Fresh pasta – give it a go

Freshly cut into tagliatelle

Homemade fresh pasta. Deeply satisfying, genuinely better than dried / store bought and worth a bit of effort. Yet somehow along with souffles and pastry many have a deep-rooted fear of attempting them, as if the kitchen might spontaneously implode when you add a bit too much egg to your mix.

Well, brush aside any fears, [wo]man up and get your pasta machine out. You may need to attempt this a few times to get the right feel for the dough and how it behaves, but once you do you’ll be extremely pleased with the reward for a small amount of perserverance. Firstly, the ingredients list, if you can call it that. 00 flour, a very fine soft flour, get the best you can. And eggs, as fresh as you can get. That’s it. I use 1 medium egg for each 100g of flour, allow 100-150g per person depending on how hungry you are. Pile the flour onto a large clean work surface, crack the eggs into a well, break up the eggs with a fork and then mix together by hand into a dough. You want something that sticks together enough into a clump but isn’t wet or sticky. Adjust the flour / egg as necessary.

Now is the important bit, kneading. You’re aiming to introduce elasticity into the pasta by developing the gluten strands, that’s pretty important given you want to stretch your mix into a long thin sheet later. It helps to have a radio on, then you can keep kneading for at least 2 songs, possibly 3 depending on how many times a week you visit the gym. Knead and stretch the dough until it is elastic and shiny. Wrap in clingfilm and let it rest in the fridge for an hour.

An hour later, lightly dust your surface with some flour and clamp your pasta machine to the worktop. Cut the dough into rough portion sizes (i.e. the number of people you’re trying to feed) and cover each with clingflim. Take your first ball, flatten it slightly and lightly dust with flour. Starting with the widest setting on your machine, roll it through 2-3 times trying to get a nice even rectangle the width of the machine. Lightly dust with flour if it sticks (and bear in mind for next time you might need less egg). Now, slowly notch by notch take the pasta machine down to thinner levels, each time putting the pasta through 1-2 times depending on how it is feeling and stretching.

Depending on what you’re doing with the pasta you can decide how thin to take it. Generally I’ll go down to the second or third thinnest level, for ravioli you probably want the thinnest though. By the end you should have a long, thin rectangular sheet. Dust with flour, shake off the excess and place in a dish covered with a damp tea towel to keep fresh.

What you do from here is up to you. Most machines come with cutters for linguini and fettuccine. Or you can rough cut some shapes of your own? Ravioli is a great option too, simply cut the sheets lengthways in 2 (depending on what size ravioli you want), dot filling at equal intervals, brush with water around the edges and top with another sheet. Then press firmly removing the air around the filling and cut as desired.

Served with pumpkin, pancetta, broad beans, sage and chilli.

As you can see, I cut mine into tagliatelle. Cooking is simple, get a large pan of salted water on a proper rolling boil, drop in and cook for 2-4 minutes depending on the thickness. Make sure you keep testing the pasta to your desired level of al-dente, you don’t want to overcook it. And be careful with more delicate ravioli, less of a boil and palce them carefully in the water. Serve with a simple sauce to emphasise the deliciousness of the pasta, in this case I mixed some roast pumpkin with fried pancetta, sage and broad beans for a fresh light taste.

 

Dine Mile High – Sicily (well, London really)

The London popup and supper club scene seems very healthy at the moment, with social media driving people to abandoned shops and living room soirees. There was even a feature on radio 4 this morning (surely a sign of the beginning of the end). Guiltily though, I admit I haven’t been to many. Hence when a friend suggested we go to Dine Mile High for a Sicilian experience I booked my ticket, exchanged some currency and checked my passport hadn’t expired.

My passport for the evening

OK, it’s actually still in London but the theme is the golden age (bar the frequent crashes) of airline travel, say around the 50′s. We were greeted promptly at 6:30pm at a boarded up place on Regent St of all places, and after some issues with missing doormen and Westminster regulations we were in. Greeted at check-in by 2 airline staff, we were issued our passports plus tickets and taken through to the bar.

There was a short list of 4 crowd-pleasing cocktails, appropriately themed to the location and somewhat to the era. Bottles of Campari and Aperol hinted at the always delicious Negronis and Spritzs on offer, plus a bellini-style Martini and a julep. The night was sponsored by various drinks companies which shaped the menu, however they were all made very well. Included in the £65 ticket were 2 cocktails, canapes, a 4 course dinner, some wine and a disco afterwards. A nice touch was the Campari stamps we were issued in our passport with each Negroni.

A couple of Negronis later.

Settling into the white leather banquette with my Negroni and in the balmy heat of a muggy June evening the theme was definitely working well. Two stewardesses (1 “Australian”, 1 “Soviet”) popped round with some fried courgette slices and big balls of arancini flecked with a bit of truffle (I think) and cheese. They had a nice bit of banter between them, adding a touch of humour together with the young Italian pilot schmoozing guests. I would guess at a few acting school employees here.

We were some of the first to arrive and so had a good hour and a half or so to settle into some serious pre-dinner cocktails. The arancini helped soak them up though. Then we were called by name to board, and taken through to the dining room, which was nicely dressed in white with long shared tables to sit at. The chef is ex-Moro (Oliver Templeton) and we had a fixed menu of 4 courses in front of us. The starter was a marinated swordfish salad with cinnamon, fennel and pine nuts. It arrived on a pretty small plate which to be honest I thought was dressed a bit scruffily and portion wise was quite small. Maybe I’m being harsh, on the one had it is a pop-up with a big dining room to feed simultaneously, on the other this is at the top end of the scene. It was a solid dish and I finished it, the orange came through nicely with some crunchy fennel. I didn’t really detect the cinnamon and the swordfish texture had gone pappy, perhaps marinated too long in something acidic?

The second course was pasta alla Norma, an addition since part of the team was Tom who has worked at Bocca di Lupo. This was served as a sharing platter between 6 of us. A hearty mix of home-made pasta, tomato and aubergine, it was a very rustic comforting dish. Fortunately it was also cooked to perfection, mixing pasta with a nice bite; a huge rich umami filled tomato sauce and soft aubergine. No complaints here and plenty to go around.

Next up was the main, pork belly, cabbage, beans and Sicilian lemon. Another rustic dish, but cooked very well again. We were served a slice of soft unctuous pork belly meat topped with the all important crisp crackling. A classic side of white beans and cabbage provided a good accompaniment, and a slice of soft bitter lemon offset the fatty rich dish.

Dessert was fairly simple, a burnt peach gelato with pistachio praline and ammerreto biscotto. The gelato had a solid peach flavour and was a nice, refreshing end to the meal. Between 6 of us there were 2 OK bottles of wine included and any more had to be bought. We tried a bottle of the top-end chardonnay as well, the name eludes me. Afterwards the bar turns into a disco with pumping tunes and a lot of dancing.

So overall, a great evening out. The theme and detail was very good, the food was mostly excellent if relatively simple, and you get a decent amount for your £65. And yes I clearly should have taken some photos of the food, apologies.