How Handmade Pasta Has Made It Out Of Italy
Padella. Photograph by Mr Steven Joyce
Why supermarket “fresh” pasta won’t cut it anymore – and how to make your own at home, with help from Mr Theo Randall.
Italians have known for centuries that good pasta is at the core of life. “Pastificio” – pasta factories where “nonnas” (grandmothers) known as “sfoglina” make fresh pasta – are common across Italy and are held in the same regard as the local basilica. In other parts of the world, the simple dish, though hugely popular, has tended to be treated, undeservedly, with less reverence. Outside of fine dining restaurants – where any chef worth his or her salt will make their own pasta – it’s somewhat rare to be served pasta that has been made that day, on site. But thankfully, that looks set to change, with a range of new, Pastificio-style restaurants across the globe that are flying the flag for this beloved combination of eggs, flour and water.
London, in particular, seems to be going through a pasta boom. Pastificio and restaurants majoring in pasta are springing up all over the city and expat Italian chefs are its champions. The first of these (at least according to its own website) was Shoreditch’s are Burro e Salvi, which opened its second restaurant in East Dulwich in 2015, and has a sister restaurant in Bologna, where many of its staff are trained. Earlier this year, brought us Padella on Borough Market, a diner-style eatery from the team behind Trullo, in which staff hand-craft pasta in front of guests sitting at the bar. What these different establishments are teaching us is that pasta, far from being the rather bland serving of carbs we’re used to, is a nuanced dish that can be made in a myriad of different ways. “Every Italian family has their own way of making pasta and follow certain traditions,” says Mr Francesco Mazzei, who took over as head chef of the revamped Sartoria on Savile Row in 2015. “The pasta culture varies between the towns and what’s been passed between generations. At my restaurant we specialise in southern Italian pasta and my favourite dish is ‘pastachijna’, my mother’s take on lasagne that’s been in the family for decades.”
Photograph by Suzy Nutt. Courtesy of Lina Stores
Mr Theo Randall, head chef at high-end Theo Randall at the InterContinental, and the recently opened informal Theo’s Simple Italian, has witnessed the British palate change first hand: “Customers are far more discerning than they used to be. I speak to guests every night who know which region the pasta dish they’re eating originated. People are better travelled and now realise that it should be cooked al dente, thank God.” As tastes have grown he’s been able to explore more interesting flavour combinations, including his signature “cappelletti di vitello”, fresh pasta stuffed with slow-cooked veal and porcini sauce, that has diners flocking from all over the world – even Italy.
It’s not just restaurants that are enjoying the boom. Lina Stores, a mainstay on Soho’s Brewer Street – a road that has seen more changes in facades than Mr David Bowie over the years – has watched the trend evolve. “We opened in 1944, serving basic fresh pasta and have brought in different styles is as it’s grown in popularity,” says head pasta chef Mr Gianni Pascarella. “When people try my fresh pasta ravioli, they immediately notice the difference. Next time you buy ‘fresh pasta’ in a supermarket, look at the use-by date. There’s no way truly fresh pasta can last that long.” It’s a testament to fresh pasta’s popularity that Lina Stores has recently opened an eat-in facility after over 50 years’ trading. The spinach and ricotta cannelloni is a masterclass in tradition.
Like the sound of all this? Of course, we recommend all the above eateries. But one way to make sure your pasta is truly fresh is to make it yourself. Scroll down for Mr Randall’s foolproof instructions for how to do so:
350 g of tipo 00 flour2 whole eggs4 egg yolks1 tsp of water ( only if it feels a bit dry)
**Place all the ingredients into a food processor and pulse until you get a ball of dough. Wrap in cling film and place in fridge for 10 mins. Set up your pasta machine and get a tea towel and run it under the tap and squeeze out any excess water so the towel is damp.
Place your dough through the widest setting on the pasta machine and keep fold over the pasta so it becomes elastic. Cut it in two pieces and start rolling and going down notch by notch on the dial so the rollers become narrower and the pasta becomes thinner and longer. Cut into sheets and sprinkle on fine semolina flour and cover with damp tea towel. When you have rolled all the pasta and made all into sheets, place the tagliatelle cutter on to the pasta machine and feed the sheets of pasta through while turning the Handle. Place the cut pasta into a something so the pasta can dry like a rolling pin or broom handle. This will make sure the pasta dries and doesn’t stick together, giving your pasta a lovely chewy bite.
When you cook the pasta, always take it out of the cooking water using a pair of tongs of slotted spoon rather than drain it in a Colander as this will create lots of steam and the pasta will instantly dry out and be over cooked. Add the pasta to the sauce, add a ladle of the pasta water and cook together in the sauce. Toss or stir the pasta so the starch is released, which in turn will thicken the sauce making it coat the pasta. Serve in hot pasta bowls. Practice, as they say, makes perfect.