fat, as is tagliatelle, but ravioli and other parcel pastas are thinner, you need to cut your pasta into the shapes you want. And you need to be quick about it 'cause pasta dries quickly (lay a damp tea towel over it if you start to get worried.)/
Once you've mastered the basics you can start considering being a bit more authentic with your flavours. The rougher southern Italian recipes use a mix of Semolina and 00 flour – at a ratio of about half each but with one and a quarter eggs for each 100gs of flour. And the eggier Northern varieties obviously use more eggs. So start here and start developing your sophisticated pasta palate.