Tips to boost your lockdown pasta game
Whether you’re taking the opportunity to finally make it from scratch, or relying on the dried stuff as a convenient cupboard staple, pasta has really come into its own as a star of lockdown cooking. But just because something’s a staple, there’s no reason not to let it shine every time you make it, and these simple tips will help you transform your pasta into the star of the show.
1 – Rest rest rest
This is one for the homemade pasta makers. Kneading the dough is key to developing the gluten in the flour in order to get silky smooth pasta, but, if you don’t have a KitchenAid or similar, it can also be very hard work. Bringing the dough together by hand, then leaving it to rest for 15, and coming back to knead it for another couple of minutes, isn’t just about giving your arms a chance to recover: the gluten will have a chance to absorb the liquid and relax a little bit, so when you come back to it will be smoother and more malleable. You can let it rest a couple of times in the course of the preparation, so that even though it may take more time overall to make, the actual hands, on time kneading is less than halved. You’re welcome.
2 – Semolina
It is perfectly possible to make homemade pasta with just flour and eggs (or flour and water if you’re short of the latter – pici being a good shape to go for in that case), but adding a little semolina to your dough adds both bite and a bit of flavour too (perfect if you, like my parents, have had the same bag of it hiding in the back of the cupboard since the early 2000’s). I like the ratio 1:3 with regular flour, but experiment with what gives you a taste and texture you prefer – bearing in mind that anything over 50% semolina will be a little too chewy for most people.
3 – Never enough salt
Whether you’re cooking dried or homemade pasta, follow Elizabeth David’s advice and make sure the cooking water is ‘as salty as the sea’. If my mum’s look of horror when I made pasta for her and happily threw in a few tablespoons of salt into the boiling water is anything to go by, this isn’t always intuitive. But it adds an important depth of flavour to your dishes: why make all that effort on a rich, delicious sauce if 80% of the final dish is bland?
4 – Play with umami
Spring is a great time to take advantage of fresh, bright flavours from green vegetables that are starting to reappear, but adding the rich, savoury notes of a tin of anchovies, a couple of rashers of bacon, or a handful of parmesan will only make these spring flavours more intense and delicious. Any Brits out there wanting to rile up Italian housemates or family members are also invited to try Nigella’s famous marmite pasta. Controversial? Yes. Delicious. Absolutely.
5 – Keep your finger on the pulse
Pulses AND dried pasta in one dish? It doesn’t get much more lockdown chic than that. Recipes such as pasta e cece and pasta e lenticchie are classics across Italian cuisine, and alongside being extremely comforting, are very nourishing too. This is especially true for vegetarians, as grains and pulses contain complementary sources of protein which mean that when you eat both, your body can form the full protein (in most meats the protein is simply available as is).
6 – Don’t waste the water
Whether you’re making a creamy carbonara or classic tomato-based sauce, adding a ladleful of the starchy (and salty, of course) pasta water to the final dish will add a delicious gloss to the sauce.
7 – Look to the Nonnas
If you’re stuck in a pasta-making (or eating) rut, there is nothing better than looking to the women who have spent their lives making the stuff. The Pasta Grannies youtube channel, which travels Italy filming Italian nonnas making their specialities is both comforting escapism and a brilliant source of inspiration for those looking for different ways to enjoy their favourite carb.