Perfect pasta: Eat like an Italian without the tyranny of a pasta machine

If, like me, you have PTSD from a pasta making attempt gone awry, keep it simple

A twist on puttanesca and pangritata

A twist on puttanesca and pangritata

 

Pasta is a beautiful thing, but I really only eat it in Italy. I love Verduno, in Piedmont – it’s my second home. When I’m there, I usually go to an amazing restaurant, Flagstaff, which always seems to get hold of porcini and truffles before everyone else, in late September. 

They still use a fax machine there. It’s a wife and husband team just like David and me in Kai, and the front-of-house manager has been there longer than the fax machine – and the giant jars of grappa.

Pasta is not something I was brought up with, although I do have a niece who lives on spaghetti Bolognese. She was actually horrified when we went on a family trip to Rome, where it is called ragu instead.

When I started cooking in the late 1990s, giant ravioli was all the rage – usually stuffed with fresh crab and covered with brown sage butter, tomato concassé, and a few chopped chives. 

I have no interest in buying a pasta machine – the thing is, I’m not great at making fresh pasta and I have more than a small bit of post-traumatic stress disorder from being screamed at for letting the ravioli burst in the pot. I could regularly grind service to a halt with my antics. So there you go – I’m scared of pasta.

But, having said that, I have included here a simple recipe for fresh egg pasta that you can make on your kitchen worktop and roll out thinly with a rolling pin. 

This smoked fish lasagne, made with sheets of dried pasta, is next-level delicious. My take on puttanesca comes with crunchy breadcrumb called pangritata, and has chunks of good-quality tinned tuna in it, as well as anchovies. The pistou sauce is pretty much like a pesto, but takes all the stress out of the possibility of burning down the price of a Dublin 2 house-worth of pine nuts.

SMOKED HADDOCK AND RAINBOW CHARD LASAGNE

Smoked haddock and rainbow chard lasagne
Smoked haddock and rainbow chard lasagne

Serves 4

Ingredients 
20g wholegrain mustard
20g plain flour
20g butter
330ml full fat milk
5 egg yolks
120g Coolattin Cheddar, or similar
250g smoked haddock or pollock (I like to use Sally Barnes’s smoked haddock)
200g peeled fresh prawns
200g chopped chard
1 packet of dried lasagne sheets

Method 
1. Poach the smoked fish in the milk and once it has become soft and flaky, take it off the heat and remove it from the milk, but hold on to the milk for later.

2. Put the butter in a small pan and slowly melt it, adding flour to make the base of the white sauce.

3. Slowly add the milk you cooked the fish in to the butter mix, and when it has thickened and the flour has cooked out, add the mustard to your sauce, along with the prawns and chard, and cook for another two minutes.

4. Put the smoked fish back in the sauce mixture, along with the raw egg yolks. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

5. Start building your lasagne, sprinkling some of the cheese between every layer, finally topping off with the last layer of rich white sauce and the last of the Coolattin cheddar. 

6. Bake for 30 minutes at 180 degrees, or equivalent.

A TWIST ON PUTTANESCA AND PANGRITATA

A twist on puttanesca and pangritata
A twist on puttanesca and pangritata

Serves 4-6

Ingredients
For the pangritata:
3 thick slices of stale sourdough, toasted
45g walnuts, toasted
1 clove garlic
15g freshly chopped thyme 

For the puttanesca:
350g dried spaghetti, or bucatini
1 handful black olives
2 lemons, zest of
2 fresh red chillies, finely chopped
25g basil, leaves torn
Olive oil
3 large ripe tomatoes, chopped
25g capers
4 anchovy fillets, chopped
240g tinned tuna
100g Parmesan, grated

Method
1. For the pangritata, whizz up all the ingredients in a food processor until they form a fine breadcrumb.

2. Cook the pasta according to the packet instructions.

3. For the sauce, roast the olives with the lemon zest in a little olive oil, for 15 minutes at 180 degrees or equivalent.

4. Toss the warm pasta with all of the sauce ingredients and sprinkle lavishly with pangritata.

HOME-MADE PASTA WITH PISTOU 

A twist on puttanesca and pangritata
A twist on puttanesca and pangritata

Serves 4-6

Ingredients
For the pasta:
500g strong flour (I use white spelt)
1tsp salt
6 large free-range egg yolks (or 4 duck egg yolks)
2 large free-range eggs
20ml olive oil

For the pistou:
20g garlic
300g fresh basil
200g Mimolette, grated (if you can’t get this French cheese, use pecorino or Cáis na Tíre
150ml olive oil
Salt and pepper 

Method
1. To make the pasta, pop the flour and salt on to your worktop and make a small well in the pile. Using a fork, start whisking the eggs into the flour, dropping them into the well you have created until the dough comes together.

2. Kneed the dough for 10 minutes, then give it a good poke, and if it springs back up, it’s ready. It should come together in a tidy, lovely yellow dough. If it is too dry and not coming together, add a splash of water. A lot depends on the quality of the flour.

3. Let the dough rest for a good 30 minutes, then dust your bench with flour, divide the mixture in four and start rolling each with a rolling pin until you get it to your desired thickness. Cut the dough into ribbons, and at this point I use a wire coat hanger to drape the noodles over.

4. Plunge the noodles into boiling salted water for two minutes.

5.To make the pistou, pick all the leaves from the basil and discard the stalks.

6. Place the basil leaves, garlic, cheese, olive oil and seasoning in a food processor and whizz until it all comes together.

7. Fold the pistou into the hot noodles.

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