There’s not much I dislike about pasta. When we were students in the 1980s we would eat mounds of the stuff – why not? its fast and easy. When I refer to pasta I think I probably mean dried spaghetti and for sauce we almost always had a badly made, excessively wet Bolognaise that any Italian would scowl at.
Over the years we evolved our taste to include spirals and shells. Our sauce selection went from the soggy ‘Bol’ to jars of tomato sauce with added herb, garlic or chilli according to our mood. I can remember being distinctly non-plussed the first time I tried a jar of pesto sauce. I think it is fair to say I just didn’t get it! After years of red sauce, something green didn’t compute…only a jar of red pesto put me back on track.
My good wife makes a cracking carbonara sauce and a very good lasagne so the variety continued to expand through the years and the children latched on to the taste by association. Of course I learned that pesto in the little jars is very different from one you make yourself or a good fresh bought one. I’m rather proud that I didn’t like that original little pot. Pesto was also my introduction to the pine nut.
It was only three years ago that I finally made pasta myself. Most TV programmes seem to advocate that buying dried pasta these days is an acceptable shortcut compared to the aggravation of making it yourself. I think that ironically what changed my mind about making my own pasta was an episode of Masterchef where a contestant made some sort of chocolate ravioli stuffed with pigeon and blew the judges away. The idea of trying to make things which you can’t buy in the shops was just too attractive. I bought a good quality but basic pasta roller and set to work.
I suppose my immediate conclusion is that pasta is deceptively easy to make but harder to make well. The dough is pretty easy to pull together but the rolling and handling of the pasta to make something of the right consistency and, particularly, the right thickness is an art. My conclusion was that once you’ve found a recipe for the dough which works (particularly with regard to the moisture in the dough) and once you’ve got a rolling regime that works for you – never change it. I found the rolling and folding pretty easy but the cutting into spaghetti was much more challenging. Making ravioli thin enough to have some delicacy but robust enough to seal and stand up to cooking took a couple of attempts. It is enormously satisfying for the chef but the impact on the diner is, in my experience at least, almost always underwhelming – they just don’t get what you’ve put into the dish. Fresh pasta is delicious and has a recognisably better mouth feel than dried pasta but all the action ends up with the sauce.
Which brings me finally to my subject. The pasta products you can buy these days in the chilled counters are far superior to the ones we used to buy. Some of the stuffed products still have pasta which is far too thick but I assume they have to make them that way to allow for transportation and possible freezing.
My favourite is Dell’Ugo Goat’s Cheese and Beetroot Fiorelli. I think I bought a two-pack from Costco but I can also see that they are stocked by Waitrose. They look amazing with their beautiful rosy filling showing through the pasta. This also indicates just how thin the fiorelli is. They can be frozen and cooked from frozen just by adding a minute to the 2-3 minute cooking time. They are soft and delicate and the filling has slight salt and tang from the goat’s cheese combined with lovely sweetness from the beetroot. Any sauce needs to be very delicate – we tend to go with butter and olive oil and a twist of pepper.