“I believe that everything you do with your hands is an opportunity to learn something about yourself. Making pasta from scratch is a sort of therapy.”
I am talking to Antonella Rana, who is like Nigella Lawson but amplified by an Italian accent. She is the daughter-in-law of Giovanni Rana, who started selling handmade pasta in 1960’s Italy. The company, La Famiglia Rana, is now multinational and run by Giovanni’s son Gian Luca, while Antonella apparently has no official role. “I am just a mum! I am just an ’ousewife!” she tells me.
A cursory Google suggests this may not quite be the case, but Antonella makes me want to wear a floaty red dress and throw home-made-pasta dinner parties while popping out babies. I don’t just want to believe her – I want to be her. So I set aside my hunch that she is actually a jolly shrewd businesswoman and take down her advice for making – and eating – fresh pasta at home:
Choice of surface
The surface you use has a big impact on your dough. In the old times, every woman had a big wooden chopping board, which would bear the scars of making pasta many times. When you use a marble or stainless steel counter top it’s more hygienic, but the pasta will be flat and silky. If you use a wooden surface, your dough will be rough, with pores that the sauce can run into. This is special – but it’s a matter of preference how you want your dough to turn out!
Knead your dough for at least 20 minutes. You need to see the egg and flour completely mixed, otherwise it separates. Imagine you are at the gym doing a workout – don’t stop until you are close to dying!
Waste Not, Want Not
After cutting out the pasta shapes, you will have scraps of dough left over. The name in Italian is“maltagliati” which means badly cut, and you can use these pieces to make minestrone soup. Just add them to the soup three minutes before it finishes cooking, but do it within 24 hours of making the pasta.
Buy a piece of Parmigiano-Reggiano so you know it is authentic, and grate it yourself every time you need it. When you do, you will smell the flavour in the air, and if you crumble off a piece and put it in your mouth, the explosion is amazing! When you are done, wrap it super tight in cling film or cheese paper, and put it back into the fridge.
When you chop your ingredients for the filling do it roughly. If you chop spinach too fine, or even worse if you blend it, you have a puree. It is beautiful to see a piece of spinach leaf when you cut into a tortelloni, or to see a piece of mushroom when you cut into ravioli – you will enjoy it more!
The golden recipe for pasta is one kilo of flour and eight whole eggs. If you want a rich yellow dough with a more intense flavour, just use the yolk – but don’t do this every day, or your liver will cry! For two people, use 350-400g flour and 3-4 big yolks. Remember, many things affect the dough, so you may have to adjust your ingredients. It’s a learning curve, and the more you do it, the more you understand.
Fresh pasta needs a lot of room to move around, so use three litres of water even if you are only cooking pasta for two people. When you see big bubbles, turn it down a bit so it’s simmering, then pour in the salt and wait one minute for the salt to melt into the water. At this point, put in your pasta and start your timer, like F1! If the instructions say two minutes, it’s for real. This is the pillar of everything. If you overcook fresh pasta, you will lose the taste and the drama is not recoverable! Drain the pasta with a spider spoon, then season with extra virgin oil and Parmigiano. Or if you are having a sauce, have it ready in a big pan – at least 30cm, and saute for 10-15 seconds so the pasta can move and be coated by the sauce.
Here’s a recipe from La Famiglia Rana to try at home. Or alternatively you can buy La Famiglia Rana’s fresh filled pasta at Sainsbury’s, Ocado, Asda, Morrisons and select independent grocers.
For the pasta:
- 180 gr All Purpose Flour
(120gr flour e 60 gr semolina)
- 2 Eggs
1 Pinch of Salt
For the filling:
100 gr Ricotta Cheese
100 gr Mascarpone Cheese
30 gr Parmigiano Reggiano Cheese
40 gr Chopped baby Spinach
Salt and Pepper to taste
- Mound the flour on the table
- Make a well in the center of the mound using your fingers; it has to be of the same size of your fist
- Add the eggs one at the time and mix, start dragging the flour into the eggs mixture bit by bit
- Knead well with both hands until the dough is smooth and elastic
- Let the dough rest at least for 1 hour before rolling it out and cutting it as needed
- Put all the ingredients for the filling in a large bowl at the same time and add a pinch of salt and pepper. Stir with care
- Keep the filling refrigerated before using it for the Ravioli.
- Roll the pasta into a very thin sheet. Lay the pasta sheet on the table and ideally divide it into two halves.
- Spoon mounds of the filling onto one half of the pasta sheet and use a pastry brush to lightly wet the pasta surface all around the filling mounds. Fold the other side of the sheet over lengthwise to cover the filling. Press the pasta sheets together around the filling mounds to seal the edges making sure to get rid of all the air bubbles.
- Cut the ravioli with a pasta cutter or a pasta cutter wheel.