Egg pasta has personality!

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(For the first of our Autumn Kitchen workshops we decided we should make fresh pasta.  It makes for a theatrical and somewhat messy session which is great fun).

Pasta is the generic term for unleavened dough.  Originally made from wheat and water, but if made from flour and eggs it is transformed and has real personality on the plate.

The water variety makes a far softer pasta with less bite and colour and is not as suitable to hold fillings.  Egg pasta is rich in colour and flavour and when cooked has a real bite, al dente.  Organic eggs laid by hens that are free to roam and have a part natural diet will produce eggs with deep orange yolks full of flavour taken on by the pasta.  Recipes vary and will contain different proportions of flour and eggs depending on where you are in the world.  Humidity and temperature will affect the consistency of the dough.  The more egg used the more crispy, brittle and snappy the pasta will be.

The traditional way of making fresh pasta is on a flat surface, at the point of bringing together you will need to prepare yourself for approximately 10 minutes of hard work to stretch the gluten and develop an elastic quality to the dough.  The result is a tight, stiff and unyielding dough.  At no point is this considered a chore but a therapeutic process!  This kneading will strengthen the dough and allow it to hold fillings.  Just as with bread making you can undo the positive effects of kneading by over working the gluten causing the elastic strands to break and weaken the dough.  Both you and the dough may rest at this point.  The dough must have no less than 1 hour in the fridge.

You can roll the relaxed pasta with a rolling pin, a pasta machine will probably save time and normally produces a more even texture.  A quantity of pasta dough using 250g of flour should be cut into 4 pieces.  Focusing on just one or two pieces at any one time, use the rollers to elongate the dough.  Dust the dough as necessary with semolina flour to prevent sticking.  The remaining dough not yet rolled must be kept covered with a damp tea towel or in an air tight place.  As the pasta is past through the varying roller thicknesses it should become smooth and develops a sheen.  You can produce Linguine and Tagliatelle with a standard machine.  If making Pappardelle, roll the well dusted, sheet of pasta Swiss roll style and cut 2-4 cm strips.  Open out the ribbons and dry slightly over a clean broom handle or in nests on a floured tray before cooking.  Excess pasta may be dried vertically then stored in an airtight container.

If it is filled pasta you require, make a dry and finely minced filling using simple flavours like mushroom & thyme, cheese & prosciutto or spinach & ricotta.  Tortelloni can be made using 2’’/5cm squares.  Place a teaspoon of the mixture in the centre, moisten the edges with a wet finger and carefully fold corner to corner excluding all air.  With a finger nail against the filling bring two corners together and pinch to seal.  Stand it upright on its newly formed base.  If you have made something that resembles a large belly button, you have succeeded!  Allow to air dry slightly before cooking.  The most famous of stuffed pastas is the Ravioli.  A simple Ravioli can be made in the same fashion as the Tortelloni but this time use circles of cut pasta rather than squares.  In a similar way, fold to form a neat air free semi-circle.  Cook fresh pasta in generously salted water with a vigorous boil, it takes minutes to cook al dente.

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