Getting our Italian groove on with Ms. Paltrow and Mr. Oliver…

Which celebrities are at your dream dinner party? Yes, I know it’s a game as old as time and right up there with such classics as Desert Island Foods (bread, cheese, wine, chocolate, avocados) and who your Would-But-Shouldn’t is (Michael Bolton pre AND post haircut, he just makes it work) and I’m not saying your choices have to be final and committedΒ to and laminated a la Ross Geller but indulge me and play along…

Gwyneth and Jamie might not be sat at your table in your dream scenario but I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t turn your nose up at them catering your soiree. Now before you scoff and tell me that Jamie would be welcome in the kitchen but dinner from Ms. Macrobiotic sounds as much fun as a colonoscopy, let me just say this in her defense…

…ready?

Best. Brownies. Ever.

I’m not even joking – her recipe for dark and chocolatey, fudgy and oh-so-gently-coffee-laced brownies creates something that is insanely, ridiculously delicious and will have those you give them to weeping at your feet for the recipe.

And again before the scoffing starts, yes, there are unusual ingredients that you might not use all the time in her recipes but I’ve found every single one at my local supermarket and so could you. Anyway, this is not an ode to Gwyneth although I absolutely could write that because I adore her All-American-wholesome-and-glowing-with-healthiness-aura; this is me saying give the woman a chance when it comes to her cooking. You might not agree with the naming of your children after fruit and I won’t deny that she can sometimes speak before thinking but I promise you, the woman knows how to make food that is good for you and tastes wonderful. And so onto today’s kitchen experimenting…Jamie’s home-made pasta with Gwynnie’s dazzlingly fresh and light lemon Parmesan pasta.

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J and I must be the last people in the world to try making their own pasta. Seriously. I feel like it’s something everyone else who ever cracked an egg or sifted some flour has done, so tonight, that’s exactly what we did. I’ve often heard people suggest, as a date idea, having a cook off where you both make the same thing and see who’s is better, so tonight, that’s exactly what we did.

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Having watched a video (I’m so clearly a child of the 80’s who’s yet to leave) of Jamie and his partner-in-penne-crime Gennaro Contaldo making pasta against the clock in a radio station, I figured the less stressful and intensive environment of our own kitchen with a glass of wine would be a good place to start.

‘Just mix eggs and flour with a little love and attention.’ Those are the instructions on Jamie’s website and you know what? He pretty much nails it in those eleven words. Heeding his specification to use type ’00’ flour which is extra finely sieved and often used for pasta and cakes, we began by cracking 1 egg into the well at the centre of 100g of flour in a large mixing bowl. We then went on to mix the dough until it all came together and knead the dough until our arms ached and we developed a new-found respect for the fabulously matriarchal Italian nonnas who do this everyday.

I’m not gonna lie, my inner Monica was not happy here because frankly, J’s was better than mine. It was smoother and silkier to the touch whereas mine resisted my floury man-handling for much longer despite my best efforts and a stern talking to. Yes. I talked to the dough – you surely aren’t surprised by this…?

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After it had been wrapped in clingfilm and chilled in the fridge for about an hour, we moved onto the next stage – rolling out. This is the point where I thought we would be the underdogs as we don’t have a pasta machine but actually, we did better than I had anticipated. The hard part is, quite obviously, getting it as thin as possible with nothing but your own rapidly-waning-after-the-earlier-kneading-session muscles and a rolling pin to do it with but back and forth and back and forth we went.

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I was really surprised at how stretchy and elastic the pasta was, almost springing back after each roll and turn and making it quite hard to keep at a nice thin texture. Once we’d managed to get it as large and flat and thin as possible, we gently rolled it into a cylinder and sliced through at intervals of approximately 1-1.5cm as parpadelle is what we were going for, soft, egg rich ribbons of it which we cut and unrolled…

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…and tossed in a little flour ready for cooking. It’s an unarguable fact that fresh pasta always tastes better than dried and when you’ve made it yourself? Let’s take that deliciousness up another notch.

Yes, it might be easy and no, we didn’t set the world on fire with our little pasta party tonight but honestly, the satisfaction that comes from taking basic ingredients that have been around for thousands of years and turning them into something simple but special to eat and nourish yourself and those you love with is simply fantastic.

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So in the few minutes it took us to cook our bounty, we made Gwyneth’s sauce with Parmesan, lemon and basil, something that is in her own words ‘a threesome made in heaven.’

Combine together the zest and juice of one lemon – handy tip: roll the lemon or any citrus fruit on the worktop pre-slicing as it makes the juices flow more freely – with 1.5 cups of freshly grated Parmesan cheese, salt and pepper to taste and 2.5 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil.

This will make a paste to which you can add 2-5 tablespoons of the cooked pasta water to thin it out a little. This will help it coat every strand of your beautiful pasta so that not one inch of ribbon is neglected or finds itself naked of this gorgeous sauce.

Once you’ve tossed the pasta in the sauce, add several torn basil leaves (which in a most absent-minded chef way I forgot to do pre-photo) and any more salt or pepper as you wish.

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So I’m not going lie and say this was perfect pasta. Despite our multiple rollings, it was a tad thicker than maybe we’d have liked but you know what? It tasted amazing to me because we made it together from scratch, the flavours were just lovely and light and it felt like an utterly wholesome and charming little dinner that we will make again and again and again, each time dabbling in different types of pasta and flavours of sauce. I must also be the bigger person here – both physically after all that pasta and morally – and say that J wins this round of ‘Kitchen Cookoff’. His pasta was definitely a smidgen lighter and softer so the score starts at 0-1 to him.

I’ve yet to visit Italy and I can’t wait for that day to arrive; to make my way round a country renowned for its food and the love and respect it has for it and to sit around a long table with friends, eating pasta, drinking red wine and snoozing in the afternoon sunshine like the fabulous Italian nonna that I know is inside of me.

How have your own pasta making creations turned out? Any tips or suggestions or beloved recipes to share? Please let my readers and I know just how you get your own Italian groove on…

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