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Hasty la pasta baby

I am always amazed how easy baking can be when you realise that at the heart of the process are three basic ingredients flour, liquid and binding. Flour obtained from various grains, plants, or even nuts, liquids such as water, milk & oils, and bindings such as butter, Marg, fats and eggs.

At the start of the first lockdown in 2020, a lot of supplies were in short supply not because of the pandemic, but people’s gluttony and fears, panic buying basic essentials at a rate greater than the supply chain could manage.

We all know an anecdote regarding acquiring 5 years supply of toilet paper. Additional items that became scarce included flour and pasta. In most cases people didn’t even possess the skills needed to fashion the raw materials into something sustaining.

A kilo bag of pasta lasts in my pantry maybe 3 months. Pasta is a dish I prepare once a fortnight-ish and though the rule of thumb is 100g per person, I find following that ratio leads to waste or at least leftovers. So using 150g a time does well for me. Imagine then the situation where you buy 10kg!

It’s time to consider homemade. Pasta is flour and egg, end of sorry. If you wish to be authentic, artisan or regional then you’ll be acquainting yourself with 00 or semolina (the flour not the canned pudding) and maybe a little extra in terms of spinach to give a green colour.

Good old fashioned plain flour does the job quite nicely. Using a food processor cuts down the labour considerably. Measure 100g per person and place in the processor bowl, add 1egg per person and blitz until you have breadcrumb consistency.

Next knead by hand until you have a block of dough, cover with clingfilm so the dough doesn’t dry out, and allow to rest in the fridge for a minimum of 30 minutes.

After resting start to roll the pasta by apply a good dusting of flour to your surface and pin. I prefer gluten free flour for this as it is less likely to stick.

If you own a pasta machine you’ll still need to roll the dough to be sufficiently thin to fit between the rollers on their widest position. If you don’t own a machine, then shell suits, sweat bands and leotards at the ready, for you’re up for one heck of a work out.

Keep rolling and applying flour until you’ve achieved the thickness you’re expecting (2-3mm for sheets). For tagliatelle, spaghetti, and linguine, you’ll slice the strips.

For my last supper I served ravioli and tagliatelle.

Spinach and Ricotta Ravioli in a creamy pesto sauce

For the filling you need 5 ingredient; spinach, soft cheese (ricotta), a couple of cloves of garlic, nutmeg and about 4 tablespoons of grated Parmesan or an equally strong flavour cheese.

To save on some calories and the fat content, substitute fat free plain cottage cheese for the ricotta.

Many recipes talk about blanching spinach which involves boiling it for seconds then transferring to ice water, personally I lob it in a plastic bowl, cover with clingfilm and nuke it for 90-120 seconds.

Place the wilted spinach in a food processor with the cottage cheese and Parmesan, add 2 teaspoons of nutmeg, and finely grate 2 cloves of garlic over the mix, and blitz for about 20-30 seconds until combined into a stiff paste.

Taking a sheet of pasta on a prepared surface place a teaspoon of filling allowing for gaps between the ravioli parcels. Cover with a second sheet and trim out the shapes with either, pastry wheel, ravioli stamp or a sharp knife (using a fork to seal the the edges of the parcel).

Place in salted boiling water for 7-10 minutes until cooked. Gently remove from the water with a slotted spoon and allow to rest on absorbent paper for a few minutes.

Pesto sauce

A couple of good splashes of milk in a hot pan with a knob of butter/spread, add a sprinkling of basil and 2 teaspoons of green pesto. Bring to the boil and stir vigourously. Add some Parmesan shavings and should the mix look too thin after 5 minutes, add a little flour to thicken.

Pour over the ravioli and serve with crusty bread immediately.

Tagliatelle with spicy pork ragu

The tagliatelle is simmered on salted water for about ten minutes until soft and slippery – I suppose. Using a colander, pour away the water and return to the pan pouring over Passata. Stir and allow the sauce to come a gentle simmer. Toss in some Italian herb mix and thin slices of salami, polony and peperami – basically any spicy sausage that’s in the fridge.

Serve with a slice of crusty bread and Parmesan to taste.

Both these dishes were cheap to make, didn’t require hours of cooking and contained only fresh natural ingredients. Pasta gets a bad rep due to the dairy content of most dishes but this can be mitigated. When the world came to an end, long forgotten skills needed to relearned quite quickly. There is no panic just peace in my kitchen.

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