Before I left London I was plied with irritating questions from do-gooders asking me what I ‘wanted to achieve’ from living in Italy. 'What I wanted to learn'. 'What I hoped to gain'. Etc.
My response to all was as follows:
- I would like to be able to speak Italian
- I would like to write about it
- I would like to learn how to make fresh pasta from a real Italian.
Hoorah! I have achieved the latter of the three. I have made fresh Fettuccine Pasta with a real-life Roman mother. A real life Italian who even had the words ‘Regina della Cucina’ (Queen of the kitchen) embroidered onto her pinny.
Now, I will be the first to admit that I am a woman who is far better at eating than cooking. I am much better at buying cookbooks than I am at using them, and whilst I could happily while away a few hours shouting at Two Hairy Bikers on TV, I have never given their recipes a go.
So I was a little bit apprehensive about meeting this mother.
But you know what? It’s bloody easy. You just need eggs, flour, salt and a rather excellent contraption for squashing and cutting it all. Here’s a quick step-by-step guide on how to make your own fresh pasta.
1. Throw a lot of flour onto the table and make a well in the middle of it. Crack your eggs into the well and add a pinch of salt.
I am aware that not all of us are lucky enough to have a marble top table at hand, so a large bowl will also suffice. Use one egg per head.
2. With a fork or spoon, start to mix it all together, pulling in the flour from the sides.
3. Get your hands in on the fun and start to turn the dough in the flour.
You need to do quite a lot of pinching and slap it around quite a bit.
4. Once its thick enough, start to knead it as you would do bread
Having never made bread I am basing it on what I have seen Paul Hollywood tell the contestants on GBBO to do.
5. Leave the dough to rest for a while, whilst you prepare the sauce (for around thirty minutes).
It should currently look like an ever-so-slightly elastic ball which, if you cut into it, features a few small bubbles.
6. Cut it into chunks, around the same size as below
7. Take a piece and run it through the pasta machine on the lowest setting (level 1)
Fold the piece into thirds and run it through again. Repeat this four or five times for each piece
8. Set the machine up a grade and repeat the process two or three times on level 2. Keep setting the machine up a grade until you have several very long thin pieces of pasta.
9. Re-set your pasta machine to cut the pasta.
If you don't have a 'fettuccine' setting, use a setting which will cut the sheets into strips of around 1/4 inch. Some of the pieces may be too long, in which case, cut them in half before you attempt to run them through machine. Otherwise you'll run the risk of dropping them all on the floor. I speak from experience.
Is quite like magic. Look. You too can look as Italian as I do, in your very own kitchen.
10. Lay out your lovely ribbons on a tea-towel covered tray and leave to rest for around 30 mins.
Then you're ready to boil them up!
To make the most of this fresh fettuccine pasta, you really need to make sure you're combining it with the right sauce. A Roman would probably pass out at the prospect of a fettuccine with a salsa fresca like Pesto.
Fettuccine (and other long, thick ribbon pastas) really work best with hearty, meaty sauces. A RAGU.
Fettuccine Alfredo is not actually a thing.
Type Fettuccine into the internet and you'll find a million recipes for that 'classic Italian dish' - Fettuccine Alfredo.
Except its not actually an Italian dish.
You won't find it on the menu in Italy.
In Italy, if someone has an upset stomach or can't hold anything down, they'll usually be ordered to eat a bowl of plain pasta. With a little butter of course. Sort of like the Italian equivalent to toast with butter.
Apparently at some point during the 1920s a restaurant owner called Alfredo, who owned a place in downtown Rome, needed to prepare a meal for his pregnant wife. Since she couldn't hold anything down, he prepared a simple bowl of pasta al burro. An American couple witnessed this, tried it, fell in love with it and brought it back to America.
This is why when I asked my Roman pal if he ever ate Fettuccine Alfredo he laughed. It really isn't a thing.