Making Perfect Pasta!


In this recipe, we will be making perfect pasta - as the name suggests.
Many people use “fresh” pasta bought in a supermarket, or dried pasta, or ... god help them ... canned pasta. Why?

The reason is simple. Time.

While cooking the pasta takes but a few minutes, the preparation of the meal takes, well, a LOT longer. Put aside a whole afternoon.


What you will need:



And you might like:


As a rule of thumb, 300g of flour (and three eggs) will make a good amount of pasta for two people, or one very hungry person!



Ingredients of the sauce.

You might be asking yourself about the leek and carrot. The reason is very simple - these were things that were ready in my garden at the time of cooking. Do not be afraid to experiment! After all, if you're only going to make a generic tomato slime, you might as well save time and buy a bottle of sauce in the supermarket - and that simply isn't fun!

You'll notice the absence of garlic. If it was up to me, I'd fry up a chopped shallot and a chopped garlic (yes, a whole garlic!) and toss them in, but my mother isn't so keen on garlic; her stomach even less keen. So, sadly, no garlic. But don't let that stop YOU, just fry it until it's a lovely golden colour, then put it into the mixture.

The smaller the latitude number (the closer to the equator), the more likely you'll get beautiful tomatoes fresh from your garden. You, preferably, want to leave them to ripen on the plant and not bring them in early to ripen inside. Here, in Brittany, the hot summer has made the tomatoes quite nice, but not like the sun-kissed Sicilian types. If your tomatoes aren't up to scratch, then buy good quality canned tomatoes.


Next, find yourself some music to listen to. Studies show that listening to something helps you work. I decided to listen to Laura Pausini and Niccoló Fabi . Well, it's only right since I'm preparing an Italian meal!


The little CD player...



Measure out ‘about’ a kilogram of tomatoes. Here you can see I have measured 1155g. This is to account of lossage when skinning, anything I drop on the floor, etc. It doesn't have to be exactly 1kg. (I grew these! ☺)

Weighing tomatoes.

Now you have to peel the tomatoes. There are as many suggestions as to how to do this as there are types of tomato. As I'm in no rush, so I suggest you simply quarter each tomato down the middle and peel the skins away. If the tomato skin doesn't peel away fairly easily, chuck that tomato out (or eat it?) as it isn't ripe enough for the sauce.

Once you have all of your tomatoes peeled, you can either chop them as you desire, or do as I did and toss them into the food processor.

Processing food.

For my sauce, I prefer the tomato base to be smooth, with the extra ingredients to give texture.


This next step you can probably miss out. My mother cannot digest tomato pips, so I pass the tomato purée through a fine strainer to remove most of the pips.

Some did get through, but few enough that picking out the pips was a reasonable suggestion. Don't forget that you can always re-purée the stuff left in the strainer to see if you can get any more from it.

Straining out the pips.


Top and tail the carrots and then chop them. These will be used, along with the leek, to give texture to your sauce, so how you chop them will directly relate to how your sauce ‘feels’. I chop them flat, about 2mm thick, but that's only my preference. Please do not put them in the food processor, it'd be a waste of carrot.

Weighing carrots.

Chop, now, about four or five centimetres of leek. Chop it into rings, quite small. Obviously the amount depends upon the width of the leek, so go with what looks right.

Next, finely chop the thyme and the rosemary. You only need a pinch of each as they have quite a distinctive flavour. Put the bay leaf in whole. You cannot eat bay, so you'll be taking the leaf out once you're done with it.

The herby things.

And now for the wine! The wine that you use will add a characteristic flavour to the sauce. Here, I am using my favourite wine, a rosé from the Anjou region (local to here) called “Chatelière”. It is almost a crime to cook with such a nice wine, but, you know, unless you're an Italian mother, you probably won't be cooking this sort of thing every day! It is a strong wine, a little on the tangy side, and will impart some of this lovely flavour to the sauce... oh god help me, I sound like Jilly Goolden!


Anyway, measure about a third of a plastic cup, say 5-8cl, and add that to the mix.
Now refill that cup and knock it back in one go. You'll appreciate the happy feelings when it comes time to bash on the dough. Yeah, guys, all these lines and pictures later, we've only just moved off of the starting post!

If you have fresh sun-dried Cayenne, take out ONE seed and chop it finely. If you are cooking for yourself and you like chilies then feel free to add more - however a number of people prefer their food with a little less bite. Don't overdo it though, you don't want "chili" to be the only flavour you get from your sauce!
If you want a quick deviation, take one seed and place it, whole, on the end of your tongue. See how long before you want to spit it out. Yes, Cayenne is strong. It is also a voracious plant, so if you are passing this way and you'd like some Cayenne, all you need to do is ask! (depending in season/weather of course!)

One chopped Cayenne seed.

Now that all of the ingredients are in the pot, it's time for the final touch - olive oil. This must be an extra-virgin (like me!) “first cold pressing” oil. Don't skimp on cheap olive oil, and certainly you'd give me the shivers if you were daft enough to consider using rape-seed oil, sunflower oil, or some other inferior type of oil. For all the good they'd do, you might as well be tossing in Castrol GTX... no, people, use a good olive oil. My personal favourite is “Oli” (called 'Olio' in the UK).
The amount?
Hey, they say that the Mediterranean diet, aided with olive oil, makes you live longer and wards off nasties like heart attacks, strokes, and lawyers; so glug in as much as you think is right. Then add a little more just in case.

Oli. Glug glug...

Stir, bring to the boil, and let it boil, like, forever. Your aim is to ‘reduce' the mixture to a lovely rich sauce. This isn't a fast process, so keep the gas going, and then progress to...

It's a gas, gas, gas!



There can be few things nicer than truly fresh home-made pasta.
Those who have discovered so-called “fresh” pasta in their supermarket will never be able to look at dried pasta in quite the same way. But those who have made their own pasta will never be able to look at any other pasta in quite the same way.


Weigh out 300 grams of flour for two people, adjust as necessary.

Weighing flour.

Toss in an egg for every 100g of flour, and mix the whole lot together with a fork. After a while it'll become hard to mix, so there's no alternative but to roll up your sleeves and let rip with the old hand action.

Mixing by hand.

Now, at this point you might be thinking “ewww, tell us to wash our hands first, Rick”. No, I won't. If you are cooking then I expect you to understand basic commonsense, like:

  1. Wash your hands, well, and often.
  2. Break eggs into a small cup before adding them to the mix, in case there is anything wrong with the egg.
  3. Don't eat the dough containing raw egg, especially if you have the misfortune to know Edwina Curry.
And so on. I expect you to know this stuff. Okay?


If, at this stage, the pasta is too dry, add a touch of water. If it seems too wet, add flour. You will eventually reach a point where you figure it no longer needs to be in a bowl.


So go stir the pasta sauce and check it is cooking nicely.


Now, you should have a flat work area with an easy-to-clean surface. You might prefer to use a laminated counter top, or you might prefer to do as I did and put a plastic sheet (a dough size thing from Lakeland) on the kitchen table. It doesn't matter, so long as it is clean.

Scatter some flour and plop the dough from the bowl onto the surface.

Now knead it.

That is much easier said, and done, than explained. If you've never kneaded dough before, the idea is to mix it up inside, until you have a nice stretchy lump. You'll need to push, fold, push, fold... surely you've seen it on movies or on TV, right?
Well, you have to do that for about fifteen or twenty minutes.

Kneading the dough.

You'll find, periodically, that it starts to stick to the work surface, so sprinkle more flour on the surface and knead it in.
Soon you'll realise that you don't need to go and spend good money on “stress” aids when you can simply throw together some flour and eggs and knead it. Feel free to vent all your aggression on the dough. It'll make for better pasta... Well, assuming you don't start hitting it with a hammer - that'd be unfortunate, especially when you see what your nice flat work surface looks like afterwards.


When the dough is ready, cut off a small piece and run it through each part of your pasta maker. This helps to clean out the gunk, because pasta machines generally shouldn't be washed.


Now, with your dough in a nice flying-saucer shaped lump, cut off pieces about an inch square, as long as need be, and run it through the pasta machine's main rollers on setting one (the most open).

The first rolling.

Lightly flour both sides of the flat piece of dough, then fold it over and run it through the pasta machine again.

Flour and fold.   And through again...

Repeat this at least seven more times.


Now close the main rollers a notch, and pass the flat dough through. Close the main rollers another step, and pass the dough through. Finally, close them once more and pass the dough through. For my pasta maker, it makes good tagliatele with the main rollers on setting 4.

Flour both sides of this piece of flat dough, then hang it up. Open the rollers to their maximum (position 1), and do all of the above rolling to the next piece of dough.

Cutting a new slice.

Repeat until all the dough is nice and flat and hanging up.


By now, your sauce should have reduced suitably. Find a clean jam jar or pasta sauce jar, and tip it in. If you plan to use the sauce immediately, you can get away with putting it in a plastic cup or two and covering it over with cling-film. Do not be shocked at how little it makes. All that stuff made this small jar full... [don't forget to take out the bay leaf!]

The finished sauce.

Leave a tiny bit in the bottom of the pan. Now sit down and eat it. Isn't it lovely?



Sadly, your work continues.


Take each piece of flat dough in turn and flour it generously. Then pass it through the tagliatelle cutters. If it passes easily, then all is well. If it gets stuck or 'gunks up' the machine, it is either too thick or not floured enough. If you happen to be a three-armed mutant, you'll find this stage particularly easy. Otherwise, you might want to enlist the help of a partner or good friend, or learn how to juggle pasta...

Making tagliatelle.

Hang up the tagliatelle to dry. It is recommended you dust over some more flour so that it doesn't stick to itself.

Drying on the racks.



Cooking fresh pasta is dead easy. Simply bring a good amount of lightly salted water to the boil. Add in a few glugs of olive oil, it is suppose to help prevent the pasta from sticking but I'm not sure if I believe that. Throw the pasta into the boiling water, and keep the water boiling. Cook it for about TWO minutes. If it rises up and floats, it is ready. Taste for ‘al dente' and always remember the correct interpretation of ‘al dente' is most likely to be a bit firmer than you're used to it. Immediately drain, and toss the pasta in a healthy amount of olive oil, or a quality butter (the poncey type with sea salt granules).


Now, the next part is up to you. You can either toss the pasta in the sauce, or you can heat the sauce and pour it on the top of the pasta. Whatever is your preference.


Et voila!.


Oh, and finally, remember that bottle of wine?
Well, it's open. There's a nice meal on the table.
What? D'you want any more of an excuse to finish off the bottle? :-)



Now that you've done this, you'll forever remain horrified at the congealed mess that some restaurants call “pasta”. The bland insipidness that is reminiscent of a school dinner from hell. In fact, I would reckon school dinners alone are half the reason people who don't like pasta...don't like pasta. Properly cooked pasta should have bite. Hell, I've seen some pastas that had less form than semolina! That ain't right.


What is right is your pasta meal. No store-bought pasta, you made this yourself.


Enjoy it. I sure did.


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Copyright © 2003 Richard Murray