Ah, sunshine. Blue skies. Warm breezes. Finally, it feels as though spring may be peeking its head around the corner like the ugly-duckling-but-obviously-about-to-be-turned-into-a-gorgeous swan heroine of every John Hughes movie and doesn’t it feel utterly fabulous?
This Easter weekend brought among other things a bright & crisp ramble around Hampstead Heath, frozen yoghurt in the sunshine of our local green and of course, the chance to indulge in some of the most delicious & traditional Easter foods like hot cross buns toasted ’til golden then lavished with softened butter or candy coloured speckled eggs that force themselves into my unsuspecting mouth whenever I walk past them.
This time of year also lends itself to the classic roast dinner in the form of tender, softly pink lamb; delicious and seasonal, it’s a wonderful way to celebrate and enjoy some of the finest produce out there…however that’s not what happened in this kitchen over this Easter weekend.
Nope. And despite loving lamb as I do, I’m not a bit sorry because what happened instead?
Fresh, delicate & dreamily elegant, this homemade angel hair pasta was brought to life by our own flour dusted fingers and then partnered with a zesty Parmesan & lemon sauce, warmly pine nuts, shredded chicken and torn basil leaves.
The creamy coloured strands were lighter than silk and pairing them with those toasty nuts and satiny emerald leaves was a combination sent straight from heaven and a welcome alternative to a roast dinner that would have been undoubtedly moreish but left us fit only for a nap post-dining.
So let’s take a step back and see how this perfect plate of spring fare came into being…
Google ‘homemade pasta’ and watch thousands of recipes come up. It seems like anyone who’s ever stepped into their kitchen with dreams of conjuring up the feasts of Italy has put pen to paper – or fingertip to keyboard – and shared their experiences online so how do you know who to follow? When this happens, I tend to go with the chefs I love & trust, those who’ve seen me through bridal showers and family dinners and this-better-impress breakfasts and today dear folk, it was Mr. Jamie Oliver who stepped in, rolled up his sleeves and started flinging flour around like nobody’s business.
INGREDIENTS (for 2 people)
- 200g type OO flour
- 2 free range eggs (I used medium which were absolutely fine)
- 1 chicken breast, pre-baked in the oven in a little olive oil, salt & pepper and shredded when cooked
- 1 lemon
- 100g Parmesan cheese, finely grated plus extra for scattering on the top at the end
- 3 tablespoons of olive oil
- salt & pepper
- 40g pine nuts
- 4 tablespoons water taken from the cooking water the pasta boiled in
- several basil leaves
As recipes go, you can’t get easier than this one.
Allocate 1 free range egg and 100g of OO flour per person. Why this type of flour I hear you wonder aloud? Can’t you use plain or all purpose flour you quizzically ask? Yes, you probably could but OO flour has a much finer grain than any other meaning that you can’t help but end with a silkier, smoother pasta than you would in any other circumstance.
- Make sure you have a large, scrupulously clean work surface free and pour your flour into a ring.
- In the centre of the ring, crack your eggs and beat them lightly with a fork.
Ok, can I just have a moment to appreciate how lovely some ingredients are in their simplicity before they’ve been coaxed, coloured & cooked into something else? I mean seriously, those rich yolks? Those ivory mountains of powdery flour? Ugh. Love. Them.
Anyway, back to the job in hand – making these two ingredients into something eye-popping & tongue-twistingly delicious.
- Using your fingertips only, pull in the flour from round the sides and start to mix it with the egg until it comes together in a slightly ragged looking ball.
- Now comes the time to get your biceps working by kneading your pasta into one smooth ball. You want to do this for approximately 10 minutes which doesn’t sound like a lot but trust me, your arms will be begging for mercy long before your time is up.
- Push & pull the dough away from you with the heel of your hand, rotating it and folding it back on itself; this ensures that your dough will be tender which will of course deliver a better quality of pasta and the more you knead it now, the more flexible it will be after it’s rested when you’re feeding it through the machine.
- Once you have a smooth ball of dough with no rough edges or dry spots (add a drop of water if necessary or a smidgen more flour if you end up with a very wet dough) you’ll want to cover it completely in cling-film and leave it for at least 30 minutes.
At this stage, some say put it in the fridge especially as it has raw egg in it; some say leave it on the work-top so it stays at room temperature. Personally I’m inclined to think that unless you live in far more tropical climes than I, it’s going to have to be pretty damn warm in your kitchen to risk cooking the egg in the dough.
I’ve left my pasta both in the fridge and out on the counter before and have to say I found it much easier to work with when it was left on the room-temperature work-top than when it came out of the fridge, despite giving it time to warm up a little before rolling. Plus, I just think you want soft, pliable pasta on your plate so give yourself a helping hand and keep it soft & pliable when preparing.
- Once you’re ready to start thinning out your pasta, you have a choice – rolling pin or pasta maker. Again, I’ve done both and, as such, wholeheartedly recommend the pasta maker. Yes, there is something vintage & romantic about rolling out your pasta in the same way that generations of warm-hearted Italians have done but if you want the lightest, thinnest pasta possible, there’s no comparison.
- Divide the dough in two, each piece around the size of a small apple, and square off the edges as best as you can because if you’re trying to feed something through a straight edge, starting with a straight rather than rounded one will, again, help you out enormously.
- With a rolling pin, flatten the dough until it’s around the thickness of 1.5 pound coins and then it’s time to start feeding the machine.
- Every machine will vary slightly so listen to what your dad always said and read the instructions first! Generally though, you’ll start at the lowest number (0, 1 or 2) and work your way up to the highest which will mean you’ve gone from the widest to thinnest setting.
- Still following the advice of Jamie as well as the (thankfully) minimal instruction book, I fed it through on settings 2 and 3 before repeating to iron out any tiny air bubbles and to get used to the feel of the pasta going through the machine.
If you’ve never used a pasta maker before, prepare to fall in love with the very therapeutic & wholly satisfying feeling of rolling it through and seeing it come out a shade thinner each time.
- Dust with flour if you feel it getting damp or sticking to the rollers; I only needed to do it 2 or 3 times, certainly not with each roll.
- Make sure you hold the pasta carefully as it would be all too easy to pierce as it gets significantly longer and finer with each turn.
- Once you’ve gone to the highest level and are left with a delicate, satiny sheet of pasta, you can then either use it as it is for dishes like lasagne or you can feed it through one of your attachments. I’ve always loved the texture of angel hair pasta so this is what we created with the finest of our 2 cutting attachments.
- Your pasta sheets will be very long by this point so save yourself the stress of maneuvering them all in one piece and cut each in half before going any further.
A waterfall of appropriately spring like, daffodil yellow pasta falling through the attachment…someone pass me the smelling salts please.
- While turning the rollers, I found it helpful to have J place his hand under the strands as they came out so that he could lay them down rather than have them get all knotted up. That said, piles of egg-hued, wafer-thin pasta ropes are just beautiful lying in twined coils and will only inspire any visitors to the kitchen to utter the magical & welcome words of a dinner guest…’oooooooh’ and ‘aaaahhhhhh’.
- When your pasta is all through and awaiting nothing more than a plunge into a hot salty bath, put it on a plate, cover it with a tea towel to stop it drying out and turn your attention to what’s going on top of it.
- Saute your pine nuts in a dry, hot pan until they turn nutty brown; this is a quick process so be watchful of them.
- Once done, remove the pan from the stove and add your shredded chicken to it; the residual heat can keep both warm for the few moments it will take to create the lemon sauce.
- In a bowl combine your grated Parmesan, olive oil and salt & pepper.
- Using a micro-plane grater, put the zest and juice of your whole lemon in to the same bow then stir everything well and put to the side.
- Your pasta will take less time to cook than you can imagine – this particular angel hair took just over 90 seconds to go from cold but perfect to hot but perfect – and you want to cook it in plenty of salted water for flavour.
- Take 4 tablespoons from the cooking water once the pasta is done and blend it with the lemon-Parmesan mixture.
- Drain the pasta but don’t rinse it then tip it back into the pan and tumble in your golden pine nuts & juicy shreds of chicken.
- Pour over the lemon-Parmesan sauce and mix everything together well until each length of pasta is covered with sauce.
- Portion into your serving dishes – or grab a fork and gorge yourself on it straight from the pan, I won’t tell I promise – and add a sprinkling of extra cheese alongside some torn greenery in the form of our fragrant friend, basil.
I didn’t think I could fall in love with a gadget in the way that I’ve lost my heart to the pasta maker but I completely adore it. I love how gratifying it is to see something magical happen right before your eyes and I love the child-like ease with which it can take place; honestly it’s both charming & alarming how absorbed I can get in the simple turning of a wheel when gorgeous food comes out of it.
The pasta itself is dainty & almost diaphanous and the flavours of lemon, cheese, chicken, pine nuts & basil harmonise so beautifully with it that I swear you will find yourself in possession of two very conflicting desires; one, to eat it as fast as you can because you can’t get enough and two, to eat it as slow as you can because you can’t bear the thought of it being gone. I’m afraid I can’t help you out with that particular predicament…all I can do is suggest you find a bottle of clean, crisp white and a favourite person with which to enjoy it.
Trust me when I say you’ll have no problem finding a willing volunteer for that second little task…