Homemade Egg Tagliatelle and Salsa di Pomodoro (Tomato Sauce)
Starting from scratch seemed almost like madness in this current age when almost everything could be bought over the shelf. It is not abnormal to eat out of a box when processed food and TV dinners have found their way as a staple in many homes. Making anything at home becomes a luxury; it was only for those who have time and money. We would like to take that statement and throw it into the bin. Nothing beats making your own food with wholesome fresh ingredients.
When we started Thom & Aimee, one of the very first things we did was to eliminate processed food from our diets and kitchen. It was about going back to basics. Of course, it was not easy when all of us hold full-time jobs but we took it step by step. From introducing edible plants into the garden to making sure fundamental staples such as flour, butter, olive oil and lemons are always in the pantry, simple homemade dishes could easily be whipped up in minutes. We started educating the rest of our family on the values and importance of having fresh and natural food.
The other argument was that it could be awfully daunting. Trust us when we say that no matter how difficult it looks, digging into something you made lovingly with your own hands tastes tons better than those cardboard-flavoured ‘food’ in the supermarket. We had the same reservations when embarking on Project Italia: ‘it might be too difficult’, ‘we don’t have a pasta machine’ or ‘the consistency might come out wrong’. But after doing it, there was really no need to worry in the first place. In fact, it only emphasized our love and belief of simple home-cooking.
Italian cuisine is very accessible in Singapore from neighbourhood cafes to high-end fine dining restaurants. There are different varieties of sauces and pasta available in the markets. Many can easily prepare a pasta dish at home for a quick meal (the ultimate comfort food). I don’t know any other European cuisine that shares the same popularity and familiarity here in this country. The knowledge on Italian fare has grown beyond the typical spaghettis and pizzas and have slowly included regional dishes and less common recipes.
There are over 310 varieties of pasta, mostly made of wheat or semolina flour, and eggs. They are usually categorised into groups based on their shapes: long (fusilli, capellini, vermicelli); ribbon-cut (fettuccine, linguine, pappardelle); short-cut extruded (cannelloni, penne, tortiglioni); decorative (conchiglie, farfalle, rotini); minute (couscous, pastina); stuffed (ravioli, cappelletti, tortellini) and irregular (gnocchi). They can even be flavoured and come in different colours.
To understand pasta is to know the geography, culture and history of Italy. We are no experts but to learn about how one region consumes and cooks pasta differs from another is compelling. It all comes down to the climate, the availability of other ingredients, the type of flour used, even how currant affairs shaped the way Italians eat their pasta. We opened a can of worms when we forayed into the art of pasta-making. It only made this familiar staple more riveting than it already is.
There was no particular reason why we decided to try our hand on Italian food. It all stemmed down to the glorious tomato. Despite its availability all year round, the recent (super) hot weather got us dreaming up of a lush Mediterranean summer. The crisp flavours of the sea, the earthiness of the basil and the juicy sweetness of a bright red tomato. There is something seductive of the fruit. As Nigel Slater says, ‘Red is the colour of richness, ripeness and sensuality… It is the colour of that probably has the greatest effect on our emotions. No wonder we expect so much of the tomato.’
Tomatoes are synonymous to Italian cooking, so it was odd to learn that they were only introduced to Italy in the 1500s. Native to South America, they were first considered poison until the 18th century. Tomatoes were first given centre stage when featured in Vincenzo Corrado’s Il Cuoco Galante with thirteen recipes in 1773. Then, the versatile fruits were used for sauces, salads, eaten raw, baked, filled or made into soups. And as they say, the rest is history.
There are many different types of tomatoes available in the markets from all over the world, coming in all shapes, colours and sizes. They can be bought fresh or canned. Their qualities varies from sweet to tangy to fruity. Some varieties have thicker skins than others. Like pasta, it’s a crazy tomato universe out there. Plus they are very versatile and set themselves perfectly with many other ingredients such as bacon, anchovy, aubergine, bell pepper, caper, onion, etc.
We made the tagliatelle which originated from Emilia-Romagna and Marche. Usually made fresh, these long, flat ribbons have a rough, porous texture. It was surprisingly quick and fuss-free when Ned started to knead the dough. A bit of muscle will be needed to bring the flour and eggs together. She felt like an Italian nonna in her little cottage in the mountains. With the absence of a pasta machine, we made do with the traditional rolling pin to get the dough as even and thin as possible and cut into the standard 5mm.
The general way to serve pasta is al dente. It should feel a little elastic and a little resistance in the centre of the pasta should be felt when biting down. (So drain straight away.) Fresh pasta contains more moisture and hence, requires a shorter cooking time. A lot of practice will be needed to finally get the art of cooking al dente pasta. It’s not diffiult though.
Apparently, there is a rule of the world of pasta and its sauces. We don’t want to go into details but if you’re curious, you can check this guide. If it’s up to us, we would just cook it because we preferred it that way. With the tagliatelle’s rough texture, thick meat sauces such as the bolognese are perfect. But a simple sauce of tomato and basil pairs with the pasta equally well.
We never had fresh pasta before, so this would be difficult to really judge ours. But we can say this safely: homemade pasta is a whole different world of goodness. The natural eggy flavours of the pasta held its own against the sweet, tangy tomato sauce alongside the aromatic spice of basil. We added some mozzarella cheese on the top and it was like eating Italy in one bite. Oh, just a thought, it would be wonderful if we could make our own mozzarella cheese as well!
This doesn’t mean that we are swearing off dried pasta from the markets altogether. It will undeniably still be part of our pantry for those lazy afternoons and sudden midnight suppers. But we’re definitely be making our own pasta each time we can. For that moment, Italy seems almost close by.
Basic Fresh Pasta Dough
By Lucio Galletto and David Dale
NOTE: Allow 1 egg for every 100g of flour and allow 100g of flour per person. If possible, try to use Italian ’00’ wheat flour – it’s very fine and high in gluten which makes the dough more workable and gives it a good texture. Always use the best and freshest eggs at room temperature. Ideally, the room where you make the pasta should be warm and free of draughts.
400g plain flour, plus extra for dusting (We used strong white flour)
4 eggs, room temperature
A pinch of sea salt, a pinch
Shake the flour through a sieve to form a mound on the board or benchtop. Make a well in the centre, but not too deep – the work surface shouldn’t be exposed.
Break the eggs into the well and beat the eggs together with a fork, until combined. Then, still with the fork, start incorporating some flour into the eggs a little at a time, until the eggs are runny any more. Put the fork aside and get ready to use your hands.
Push some of the flour to one side – the aim is to add just enough to stop the dough being too moist and sticky. Using your fingers, draw the mound in towards and work the mixture with the palm of your hands, pushing outwards. Continue in this way, drawing in with your fingers and pushing out with your palms, until the dough is well-mixed. When you feel that the dough is reaching the right consistency – that is, not too dry, nor too crumbly or sticky – put it aside and scrape the work surface and your hands clean. (If the dough seems too dry, you may add a little warm water.)
Wash your hands and dry them well. Now it is time to start kneading. Sprinkle some extra flour on the work surface, then place the ball of dough on it. Using the heel of one hand, press down and away from you, giving the dough an oval shape. Fold down the oval in half with the other hand and give it half a turn. Press the dough down and away from you again, with the palm of your hand and repeat the folding and pressing process, always turning the dough in the same direction. When you have strongly kneaded the dough in this manner for about 8 minutes – and you are feeling a pleasant glow in your shoulders – the dough should be smooth and elastic. To check if it is ready, press it with the tip of your finger. If it springs back, it has reached the desired texture.
Wrap the pasta dough in cling wrap – this is important as it prevents the dough from forming a scaly layer – and let it rest for 20 minutes at room temperature. Or for up to 24 hours in the fridge.
Now the dough is ready to be rolled in the pasta machine or with a rolling pin and cut into the shape you need.
If you didn’t understand the whole paragraph of kneading the dough, you can watch the videos to help aid the visualisation of kneading:
How to make pasta dough and knead it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ESz55eORW44
How to roll and stretch pasta dough by hand: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sL_XLecEcY4
How to roll and stretch pasta dough with a machine: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IKe3uatYLmo
ROLLING AND STRETCHING BY HAND
To roll and stretch the pasta dough by hand, your rolling pin needs to accommodate the whole width of the sheet of pasta. Keep in mind that a two-egg dough should results in two sheets of pasta about 60cm in diameter. Before you start rolling, divide the dough into two or more pieces, depending on the size of your rolling pin.
Do see the video above on how to roll the dough by hand.
Suggested Pasta Widths:
Capelli d’angelo 1.5mm
Fettuccine 8mm – 1cm
To cut pasta by hand, cut the pasta dough into sheets about 25cm long. Flour lightly and roll each sheet into a loose cylinder then, using a very sharp knife, cut trough the dough at the required intervals.
With floured hands, gently unravel the noodles and place them on a lightly floured tea towel. Sprinkle with a little more flour and continue with the next sheet of dough until they are all made. Cover them with a damp tea towel if you think they are drying out too much, or alternatively, sprinkle with a little more flour if they seem to be sticky.
HOW TO COOK PASTA
To ensure that it cooks properly, pasta should be boiled in a lot of water – about 1 litre for each 100g of pasta – and ideally in a low and wide pan (but still with sides higher than its diameter) for more uniform heat distribution. The water should not reach the top of the pan or it will overflow during cooking, and it must be salted only after it has started boiling – if you add salt before, the water will take longer to boil. You will need 1 teaspoon of sea salt for each litre of water. Oil should never be added to the water when cooking dried pasta.
The pasta must be put in only when the water has reached a rolling boil. Stir with a fork so the pasta does not stick and keep stirring occasionally during the cooking to separate the pasta.
Cooking fresh pasta is a bit more particular because it depends on whether you cook it as soon as it is made or if you have let it dry a little. For example, if you’re cooking tagliatelle within an hour of making it, you should not need to boil it for more than 2 minutes. But if you’re cooking it the net day, after it has dried, it could take 5 minutes.
As soon as the pasta is cooked to al dente – al dente does not mean raw – or to your satisfaction, remove from the heat and drain it, retaining a little of the cooking water, which can be used to moisten the finished dish if it seems too dry. Never run cold water through the pasta when draining as it will was off the layer of starch necessary to enable it to amalgamate better with the sauce.
Fresh pasta must be consumed in one or two days.
Salsa di Pomodoro (Tomato Sauce)
By Lucio Galleto
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, peeled and lightly squashed
1 red onion, chopped
1 small carrot, chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
1kg ripe roma tomatoes, cored and roughly chopped
Pinch of Sea Salt
Bunch of Basil
Heat the olive oil in a large heavy-based saucepan over medium heat. Add the garlic cloves and stir with a wooden spoon until they just start to colour, then discard. Add the onion, carrot and celery and saute until the onion becomes translucent. Add the tomatoes and salt, then reduce the heat to a simmer. Cover the pan and continue cooking, stirring from time to time, until the tomatoes begin to fall apart – about 45 minutes.
Now pass the sauce through a mouli or coarse sieve and return it to the pan. Add the basil, check the seasoning and continue cooking without a lid until the sauce has thickened. The time will depend on how watery the sauce was to begin with but it should be around 20 minutes. To check if the sauce is ready, place a drop on a plate: if a large watery halo does not form around it, then the consistency is right.