Pasta: a Quick Guide to Making Your Own

Although pasta has become one of the main staples of our diet, very few of us actually make our own.  I am lucky enough to live in an area that has some fantastic Italian delis within a short drive of my flat – Italo in Vauxhall and Gennaro in Lewisham are my local favourites – both sell great fresh and dried pasta, so why bother making it?  The truth is that making pasta is a bit of a faff.  For one thing, you need equipment; I know many blogs will tell you that you can make fresh pasta with nothing more than a bowl, wooden spoon, rolling pin and knife but, let’s face it, this is a huge effort.  I will argue that, unless you are very well practiced, you will need a food processor and a pasta rolling machine.  In addition to this, you have to allow chilling time and drying time, which turns making a batch of tagliatelle into a whole-evening activity.  And you need to buy specialist flour that it expensive.  It almost isn’t worth it.

Only it is.  Making your own pasta is like making your own bread: the freshness alone gives it the edge over anything you can buy.  There is only a couple of hours between measuring out the flour and eating the finished pasta, so you can actually taste the richness of the egg yolk and the slight graininess of the semolina.  There is none of the sticky, starchy coating that you often find on shop-bought pasta, and it cooks evenly and in a couple of minutes.  I have been making my own pasta since receiving a pasta rolling machine for Christmas a few years ago – if you want to start making your own pasta, I would definitely recommend investing in one.  I have a KitchenCraft model that you can pick up in most department stores for around £25.  You can also buy an attachment for your KitchenAid, although these are considerably more expensive.  You push the dough through a thin slot using a crank, almost like you would use a mangle.  Gradually reducing the width of the slot both thins out the pasta and stretches it, creating a beautifully translucent yellow sheet.  My pasta rolling machine has a number of cutter attachments for making spaghetti and tagliatelle, or you can make ravioli by adding pockets of pre-cooked filling along a sheet, topping it with another sheet and cutting out shapes with a pasta wheel or cookie cutter.

Fresh Pasta

  • 150g type ’00’ flour
  • 2 tbsp semolina
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1 tsp water (if needed)

Put the flour, semolina and egg yolks into a food processor and pulse until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.  When you pinch the mixture, it should come together as a dough.  If it feels too dry, add the water a splash at a time until it reaches the right consistency.  It should not come together in the way that pastry does when made in the food processor, but should be moist enough to squeeze the mixture together into a very firm dough.  Knead the dough for a couple of seconds, then wrap in clingfilm and chill in the fridge for one hour.

Divide the dough into two halves and set one aside.  Take the other half of the dough and, using your fingers or a rolling pin, flatten the dough until it it about half an inch thick.  With the roller on the widest setting, roll through the pasta, guiding it with your hand on the way in.  Fold the pasta in half width-ways and put through the roller, then fold in half lengthways and put through the roller.  Repeat this process two or three times until you have a smooth rectangle.  Turn the next setting, narrowing the rollers, and roll the pasta through three times, guiding it with your hand.  Repeat this process on five further settings until you have a thin sheet – do not use the last two settings as they tend to make the pasta a little too thin.  To make it easier to roll, I often join together the ends of the sheet at around the third setting and roll through the pasta on a loop.  Carefully remove the pasta sheet from the pan and cut as you wish.

Makes enough tagliatelle or ravioli to serve two, or six medium-sized lasagne sheets.


Slow Cooker Beef in Stout

Slow Cooker Beef in Stout

Slow Cooker Beef in Stout

A lesson learned yesterday: it is really, really difficult to make stew look appetising in photos.  In general, my food photography skills are never going to leave the professionals, or in fact anybody, quaking in their boots, but this was particularly difficult.  No photo, especially not one taken by me on my humble little iPhone, could communicate how good this dish was:  the smell of beef and beer wafting through my kitchen, the tenderness of the meat and onions after being slow cooked for seven hours or the surprisingly delicious addition of mushrooms towards the end of the cooking.  You’re just going to have to trust me.

A few years ago, my Nan bought me a slow cooker “for making stews and things”.  At the time I was a vegetarian, so used it for little more than a bit of bonus kitchen storage – cookie cutters and things – but when I started eating meat again that I saw the potential in using it.  Despite the number of blogs that claim that you can use a slow cooker for almost every meal, it pays to be selective about what you use it for.  For example, I found slow cooker porridge to be a complete waste of time – yes, you can leave it on overnight but more often than not it tastes awful and has the consistency of glue.  Plus, it takes very little time to make porridge in a saucepan.  On the other hand, slow cooked stews, especially those containing the cheaper cuts of meat, are simply wonderful.

The recipes I tend to use are meant to be cooked on the hob or in the oven, and I have simply adapted them for the slow cooker.  Anything that recommends cooking for up to three hours can be left in the slow cooker for a good six to seven hours, provided that there is enough water so it does not dry out.  This particular recipe of beef in stout is adapted from Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall’s River Cottage Meat Book and has quickly become one of my favourite winter warmers.  These quantities make enough stew to feed about 8-10 people – perfect if you have a large group coming back from a long, crisp walk.  You can halve the quantities to make a smaller, family-sized version or top with some rough-puff dripping pastry for an indulgent pie.  Either way, buttery mashed potato is a must.

Slow Cooker Beef in Stout

  • 50g salted butter
  • Olive oil
  • 200g smoked lardons
  • 500g small shallots, peeled
  • 50g plain flour, seasoned with salt and pepper
  • 1.5kg diced beef – skirt, chuck or stewing steak
  • 1 litre stout
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 4 sprigs thyme
  • 250g small button mushrooms
  • 250g large flat mushrooms, sliced
  • Salt and black pepper
  • 2 tbsp chopped flat-leaf parsley

Turn the slow cooker on to high and leave to warm up.  In a large frying pan, melt the butter with a little olive oil and fry the lardons until they start to brown.  Using a slotted spoon, remove the lardons from the frying pan, leaving the fat, and place in the slow cooker.  Add the shallots to the frying pan and fry in the fat until browned all over, remove using a slotted spoon and place in the slow cooker.

Toss the beef in the seasoned flour, shake off any excess and add to the frying pan.  Brown the meat, in batches if necessary, then place in the slow cooker.  Deglaze the pan with a little of the stout and scrape the meat and flour residue from the bottom of the pan into the slow cooker.  Return the pan to the heat and pour in the remaining stout.  Add the bay leaves and thyme stalks and gently bring to the boil.  Allow the stout to simmer for a couple of minutes and then pour it into the slow cooker.  Leave to cook in the slow cooker on high for two hours, before reducing the setting to low.

At this point, you can cook it for anywhere from three to six hours on low, checking occasionally that the liquid has not dried out.  The mushrooms should be added for the final hour of cooking.  Fry them in a pan until they have browned slightly, then add them to the slow cooker with their juices.  When the stew has finished cooking, stir in the parsley and serve.