OK, I admit it – I have a bit of a thing for fresh pasta. I mean seriously, what’s not to love? I can’t think of another dish that delivers more nutrition and flavour and pure hedonistic eating pleasure that a bowl of amazing fresh noodles topped with a bright delicious sauce. When it comes to dressing pasta, the only limit to the flavours and ingredients we can get into a bowl is our imagination. With this in mind, I have put together a collection of some of my absolute all-time favourite pasta recipes at the bottom of this article, but today want to delve into the hands-down easiest way to take a bowl of noodles to the next level – and that’s by making your own pasta from scratch.
Why Fresher Is Better
The spectacular and delicious range of pasta dishes served in homes and restaurants around the world is somehow betrayed by the simplicity – both in process and the short list of ingredients – involved in making fresh pasta from scratch. Great fresh homemade pasta isn’t accomplished with a lengthy list of ingredients, but rather by using the right top quality ingredients. In its purest form, pasta contains three ingredients – flour, egg and a pinch of salt. Let’s start with the easy one first – use the freshest high grade eggs you can get your hands on. The fresher the eggs, the better the flavour and colour of the resulting noodles, but you will also find fresher whites provide for better binding and integration with the flour.
And speaking of flour – don’t try and get away with any old bag you’ve got sitting around in the cupboard, but rather spring for the special stuff called “Semolina” which delivers flavour and texture that will take your noodles to the next level. This coarsely ground grain is richer in protein and somewhat lower in gluten than other types of flour, and when combined with super fresh eggs (also offer better protein content than less fresh options) helps to integrate these two humble ingredients in a way that delivers the perfect texture.
With these bases covered, the process is every bit as simple, if somewhat labourious. One need only ask Google for some feedback on the right ratios of egg to flour to realize that there are dozens of variations and theories on the best fresh pasta recipe. In my experience, the best results are achieved by combining 2 1/2 cups of flour with 2 eggs and four additional egg yolks – along with a pinch or two of salt.
Last but not least, you simply cannot “over-knead” pasta dough. The better incorporated and integrated the egg and flour become, the better your results will be. While there are a handy kneading attachments available for kitchen mixers, I’d recommend rolling up your sleeves and doing it the old-fashioned way. I’ve found it’s often easier to break your dough down into smaller batches for kneading once the ingredients have become more or less evenly combined. If you use my suggested recipe, above, I’ve found that this can be cut into three or four manageable balls of dough, each of which can been further kneaded by hand with ease.
Once you’ve allowed the dough to rest, all that’s left is to roll your pasta into sheets and cut it. I’ve found that rolling pasta into sheets is best done using a pasta making machine – however cutting by hand can add a really nice rustic touch to some pasta dishes. If you’ve put the hard work into kneading it well, this should be a breeze. In fact, the toughest part of this process is deciding which shape noodle you want to enjoy – and being patient enough to let it finish cooking!
All Shapes & Sizes
Have you ever noticed that different shapes of pasta seem to actually taste different? I sure have. And I’ve also found that the sauces, toppings and accompaniments adorning a given pasta dish can taste and behave quite differently based on the shape of the noodle they’re riding with. While this is largely a matter of personal opinion and preference, I tend to serve short noodles with sauces that contain piece of meat, fish, seafood or vegetables. Broad noodles, like pappardelle or fettuccini are great with rich or creamy sauces, while long narrower noodles like angel hair or spaghetti match well with lighter fresh tomato or oil based sauces.
Top It All Off In Style
If you’ve made it this far, I’ve got great news for you – it’s really hard to top awesome homemade fresh pasta with anything that isn’t going to taste great! That said, if you’ve made the effort to craft something delicious, why not go the extra mile and top it off in style! While a big ol’ heaping spoonful of grated cheese has become a common way to finish just about any pasta dish (and don’t get me wrong – I probably enjoy more than a standard ration of parmesan cheese each year…) there are two often overlooked additions that bring offer a delicious and bright alternative.
Why not replace (or enhance) your grated cheese with a handful of roughly chopped fresh herbs like basil or oregano followed by a generous drizzle of top quality finishing oil. If you go down this path, you’ll need to add a light sprinkle of coarse salt to replace this virtue often achieved by the addition of parmesan or romano cheese. Another great option is to sprinkle a few chunks of diced fresh tomato (uncooked) over your dish, adding an awesome light and refreshing element to an otherwise rich and savoury plate.
[ Recipes ]
Angel Hair w/ Smoked Salmon, Asparagus & Lemon: RECIPE
Wine Match: Sauvignon Blanc from California or Bordeaux
Penne w/ Zucchini & Chili: RECIPE
Wine Match: Dry Grenache Rose from Tavel or Languedoc
Tomato & Basil Gnocchi Gratin: RECIPE
Wine Match: Verdicchio from Marche or Picpoul de Pinet from Languedoc
Pappardelle w/ Lobster, Leeks & White Truffle Cream: RECIPE
Wine Match: Richer Champagne or Timorasso from Piedmont
Braised Beef Shortrib Lasagna: RECIPE
Wine Match: Sangiovese from Tuscany or Pinot Noir from Burgundy