Whilst on holiday in Vietri di Potenza at my grandparents’ house, I came downstairs to Nonna Maria filling a mound of flour with egg and water. Skillfully, she blended it into a soft dough. The eggs were courtesy of her hens and the flour was from the mill next door.
Beckoning me over to her makeshift table on the balcony, we sat on wooden stools. She split the dough and showed me how to make orecchiette (‘little ears’) by curling tiny discs towards her with her index finger. To her five I made one.
I remember that morning vividly. The fantastic view into the green mountain valley, the cooling breeze, murmurs of Vaporetto in the distance, the tinkle of the donkey’s bell below and the smell of fresh basil growing on her windowsill. But most of all I remember her giggle as we progressed through the mound of dough. I learnt a lesson that morning, how to effortlessly turn a would-be-chore into a pleasure. Here is the recipe for fresh egg pasta and two alternative shapes: orecchiette and ravioli.
Fresh Egg Pasta
Serves 6 (makes 1 kg)
510g (1lb 2oz) Type ‘00’ flour * 1 tsp sea salt * 4 large eggs * 6 large egg yolks * 55g (2oz) fine semolina flour for dusting
Put the flour and salt into a food processor; add the eggs and egg yolks, pulse-blend with a dough hook until the pasta begins to come together into a ball of dough. Alternatively, you could do it as my Nonna did it. Make a well in your mound of flour and fill with eggs and salt. Slowly mix the flour in with the eggs without the mound falling apart and you getting egg on your floor!!
Knead the dough on a flat surface, lightly dusted with semolina and a little extra flour. Do this for 3 minutes until smooth. Wrap in waxed paper and leave it to rest for 1 hour.
Orecchiette with Neapolitan Ragu Sauce
Serves 4 as main or 6 as starter
1kg fresh pasta dough (above) * Splash of olive oil * 395g (14oz) passata * 1 garlic clove, crushed * 115ml (4floz) olive oil * 20 basil leaves * salt & pepper * grated parmesan cheese
Make the Neapolitan sauce first. Heat up a splash of oil in a frying pan and add in the passata and garlic clove. Fry off on a high heat to 2 minutes until hot and bubbling, then reduce to a simmer. Add a pinch of salt and pepper. Simmer for 15 minutes until it has reduced to a thicker sauce.
Roll the dough into small ‘snake-like’ lengths. of about 30cms. Then slice half of a centimetre off each. On a lightly floured board, indent the disc by putting your finger in the middle and pulling the disc towards you, curling the disc. Lay on a tray ready for drying out.
Once dried a little, put into a large sauce of boiling water. Add a little salt. Cook for about 3 minutes. Keep checking and do not overcook. Serve with warmed ragu sauce and parmesan cheese.
Ravioli with Sage Dressing
Serves 4 as main or 6 as starter
1kg fresh pasta dough (above) * 510g (1lb 2oz) ricotta * 85g (3oz) grated parmesan cheese * 2 eggs * salt & freshly ground black pepper * 4 or 5 leaves of sage * 4 tbsp virgin olive oil
Mix together the ricotta, parmesan cheese and eggs to form a paste. Add salt and pepper to taste, remembering that the filling should be mild. Leave to rest in a cool place for 1 hour.
Divide the fresh pasta into four balls. Pass each ball through a pasta machine on the finest setting to get thin sheets. Place each sheet on a lightly floured board in an oblong. Spoon 1 teaspoon of the ricotta mixture onto the sheet at 4cm intervals along the length. Brush water along the edges around the ricotta balls. Fold over the top flap of the pasta over the ricotta and press gently with your finger to seal the edges around each one. Use either a zig-zag cutter or knife to cut out each one. Bring salted water to boil and drop the ravioli in batches. The ravioli will float to the top when almost cooked, so give another minute to make sure the pasta is fully cooked. Ensure you serve up on warmed dishes.
Warm oil and sage gently in a pan for 2 minutes and drizzle over the ravioli. Grind some black pepper over before serving.
I have collated all my favourite recipes into one book FOOD FOR ALL OCCASIONS.
There are more recipes in the section THE ITALIAN JOB, a selection of authentic Italian recipes.