Whatamistakatomaka: A Rant Against Homemade Pasta

Yesterday the ghost of Christmas past came back to haunt me, albeit a couple weeks too late. This is not a proper ghosty mind, it is something that is tangible, heavy and solid. A present that my wife bought me about 5 years ago and has been used perhaps 10 times. On such occasions, when I do finally muster up the enthusiasm to pull it out from the recesses of the cupboard, I am often left frustrated. I don't know why but there is always one small matter that seems to cock everything up. The last time I used it, I became so enraged that I wanted to throw it into the garden, grab the sledgehammer from my shed and smash it into oblivion. This object just seems to induce abject failure and I hate feeling low after cooking mishaps. Saying that biggest low I have ever experienced was losing my brand new Terence Conran chicken brick many many moons ago. I'll never forget proudly washing it up and then placing it up on the shelf in my then small kitchen next to my small but steadily growing collection of cook books. However the added weight of this beautiful terracotta was too much of a burden for the shelf that I had recently installed and the whole lot fell crashing to the floor. My wife came home from work to find me on the sofa practically in tears cradling broken pieces of pottery. When she asked what happened, I could barely croak back in the tinest voice "I smashed my chicken brick".

Sheesh, went off on a bit of a tangent there lets so back to the main object in question, the real enemy and prophet of doom, my arch nemesis, the Imperia pasta machine.

So yes every self styled foodie worth their salt should embrace such a gadget in the kitchen and many do but I just can't get a grip on the bloody thing. Past misdemeanors have included over flouring the dough. By the time I got the rollers on the final setting, the pasta was bone dry and stiff as a sheet, more suitable for limo drivers at airports picking up clients. Another time, I managed to cut the dough fine using the tagliatelle attachment but neglected to then dry it sufficiently so when I fished the pasta from out of the boiling water it had formed into a giant knitting wool ball of gloop. I did succeed once, when I used the machine to make sheets for a simple lasagne. Adjectives such light, silky and smooth came singing into my head that day as I ate this creation of wondrous beauty (I don't like to brag but it was really good). However it hasn't been repeated since. Needless to say, user error is very likely to be the cause of all this strife, I'll admit that. I can't really blame a poor, inanimate, clunk of metal for my ineptitude but where exactly am I going wrong?

Seeing as I was stuck in doors yesterday due to the horrific Arctic conditions currently paralysing our country, my house is currently buried under 43ft of white driven snow by the way, I took it upon myself to have another crack at making some pasta and to finally become the master. Also desperate times call for desperate measures, I had to feed my family somehow and besides we had run out of fusili but there was no frigging way that I was going to try and make that. The method of course is simple enough. Take some eggs, take some flour, mix, knead, leave in fridge for half an hour, take back out, divide into small amounts, run through the Imperia, passing the dough through several times on each setting, folding as you go, lightly dusting with flour if it gets a bit sticky, until you get long sheets of silken pasta which you can then use, cut or shape your hearts desire. Of course this a terribly nonchalant way of describing the whole process and hardly adheres to the slow art of making pasta but my point is that it's meant to be easy, yes? Or maybe that is where I'm going wrong, am I being far too flippant about it all?

Still this time, I am pleased to report that it all went hunky dory. Up until a point. I went ahead with Mr Pukka's recipe for basic egg pasta dough mixing 6 eggs with 600gms of Tipo '00', the finest flour that you can get and should aways use by the way. After a good old knead and bish bash bosh with some time chillin' out, the dough went through the machine fine and I managed to make some very presentable looking tagliatelle with minimum ease, time and effort. I even had some dough left over, which I reformed into a ball and plonked into the freezer. To go with the tagliatelle which was left to dry for about 20 minutes or so, I decided to make some tuna meatballs or le migliori polpette di tonno, another recipe by Mr Pukka and a very good one too.

Now of course, here comes the fall. The tuna balls which I have made plenty of times before were fantastico with a lovely mishmash of cinnamon and lemon zest coursing through the fish. The tagliatelle though, I couldn't help think transported the dish to the far east, having veered into udon noodle territory, having taken on a slightly rubbery texture and were too white for my liking. So again I ask, where am I going wrong? Do I need to buy a particular brand of Tipo '00'? Should I be using egg yolks only? Did I overboil them? (They were in for 2 mins ) Or I have I put homemade pasta on too high a pedestal and should just use the ready made stuff? I need some answers and I need them quick because that piece of facking, crap, junk, lump of shit metal will soon be heading for the bin I tell you.

I hate you Imperia

Finest flour you can get?
Ready to chill

Looking good so far

FU contemplates making a wig from tagliatelle

Boiling pasta, heating sauce

Crap photo, crap pasta, lovely balls


Graphic Foodie said…
Hmm. Well everything you did was good and your er, ball looks nice and smooth. Jamie's recipe is very authenic. 1 egg plus 100g of typo 00 per person (plus pinch of salt). And you gave it a nice half hour chill?

Did you generously salt and put a splosh of olive oil in the boiling water? Fresh pasta takes hardly any cooking, as soon as it comes to the top whip it out of the water. Overcooked homemade pasta is heavy, doughy and quite unpleasant.

If I'm making a lot I sometimes cook it in batches, keeping the drained batches in a warm dish in the oven (and coating in a little tomato sauce).

It is good to leave the pasta on the side for a little while after it has been cut to harden.

Also, give the pasta a little shake before you put in in the water to get rid of the excess flour you have it sitting on.

But above all - love your Imperia and it will love you back.
Hollow Legs said…
I know this isn't very helpful, but I prefer the texture of dried pasta. However, I really want a pasta machine to make filled pastas with. I have no room to clamp it though :(
Catherine said…
That happened to me once before, and I'm pretty sure what happened - I think you over rolled it, thereby over working the gluten and making the pasta much more elastic, more akin to noodles.

I was using the Giorgio Locatelli recipe, and either he or someone else mentioned that it is possible to over roll - and I think they're right, because the second ball from the same batch of dough made perfect tagliatelle with less rolling.
meemalee said…
"I smashed my chicken brick"

I don't mean to be unsympathetic but that'd be a wicked epitaph :)
The Ample Cook said…
The same thing happened to me a few months back. I hadn't made any for ages and it just didn't work. It's so infuriating isn't it? Made it again and it was spot on.

Great post though :o)
goodshoeday said…
Rather than throw in the bin you can pass the pasta machine to me.
I think the trick is in the not over rolling it and in the fact it literally takes seconds to cook. As Graphic F says as soon as it rises to top its ready and that takes almost no time.
Also tipo '00' is not a grading method that automatically means the flour is good for pasta or pizza. It is a a grading system that measures how refined the flour is based on the residual ash content. So it is possible to get '00' flour that is great for cakes and different '00' flour that is great for pasta.
Try being confused by this article:
Raluca said…
Just made my first batch yesterday and now reading your article and all the comments, I realized why I didn't like them so much..I overcooked them and also probably over rolled them..
I'll try again for sure.
Browners said…
I've heard that pasta behaves differently depending on the atmospheric conditions. Given that it was mega cold and more like Siberia than Tuscany I'm not surprised it didn't work. Don't blame the Imperia. Blame God. Or Michael Fish.
gastrogeek said…
How funny just the other day I was thinking about buying a pasta machine, however after reading this I don't think I'll bother!(Sorry to hear about your chicken brick)
What a funny post. :) I haven't tried making pasta nor do I have a pasta rolling machine in the house. We don't have space in the kitchen nor in our store room for more kitchen gadgets. Perhaps that's a blessing in disguise. :)
Niamh said…
Lots of great advice here! I prefer to use just egg yolks. I've a pasta machine too, my second one, although I rarely use it. Must dig it out.

Btw - I love chicken bricks!
Dan said…
What for the love of Mike is a chicken brick!!!

And I want a Imperia pasta machine - it was on my Xmas list...and santa didn't deliver....but now after reading your post, I'm not so sure. Sounds like a helluva lot of stress and effort.
My new years resolution is to use my pasta maker, ehmmm 4 years after seriously desiring one!!!!! I hope the person who gave me never finds out it hasn't been put to use. MAybe this weekend I'll try it, given your vocalising!!!!
Food Urchin said…
Graphic Foodie - Did all of that bar the olive oil....and may have left it in a little bit too long...hmm I won't give up.....yet.

Lizzie - you needs a Black n Decker work bench to clamp your machine, portable or easy to put away.

Catherine - hmm I think we're starting to get to the bottom of things here

Meemalee - What "Here lies The Food Urchin, he smashed his chicken brick"?

The Ample Cook - I'm sure its one of those things you just have to keep trying until you get the knack, it's just bloody getting there!

Goodshoeday - see I wondered about the brand of flour which was erm......McDougals

Raluca - join the club, there must be hundreds of us doing the same, if not thousands

Browners - the house was sufficently heated but you're right, that bastard Michael Fish is to blame.

Gastrogeek - I miss my chicken brick *sniff*

The Kitchen Ninja - what a cool name, I suppose your kitchen is cluttered with shuriken throwing stars as it is.

Niamh - actually I think I do need to try this again after all the advice (psst I do have another chicken brick, German make, not as pretty)

Dan - you don't know what a chicken brick is? and you call yourself a gourmet! tut

Kitchen Butterfly - I suppose we neglect these gadgets at our peril, no wonder frustration simmers underneath when we hardly use the blinking things. You should give yours a dusting and a whirl.
ginandcrumpets said…
Great post. I have no tips to offer you because if I came home with a pasta rolling machine my flatmates would beat me to death with it while screaming: "No more gadgets!" So I buy my pasta. But I think everyone else has got it covered for you. Hope the next batch is better.
neil said…
Whether you use egg yolks or a mix of egg yolks and whole eggs its still going to be fine. The type of 00 flour is also of fairly minimal consequence. Also oil in the water is a practically useless, just salt it heavily. Pasta isn't some mysterious recipe secret, its just boiled flour and eggs.

In my opinion you are either

a) not kneading it enough (if you hand kneading it you will never over knead) The dough should be elastic and spring back if prodded. 10-15 mins of good kneading is probably necessary but it depends on how well you are kneading it.
Still even badly kneaded dough should taste ok.

b) You're rolling it out to thin and thus over cooking it. More likely.

c) rolling it out to thick so it cooks unevenly

d) you just a spastic.
Luigi said…
You are cooking it FOR TOO long, much too long. That is the only problem here.

Fresh pasta, needs a minute, no more, actually sometimes less.

This aside, it looks delicious.
Food Urchin said…
Jassy - I used to believe that one could never have enough gadgets in the kitchen until I opened the cupboard one day and was buried under an avalanche of unused cooking paraphernalia. I nearly lost my life so take heed.

Neil - Calling someone a spaz is not big and not clever.......you fucking Joey Deacon.

Luigi - with a name like that I have to take your advice on board. A quick in and out in future then?
Anonymous said…
Ah Danny, it brings me back to that happy afternoon we had together making pasta with Christopher Biggins.

'Mr. Pukka' (good name) uses pretty much standard ratios of 100g flour per egg. It's actually more effective, however, to weigh your egg. You want 100g flour to 65 egg (shelled, obviously). If you find the contents of your egg a little above this, add extra flour. If below, add a bit of water. (That said Browners is right, the atmosphere does affect it but this is a good rule of thumb).

If properly kneaded (the dough should feel like a stress ball) then no extra flour should be needed to roll it out. Not sure if this applies to a machine but certainly when hand rolling.

Then once you've cut your shapes, stick in a freezer bag and freeze until ready to use.

I only know this because it was beaten into me by a dragon when I lived in Italy.

Let's have another pasta session soon (that's not a euphemism).

Food Urchin said…
James - Ah what wonderful memories I have of that day, Biggins, booze and Xanthe Clay's boobs (you pinched her bottle of Champagne didn't you?). It does seem that I am overlooking something in the pasta making dept so will take all the sage advice and give it another go. It better bloody work next time.
Helen said…
I can only wish you luck. I can't add any advice unfortunately. I've made home made pasta quite a few times but not for about year since the EFFING MACHINE BROKE. So annoying. It was a gift and I think it might not have been of very good quality. Damn thing fell apart!
Anonymous said…
may I come for dinner next time?
wouldliketoeat said…
Oh no! At least it looked super tasty. I was going to try and make some home-made pasta this weekend... but now I'm scared, gulp.
At about the same time across a couple of continents, I was undergoing the same thought processes and getting out my Imperia from the back of the cupboard. We should eat more home-made pasta. Encouraged by the lovely pics and easy, breezy exortations from Mr Pukka's Kitchen I set to work. A couple of fiddly hours later, as I was scraping the left over caramellas into the bin - I begged my family to remind me never again to make filled pasta. It's like childbirth - you forget the pain.
Food Urchin said…
Helen - the destroyer of pasta machines. If I don't get the results I'm looking for next time, the imperia is yours.

Mathidle Cuisine - you would be more than welcome, bring dry pasta just in case though.

Wouldliketoeat - so? how did it work out, success? Someone must be doing it right, we need to know.

Sallypro1 - LOL, strange I felt a certain psychic connection when I was rolling the dough out. I wonder how many other souls across the world were doing the same thing at the same time? Interesting...
WouldLikeToEat said…
So, it took me a while but I made my own pasta, yesterday, for my Valetine. I don't have a pasta machine (so nothing to throw out of the window in a rage should it all go horribly wrong) but didn't need to worry anyway as it went great. Phew. Made garlic-mushroom ravioli, cut into heart shapes (awwwww) and they worked a treat. Perhaps too thick but not bad for a first effort, Hannah p.s. yours still LOOKS very tasty...
Waw Thanks for the recipe you gave the full package there I have tried it and it's delicious.

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