Wednesday, 20 May 2009

La Bella Pasta

Dried pasta was used as a key provision on board ships exploring the New World. It is a great source of carbohydrate and it is low in fat, making it an important dietary requirement for any hard-working crew. It is extremely versatile, makes good comfort food in all seasons and is good fun to cook. Its Italian origins go back to the Arab occupation of Sicily, although the Chinese have been making it since 3000 BC. The Sicilian word ‘maccaruni’, which we obviously know as macaroni, means ‘made into dough by force’. The process of kneading pasta dough was originally done using the feet. King Ferdinand the Second of Naples, however, disapproved of this method and so he hired an engineer to invent a machine to do the job more hygienically. Naples was the centre for pasta production due to its ideal climate for drying it.

Making fresh pasta is like being back at kindergarten playing with
Play-DohTM! Each region of Italy has its own speciality pasta dish
with often a story to go with it. The many interesting shapes of pasta
have funky Italian names, which translate into simple English. It’s
a fun way to learn some Italian vocabulary! The shapes are not just
made to look pretty, though. Each is designed to complement the
specific texture of the sauce that it is served with.
Fresh pasta is not better than dried pasta, it’s simply another version
of it. Different shapes have different uses. Essentially, thin, delicate
pastas such as angel hair or fine spaghetti should be used with
lighter sauces, while shapes with holes or ridges are better used
with chunkier sauces.
Pasta is an absolutely essential food item for any galley. Its wonderful
history tells us this.

Here are some of the various shapes:

Capellini -'Fine hair' or 'angel hair'. Goes well with light, cream or oil based sauces.

Acini di pepe - 'Peppercorns'. These tiny pasta shapes are ideal in soups.

Orzo - 'Barley'. This rice-sized pasta is also good for using in soups or can be cooked on it's own and served as a side dish.

Fusilli - 'Screws'. These make brilliant salads, especially if using the Tricolor (three-coloured) ones.

Orecchiette - 'Little Ears'. These are almost like a form of gnocchi and are ideal with chunky sauces. very popular in the Puglia region, the heal part of the boot of Italy, where they serve it with broccoli.

Radiatori - 'Radiators'. Yes, the look like little radiators! The ridges make them ideal for holding on to thick, cheesy sauces.

Gigle - 'Lilies'. These fluted, flowery looking pasta are great in chunky, meatly casserole.

Ditalini - 'Thimbles'. These small ridged tubular pasta are good used in a bake like such as macaroni cheese.

Farfalle - 'Butterflies'. Good in salads or equally good with a light or heavy sauce - very versatile.

Here’s a recipe for a basic fresh pasta dough. You will need a pasta machine for this. I suggest buying a good quality, Italian-made,
heavy-duty one. Once you get into making pasta you will use it a lot – trust me.

Fresh Pasta
Servings dependent on use

550g strong white flour ('Tipo 00' in Italy, 'Extra' in Spain or 'Forte' in France)
6 fresh egg yolks
4 eggs
2 tablespoons olive oil

>Put the flour into a food processor, put on medium speed and add the egg yolks and oil
slowly until your mixture resembles bread crumbs or a crumble topping.
>Add a small amount of cold water, maybe only a teaspoon, so that it is slightly more sticky.
>Tip this mixture onto a smooth surface
>Squeeze together so it looks like a piece of pastry to make it a tight, smooth ball.
>Wrap tightly in cling film and let it rest for about four hours in the fridge. Take it out one hour before use.
>Set up your pasta machine at one end of a long surface. Dust the length of the surface with strong flour or fine semolina.
>Cut your pasta dough into eight pieces, re-wrapping seven pieces for later use.
>Press your dough out so it's a little but flat.
>With the dial on the side of the machine set on number one, roll the dough through the rollers from top to bottom. Set the dial to number two and repeat the process. Again with number three and so on until you reach seven. The pasta will stretch and flatten out as you go. Observe how flexible it is.

Try this very simple classic recipe with farfalle pasta and observe how the texture of the sauce works with the shape.

Classic Carbonara
Serves 6

500g farfalle pasta
300g finely diced pancetta or smoked streaky bacon
2 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
10 egg yolks
1/2 litre cream
Flat-leaf parsley

>Fry the pancetta with garlic until nice and crispy.
>Drain off the excess fat and leave to cool.
>Combine the egg yolks, cream and cheese.
>Cook the pasta, drain and add the pancetta and cream mixture to it whilst it's still hot - the residual heat from the pasta will cook the egg yolks and melt the cheese.
>Season well.
>Serve straight away with a good handful of the roughly chopped flat-leaf parsley and lots of freshly ground black pepper - simple!

There are so many uses for this stuff that it’s hard to suggest
what to do with it at this stage! I think the best thing to do is stay
simple. Start off making some simple spaghetti or tagliatelle.
When making ravioli, make a slightly thicker pasta for raw fillings
than you would do for a cooked filling. Enjoy yourself, practise and
get more adventurous as you go; learn a different shape each time
you play! Cooking times differ for every recipe, but fresh pasta
needs to be cooked for a lot less time than dried pasta.

No comments:

Post a Comment