Luca grew up in Varese, a small town near Milan in the northern Italian region of Lombardy. The region isn’t known for its pasta, but the chef-to-be grew up helping his mother in the kitchen preparing game, meat stews and risottos. It was later in life that he learned about the joys of cooking with fresh seafood and studied pasta-making in more depth. He’s become an expert over the years, working with Italian master, Mauro Uliassi, at his eponymous three Michelin star beachside restaurant on the country’s east coast. Luca has kindly distilled his knowledge into 12 top tips for anyone who fancies making their own pasta at home. Take it away, Chef.
1. Keep It Simple
Pasta is simple in its essence, just eggs and flour, so it is essential to use quality ingredients. At Osteria Marzia, we use Italian eggs and a mix of type 00 and semolina flour. 00 flour is ground finer than semolina, which has a coarse texture. Semolina gives you an al dente bite but is a bit harder to work with. The two together create the right texture to make a good pasta dough.
2. Use a Wooden Board
I prefer to make pasta on a wooden board because the humidity in the wood prevents the dough from drying out. Dump 150g of 00 flour and 50g semolina onto the board and create a large well in the middle with your hand.
3. Fork It
Add two egg yolks to the well and gradually work the flour in with a fork. The fork helps to prevent any large chunks from forming in the dough. Use it to incorporate the flour into the eggs slowly. This mixture will eventually turn into a dough.
4. Use Your Hands To Mix
You can use a machine to mix the dough, but by using your hands, you can feel when the gluten is stretching and you get a workout too. It’s no coincidence that Italian nonnas have arms as thick as tree trunks. Add some good quality extra virgin olive oil and always remember to season with a pinch of sea salt. Knead the dough by working it with your hands, stretching and folding it on itself over and over. Keep kneading until the mixture forms a smooth, elastic ball. If it gets too wet, don’t worry, just add more flour.
5. Give It a Poke
You can tell the dough is ready by poking it. If you can see the dough spring back where your finger has made a mark, this means the gluten strands have developed and the dough is ready.
6. Let It Rest
I like to set it aside to rest for one to two hours. This allows the gluten to relax so when you roll it out, it won’t spring back at you. When the dough is ready, it’s going to be much softer, much more relaxed and easier to roll out.
7. Use a Machine To Roll
You can roll the pasta out by hand with a rolling pin, but it’s easier to get it to a precise thickness using a pasta machine. Roll the pasta onto a floured surface, then cut it into the desired shape.
8. Choose The Right Pasta For Your Dish
Pasta like linguini and spaghetti are best for dishes like vongole or carbonara. The long strands capture the sauce and bring the dish together with the right amount of starch. You wouldn’t use penne because it is too short to bring the dish together. Wide noodles like pappardelle are often used for richer meat sauces and ragus while for fish, we use shell-shaped conchiglie or tubes of rigatoni. In Italy, the shorter pasta, like macaroni, are more commonly found in soups. But if you’re cooking for a big group, use short pasta as it’s easier to serve.
9. Less Salty Than The Sea
For your cooking water, use this easy to follow rule: 10:100:1000. For 100g of pasta, use 1000ml (1 litre) of water and 10g of salt. This will give you water slightly less salty than the sea which will season the pasta as it cooks. There’s no need to add oil to the water, just keep stirring to prevent the pasta sticking.
10. Keep It Al Dente
When you break the pasta in half, you should see a white dot in the middle. This means it is just cooked with a little bite, perfectly al dente.
11. The Rule of Thirds
Ideally, pasta should spend two-thirds of the cooking time in the water and one third in the sauce so that the pasta has a chance to absorb the sauce while it’s still cooking. Never rinse your cooked pasta. Some people do this to cool it down, but it just washes all the flavour away. It’s better to eat it straight away.
12. Save The Water
Save a cup of pasta water and add it one spoon at a time when the pasta is in the sauce. The water contains starch that helps to thicken the sauce.
For a more detailed exploration on how salty your pasta water should be, among other choice wisdom, read our debunking of common cooking myths and for tips on how to use your fresh pasta, delve into Luca’s recipe for Spaghetti Ricci.