It was New Year's Eve. London was on lockdown. I had to fill my night with some sort of project. I decided to make pasta.
It's a long time since I've made pasta. But, pandemics are all about trying new things, right?
I had big plans - I wanted to make a pasta dough for fettuccini. I'd seen a recipe for fettuccini with scallops and prosciutto which seemed 'special occasion' enough to make the focus of my New Year's celebrations-for-one.
I knew that I'd left my run to the fishmonger's too late. My closest fishmonger is on Broadway Market - it takes about 20 minutes to walk there. I'd meant to go earlier in the week but had been busy with work, so it was the morning of 31 December when I made the trip. The market was busy. The queue at the deli was crazy long. The queue at the butcher's was crazy long. I looked at the queue for the fishmonger - also crazy long. Estimating that it could take up to about an hour, I resigned myself to joining the queue - after all, it was a special occasion meal for New Year's Eve. However, when I got to the end of the queue, I realised that it turned the corner and went way down the block. It would literally have been hours of waiting that I didn't have time for. I needed a Plan B.
I decided to make a Carbonara sauce to go with my fettuccini. Not the healthiest option, but Carbonara is my guilty-pleasure pasta sauce option.
To make the pasta dough, I followed this guide from Epicurious.
Mound 4 cups of Plain flour onto your bench-top.
Make a well in the centre of the flour - create something that looks like a volcano.
Crack 5 eggs directly into the well of flour.
Learn from my mistakes: On first attempt, I didn't make my well big enough. When I cracked my final egg in, the flour collapsed and all the eggs escaped onto the kitchen floor. I had to start again. Disappointing.
Scramble the eggs with a fork and then slowly begin to pull the flour in to combine with the egg.
When it becomes too thick for the fork, switch to use your hands to work the dough.
Bring the dough together and begin to knead the dough so that it becomes cohesive.
Knead the dough.
This is a good workout for your forearms. There's lots of different techniques, but effectively you're just folding and pushing it.
The point of kneading is to stretch out the gluten strands within the flour - this helps you to get the texture that you want for your pasta.
This will take a while, but you should eventually feel that the dough is smooth and a bit springy.
Leave the dough to rest.
Your dough needs to rest for at least 30 minutes, but you could leave it for up to 2 hours.
Wrap it in cling-film and leave it on your bench at room-temperature.
Roll the dough.
You can use a pasta machine or a rolling pin. I don't have a pasta machine, so I went with the rolling pin.
Divide the ball of dough into eight portions.
Start by rolling the first portion - keep the remaining dough under a damp tea-towel to prevent it drying out.
You need to roll your pasta fairly thin - until you can almost see your hand through it. Try and get it into a shape that will be easy to cut.
Do your best to cut the pasta evenly so that it all cooks in about the same time.
Once you've cut the pasta, twist each portion into a loose bundle (with a dusting of flour to help keep it all loose and not sticking together) and cover with a damp tea-towel until you're ready to cook.
The Carbonara Sauce
I went with this recipe for Carbonara from the BBC Food website.
- 100g pancetta
- 50g pecorino cheese
- 50g parmesan
- 3 large eggs
- 2 plump garlic cloves, peeled and left whole
- 50g unsalted butter
- sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Put a large saucepan of water on to boil.
Finely chop the 100g pancetta, having first removed any rind. Finely grate 50g pecorino cheese and 50g parmesan and mix them together.
Beat the 3 large eggs in a medium bowl and season with a little freshly grated black pepper. Set everything aside.
Add 1 tsp salt to the boiling water, and add your pasta. When the water comes back to the boil, cook at a constant simmer, covered, until al dente.
Learn from my mistakes: You've probably made more pasta than you need, or you may not have a big enough pot to cook all of the pasta at once. Don't put too much pasta in your pot. You can freeze the uncooked pasta and use it another time.
Squash 2 peeled plump garlic cloves with the blade of a knife, just to bruise it.
While the pasta is cooking, fry the pancetta with the garlic. Drop 50g unsalted butter into a large frying pan or wok and, as soon as the butter has melted, tip in the pancetta and garlic.
Leave to cook on a medium heat for about 5 minutes, stirring often, until the pancetta is golden and crisp. The garlic has now imparted its flavour, so take it out with a slotted spoon and discard.
Keep the heat under the pancetta on low. When the pasta is ready, lift it from the water with a pasta fork or tongs and put it in the frying pan with the pancetta. Don’t worry if a little water drops in the pan as well (you want this to happen) and don’t throw the pasta water away yet.
Mix most of the cheese in with the eggs, keeping a small handful back for sprinkling over later.
Take the pan of spaghetti and pancetta off the heat. Now quickly pour in the eggs and cheese. Using the tongs or a long fork, lift up the spaghetti so it mixes easily with the egg mixture, which thickens but doesn’t scramble, and everything is coated.
Add extra pasta cooking water to keep it saucy (several tablespoons should do it). You don’t want it wet, just moist. Season with a little salt, if needed.
Use a long-pronged fork to twist the pasta on to the serving plate or bowl. Serve immediately with a little sprinkling of the remaining cheese and a grating of black pepper. If the dish does get a little dry before serving, splash in some more hot pasta water and the glossy sauciness will be revived.
This is time-consuming and a bit messy, but it's a good project to get your teeth into if you've got time on your hands. This would be more fun if you were doing it with someone else, or a couple of friends.