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Make pasta from scratch

Making pasta from scratch at home takes this old favourite to new palate-pleasing heights.

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Recipes Featured In This Article

Gnocchi with Pesto

Gnocchi is fun to make but takes time and patience. You can cook the gnocchi unshaped if r...

Linguine, spaghetti, spaghettini, pappardelle, penne, ravioli, gnocchi…” Rosalba Santori lists some of the 36 kilograms of pasta her family makes weekly to sell at Pasta Casalinga at the Dieppe, N.B. farmers’ market. They have even invented their own called ricci, a curly fettucine.

Andrew King, chef and owner of da Maurizio Fine Dining in Halifax

Andrew King, chef and owner of da Maurizio Fine Dining in Halifax

They make whole-wheat pasta, plus spinach and carrot flavours, and even one with fresh chives at the suggestion of a customer. Making the noodles from scratch can bring pasta to a new, enviable level. Ravioli is the best seller at Casalinga and a family favourite that the Santoris enjoy with basil and tomato. “We have our steady clientele, some come and go, as they go on and off diets,” explains Santori, adding that weight isn’t an issue for her family, even though they eat pasta daily. They avoid heavy creams and sauces, and use garlic, olive oil and Parmesan instead. As a child, Santori recalls that her mother, Giuseppina, who now cooks with her for the market, always made her own pasta because commercial varieties weren’t adequate. Even so, Santori and her siblings would often ask for Kraft Dinner, but with a homemade sauce. GnocchiAllaGenovese_005

The family hasn’t eaten packaged pasta since they started their business 10 years ago “The people who try it don’t go back,” Santori says. “The texture is not as slimy and slippery, and it tastes better because of the real eggs.” She finds fresh pasta absorbs sauces better; it also freezes easily and can be dropped into boiling water without thawing. Rosina Silvestri-Giansante, a home chef in Halifax, was 11 when her family immigrated to Canada from Italy. “When I was little, my mom would make it from scratch with a rolling pin,” she recalls. “She kept rolling and rolling a big round circle. Then she’d take a knife, depending on what we were eating, and cut it the size we wanted.”

Today Silvestri-Giansante and her husband make homemade pasta on Sundays. If it’s a special occasion or a holiday, they make lasagna, a favourite of her children and grandchildren. “Years ago, lasagna was a peasant food, because people would use whatever was left over and make it by hand, leftover ricotta, boiled eggs; they’d put it all in a tomato sauce,” she says. Silvestri-Giansante keeps tomato sauces and chicken broth in the freezer to use for various pasta dishes, such as ravioli, mafalda or tortellini. She uses a traditional tool called a chitarra, a frame with wires, to cut pasta dough into strands.  She has taken it to multicultural events at schools to discuss Italian cooking. She says it’s easier than people think: just eggs, flour and water. She eats pasta at least once a week, though in Italy she would eat it daily and in smaller portions. Andrew King, chef and owner of Halifax’s da Maurizio Fine Dining, thinks we should eat smaller servings, as in Italy where pasta is one course of a meal. He also advises keeping it simple. “People tend to use too many ingredients,” he says. SpaghettiniWithAsparagusArtichokeAndProsciutto_022_g

The greatest sin of all is overcooking. “Overcooking is a North American thing,” he says. “People would be surprised to go to Italy and eat pasta as it’s always al dente.” While King recommends using fresh tomatoes, if processed tomatoes are necessary, select a can of Italian tomatoes. He adds that it’s a good sign if it contains a whole basil leaf. King thinks his clients’ enduring love for pasta comes from their memories of eating pasta as a child. “It’s part tradition and part comfort food,” he says. FettucineAlAragostaWithLobster_012_gHis many favourites include Spaghettini with Lemon Asparagus, Artichokes and Crispy Prosciutto.  “Veggies alone can be bland, so prosciutto adds smokiness and saltiness to the dish.  It’s another dimension.” His Fettucine with Lobster provides a fun way to use a favourite local crustacean. Gnocchi is a classic pasta he recommends making from scratch.  And King’s Linguine Primavera celebrates the freshness of spring ingredients. “It looks great when you see it coming to the table,” he says.

East Coast pasta lovers can make pasta dishes for any taste and occasion, following a traditional recipe or imaginatively coming up with one of their own. Take any size or shape pasta, dress it up or down, add vegetables or meat and any of a multitude of sauces and flavours. For an East Coast springtime dish, add local fresh herbs and greens. Pasta is one of the world’s favourite foods for good reason.

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