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Making pasta

"the essential nature of pasta is simple. Take some flour and water, take some flour and eggs, combine, knead, rest, shape. Or go buy some." Rachel Roddy

I confess I'm somewhat uninspired today. At the back of my mind, however, I am thinking on and off about what I might make for my family on Friday. The vegetarian dish, I think, is decided - those cannelloni stuffed with asparagus that I spoke about already. The recipe asks for dried lasagne but I shall make them with fresh, home-made pasta. From this thought, a few words about home-made pasta, inspired by a piece in the chapter on cannelloni in Rachel Roddy's book An A-Z of Pasta, which is sitting on my desk with various little post-it markers for things that might inspire a post. Hence the two thoughts came together.

And I look at those two happy little toddlers and see how bad I was with my own children. We didn't make pasta together. But then truth to tell I don't think I made my own pasta back then. Here I am going to quote Rachel Roddy at length, which may well be a copyright infringement, but it's worth sharing. She says it all much better than I:

"As a child, I was sometimes given flour and water to play with as a distraction while Mum cooked. At first, combining the two haphazardly was enough, letting the mixture squelch through my fingers and swirling my hands through the sticky mess. Soon though, I learned real satisfaction was to be gained by mixing enough of each to make a pliable dough every bit as satisfying as plasticine or putty. After pressing and pummelling I would pinch bits from the ball and roll them into worms, balls and rings for my fingers. I was making pasta.

As an adult I forgot this. Until the age of 35 I avoided making pasta. The story I told myself was it was complicated, ambitious and mysterious, that it required either shiny equipment or Italian DNA. I found evidence to back up my story, pictures of exquisite pasta made by chefs with sleek stainless steel counters and by aged grannies, a four-page description of the method, decided I preferred dried pasta and assumed making pasta meant trouble."

Which is a little ironic as she then gives us two pages on how to make pasta. Although it's chatty and full of tips and tricks. In fact I don't think I tried making pasta until I bought one of those Italian pasta makers. Indeed I think I bought it from the now defunct but wonderful department store Daimaru which was in what is now Melbourne Central shopping centre and which besides housing Daimaru also hosted a Paul Bocuse restaurant. Also long gone.

Initially I tried making fresh fettuccine or tagliatelle - I'm not sure which because it's a width thing I think. I also bought a spaghetti attachment but I don't think I've ever used it. And you know I wasn't that impressed really - dare I say that these pastas were a tiny bit slimy? Slimy, not silky which is what it probably was meant to be. I was therefore much cheered when once I heard Stefano di Piero say that he preferred dry pasta, which was a treat in his family home.

I do, however, still make pasta - for lasagne and cannelloni. I have had a few attempts at ravioli and other stuffed things, but it certainly wasn't a finely honed process like that shown here. The filling always oozed out of the middle and they were never very elegant to look at shape-wise. I have also made a few feeble attempts at those fancy shapes like orecchiette without much success. I guess it's just a matter of practice makes perfect, but I'm not very good at trying again when I fail. I give up pretty easily.

"making pasta is essentially simple - that it is mixing enough flour and liquid to make a rough dough which is neither too sticky nor too dry, then practising, better still playing, in order to find the moves and pummels need to transform the rough dough into a pliable one. Exactly what I had done instinctively aged 6." Rachel Roddy

She's pretty spot on really. But when you can buy high quality dried pasta in your local supermarket - even the home brand ones are pretty good - why would you bother? We don't have quite such wonderful pasta shops as this one in Rome, unless you live in some trendy inner suburb, but the choice is definitely getting much better. Many top Italian brands are available - even in Coles and Woolworths. However, for lasagne and cannelloni fresh is indeed much better. I even have some in the freezer for Friday. And yes, it is much more fun and very satisfying.

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