There are many things in this world of which I wonder how they were ever invented, or perfected to the point at which they are now. Mostly it’s things like musical instruments that baffle me in this way. Imagine trying to construct the world’s first violin (although the first version was probably some sort of lyre – but you get my point, I’m sure). Tough as it is, but then imagine trying to play it, without any sort of guarantee that you’ll ever produce anything that can pass as music. What kind of person starts a project like that?
I’m similarly bemused by many types of food. I can imagine some things being discovered by accident (“Dammit, dropped my mammoth leg in the fire!… That smells kinda good actually.”) but some things are so difficult to make, and so prone to failing, that I can’t grasp how they were ever invented. For example, who first started whisking egg whites to make them stand up in peaks? That shit takes forever and it leaves your arm completely sore. How did the first person know what they were doing made any sense? And at this point, the soufflé isn’t even halfway done. (Other things are just weird to think about – what was the first person milking a cow really after?)
Funnily enough, I have always had the same sentiment with pasta. You know, just, pasta, spaghetti and stuff. It seems so simple, but I would always expect any product made of flour to disintegrate completely when it comes into contact with water, and weirdly, with pasta this doesn’t happen. But how could the inventor of pasta know this?
Fresh, home-made pasta is one of those things of which people always assured me that it was dead easy to make, but which I never quite believed (like with gnocchi, remember?). However, for someone who presumes to lecture others on food and who lives in Italy, I thought it was sort of unacceptable to lack such a basic skill, so I decided to give it a shot and I made some tagliatelle. It was actually, truly, swear-to-God dead easy. It’s the insecurity of the project that almost killed me – will it come out OK? But it did, and it was delicious. And I didn’t even use a pasta machine because we don’t have one in our flat. Yet.
There’s some discussion about how much egg to use. Apparently the golden rule is 1 egg to 100gr of flour, but I find that quite eggy, plus I’m stingy. According to purists you’re not supposed to add any water, which I totally did. Pasta came out wonderfully though, so the purists can stuff it.
To feed about 3 people, or 4 as a wee starter, use:
- 250gr of flour
- 2 eggs
- 4-5 tbsp of lukewarm water
- pinch of salt
Put your flour and your pinch of salt in a bowl or directly onto your (clean) work surface, in a heap with a little depression in the middle. Pop your eggs in there, stir them around with a fork to break them, whisking in a little bit of flour at a time. Then, once the mixture starts to get pretty floury, use your hands to mix the remaining flour with the egg. It’ll be pretty dry – add a little bit of water to make it into a smooth ball, but keep in mind that your final product should be a very smooth, but absolutely not sticky ball of dough. It’s meant to be quite dry and hard to knead.
Once you’ve obtained the dough ball you want (this’ll probably take about 10 minutes of kneading – hard on the hands and shoulders, but you’ll be fine, and you’ll have fresh pasta), wrap the dough in some cling film and leave it to rest for about an hour. Then unwrap it, cut it in smaller pieces (halves will probably do, thirds makes for easier rolling but of course also more work) and start working it with your rolling pin. Flour your work surface, put a piece of dough on there and press it down and out with your fingers. The cover it with the piece of cling film you used earlier to wrap it and start rolling. This way you avoid using tonnes of flour whilst the rolling pin still doesn’t get stuck to the dough. Keep rolling in all directions until you get a more or less rectangular sheet of dough of less than 1mm thick. The thinner your pasta, the more delicious it will be, so make an effort.
Once you’re happy with how much you’ve rolled your dough out, roll it up lengthways and cut it into strips of about 1 cm. Now you have tagliatelle! Boil them in a lot of salted water for only about 4 minutes – boiling time depends on how thick you rolled out and cut your pasta, so keep tasting and let your mouth say when.
Serve them with anything you like – in my case a dead simple tomato sauce.