Hello again Koala fans,
Following on from last week’s lesson at Flavours Cookery School in Bournemouth, I was back there again last week for a lesson on pasta making. This time though, I was not alone….
In order to minimise disruption, it was *just* the Koala that had tagged along; the Twins were still holding down the fort back at my parent’s place in Hampshire.
The lessons was going to go right back to basics; teaching us how to make good quality pasta dough and using it for fancy things like tortellini and ravioli. Before any of us could even ask, our teacher, an enthusiastic and friendly chef called Des, talked to us about black pasta. Black pasta is not some kind of evil dark side equivalent of pasta, eaten only by Sith Lords and Bond villains. It is normal pasta that has been mixed with a large amount of squid ink. It looks quite impressive but doesn’t really do much for the flavour.
It was a useful thought. When we bake and cook, we often go to great lengths to make sure it looks fantastic or wild and exciting. The primary purpose of food is to be eaten and if something looks amazing but tastes foul then you’ve kind of missed the point. A really good example of this is rainbow cake. In order to get the bright vivid colours needed for the colours, people overload on food colouring and the sponge becomes very unpleasant to taste.
Ahem. The pasta dough that we would be making was very straightforward and did not have any extra colourings or flavours added to it. It was also rather fun to make. First, you need to choose the right sort of flour. While you can use simple plain flour for this, using fine pasta flour (“00” grade was the sort I think) helps make the dough more manageable. This is really important when you’re rolling it out or feeding it into a pasta machine. The first step, after cleaning the work surface, is to make a volcano:
Into the crater at the top, you add a handful of egg yolks and some olive oil:
The whole thing gets mixed and kneaded together. It was quite odd; with pastry dough, I’m used to being very careful and gentle with it. With pasta, it almost demands a more vigorous approach. Once it was a nice uniform colour, it was time to stick it in the fridge for a while:
…don’t look at me like that. You knew that joke was coming sooner or later.
The group gathered around one of the work tops while Des showed us the next stage: using the pasta machine. It took me a second or two to realise that there were only seven faces around the table, when there should have been eight:
The pasta machine is like the old fashioned laundry mangles. It’s a couple of rollers with a handle on the side, designed to stretch out the dough. It allows you to make the pasta thin enough for cut-outs, like ravioli or tortellini, or long enough for spaghetti or parpadelle.
It really is quite ridiculous how long the dough can stretch:
One that wasn’t stretching was the amount of time we had to do all of this. There were several different pasta types we needed to make: butternut squash tortellini, Italian sausage meat ravioli, “bow ties” and parpadelle.
Using a circular cutter, we trimmed out the circles that would form the basis of the filled pastas. One thing Des encouraged us to remember – “Less is more.” I think it’s a typical beginner’s mistake to over fill pastas like these if you’re making them from scratch. If you use too much filling, you risk making gaps in the edges, which will either cause pasta water to seep into your delicious filling (ewww) or your ravioli to split apart in the pan, which is Really Bad when you’re trying to keep your flavours separate. It also makes it a swine to clean afterwards. The “bow ties” were made by using a crinkle cutter along the edges of the leftover sheet:
Several frantic hours later, my pasta was almost ready:
There’s a final stage to preparing the pasta, known as blanching. This involves throwing your pasta into a large saucepan full of boiling water and waiting for it to rise to the surface. Then you have to fish it out and then immediately dunk it into another pan full of cold water. Once blanching is done, your pasta is fresh and cooks in a couple of minutes.
It seems like a lot of trouble to go to, especially when you can get fresh pasta off the shelves or dried pasta out of the store cupboard. It certainly felt like hard work. The difference in the taste though is enormous and given the quantities I made from that modest ball of dough, it’s a fantastic way to cook for a large number of people, while looking stylish at the same time.
I’m not sure what I’ll choose for the next lesson from Flavours but whatever I pick, it promises to be fun.