Welcome to L.A. Week on First We Feast. As part of our continuing initiative to devote more coverage to Los Angeles, we’ll be running special features all week to explore the city’s ever-evolving food scene—from its most vaunted chefs, to its gritty underbelly.
Stop making excuses. Making fresh pasta at home is easier than you think (with a little practice). You don’t need a pasta machine, and you don’t need a bunch of fancy ingredients. All you need it flour, water, olive oil, and your hands.
“That’s the romantic thing about pasta,” says Los Angeles chef and handmade pasta-master Evan Funke. “This art that’s so highly thought of across the world is really born from necessity to feed your family in a creative way. You’ve got a mom, and all she’s got is flour, water, and six hungry kids—plus a few tomatoes or whatever. She says: ‘How do I make this fun and interesting and delicious with the few ingredients that I have?'”
We enlisted the Bucato chef to teach us his recipe for simple, homemade pasta made from a basic wheat-flour dough. Funke demonstrates how to shape the dough into malloredus, a traditional Sardinian teardrop-shaped pasta.
“It’s one of those pastas that was created through ingenuity,” says Funke. “You can make five or six different shapes all from this same dough [the O.G. shape is cavetelli]. Essentially, what you’re doing is creating this canoe-shaped pasta that grabs the sauce.”
Funke sees homemade pasta as a key to eating better on a budget. “There are some poor-ass places that I’ve been to in Italy that are way worse off than poorer parts of the U.S.,” he says. “But they eat better, because in the U.S. they’re eating fucked-up Cheetos and hot dogs from 7-Eleven. In Italy, pasta-making is instilled in their culture, and they pass on these techniques which really end up enriching their lives.”
Before you begin your pasta-making adventure, take a look at the do’s and don’ts of preparing pasta, according to Funke.
Commandments for Cooking Pasta
1. Don’t oversalt the water. “When cooking pasta, the water should taste like aggressively seasoned soup, not like sea water.”
2. Sauce is the condiment, not the star. “Be at the service of your pasta and don’t oversauce it. It’s about the pasta, not the sauce. Wolfgang Puck once told me properly sauced pasta should sound like wet sex.”
3. Don’t buy shitty ingredients. “If you’re going to spend the time making homemade pasta, spend the money on good ingredients, and buy local whenever possible.”
How to make malloredus pasta at home
For the dough
- 500g Giusto’s durum wheat flour (or Caputo 00 flour for a chewier dough)
- 225g sparkling mineral water
- 25g olive oil
For the pomodoro sauce
- roasted cherry (or regular) tomatoes
- olive oil
- fresh basil
- pecorino romano cheese
- fresh ricotta (optional)
Make the dough
1. Weigh out your flour and pour it onto a flat surface in a pile. Use your finger tips to make a well in the center.
2. Pour the water into the well, then pour in the olive oil.
3. Using a fork, gradually start incorporating the flour into the pool of water and olive oil. (Take flour from the interior flour wall so your mountain doesn’t break.)
You can use a bench scraper to collect flour from the sides and push it up towards the middle.
4. Keep adding flour to the wet ingredients until the mixture in the well is the consistency of really thick pancake batter. Then put down your fork.
5. Using your bench scraper, add the remaining flour from the sides of the well into the middle. Do this by lifting the flour up over the dough that’s beginning to form and cutting it into the dough. Watch how Funke does it…
6. Add in additional flour (if necessary), and fold the flour into the dough with your bench scraper. Turn the dough roughly 45 degrees each time, to more evenly incorporate the flour.
Evan notes: “People make mistakes when first measuring out the flour, and you may need to add more [depending on the humidity and room temperature of your pasta-making environment]. If it looks like it’s going to be a little soupy, just add more flour in order to make it the consistency you want.” At this point, you want a supple, shaggy dough that’s not overly sticky.
Knead the dough
Evan was a professional masseuse before becoming a chef. Needless to say, he’s really good at kneading.
1. Knead the dough by pressing it, bit by bit, in a forward motion with the heel of your hand.
2. Chef says, “Imagine that your palm is an airplane, and it’s taking off. Then pull it back very gently, and push forward once again.”
Once you’ve made fresh pasta a few times, you will be a kneading master. Check it.
How do you know when you’re done kneading? No, the answer is not “whenever my arms start hurting.”
Funke says you’re looking for a dough that’s springy, smooth, and elastic. Watch out for the “cellulite look,” which means there’s underdeveloped gluten in your dough and you need to keep working it until it’s smooth.
“The thing about pasta dough is that it’s unlike bread in that way that you can’t overknead,” says Funke. “But you can work pasta dough so much that it becomes dry.”
3. Shape the dough into a ball and wrap it in plastic wrap. Refrigerate the dough for at least 30 minutes (and up to 24 hours).
Shape the dough
1. Cut a 1/4 inch slice from your ball of dough. Keep the rest of the dough under a towel so it doesn’t dry out.
Next, cut a long piece of dough off of the slice.
2. Roll the dough into a long, uniform, snake-shape with you fingers and palm. Start in the middle and roll outwards.
3. Cut the strip of dough into 1/4 inch pieces on a slight bias, creating diamond shapes.
4. Now you’re going to flick pieces off of the side of a cheese grater. Apply even and direct pressure to just the top half of the piece of pasta with the side of your thumb, and press and push towards the bottom of the grater.
5. Again, picture an airplane taking off—only this time, the airplane is your thumb.
What you want to achieve is the torn texture on the inside, which grabs the sauce. “It makes a canoe for the sauce,” says Funke.
Alternatively, you can cut square pieces (opposed to diamonds), which makes a smaller pasta with square edges. If you do this, use your pointer finger, start at the bottom of the grater, and pull up while applying even pressure.
Continue with the remaining dough.
NOTE: If you don’t have a grater, simply make cavatelli.
Cook and sauce the pasta
1. Heat extra virgin olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Pick fresh basil leaves off the stem and throw them into the oil.
Swirl the leaves around in the oil and take a whiff.
2. Add roasted, crushed tomatoes into the pan with the basil and olive oil, and heat.
3. Meanwhile, drop your pasta into salted, boiling water. Funke says, “As the pasta cooks, they’re going to come to the surface and start floating. When they really start to agitate themselves—after about two minutes—take them out of the water. You want to cook these like 90% in the water, and then another 10% in the sauce. That way, some starch will extract into the sauce, which will thicken it.”
The chef continues, “Don’t be afraid to test the pasta, because if it’s not delicious in here, it’s not going to change once it’s in the sauce.”
4. Pour the 90% cooked pasta into the pan, and let cook. “The color of the ragu will change, because all the starch from the pasta is being released.”
“Wolfgang Puck once told me properly sauced pasta should sound like wet sex,” explains Funke.
5. Plate your pasta, then top it with some kind of delicious cheese.
Pecorino Romano or Parmigiano-Reggiano work well, and adding a bit of fresh ricotta into the mix is never a bad idea.
NOTE: In the winter, when tomatoes and basil aren’t in season, Funke likes to toss the pasta with olive oil, bottarga, and pepperoncini.
Make an Alternative Shape: Spaghetti
For the spaghetti, you’ll need to make a semolina pasta dough.
1. Using a rolling pin (or wine bottle), roll out the dough until it’s 1/8 of an inch thick. Dust the dough with flour so it doesn’t stick to your rolling pin.
2. Trim the sheet of pasta to make a rectangular shape. Now, starting with the short end, gently fold the dried sheet at 2-inch intervals to create a flat, rectangular roll.
3. With a sharp knife, cut the dough into thin noodles, about 1/8 of an inch thick.
4. Use your fingers to unfurl the pasta, then transfer it to a floured baking sheet until you’re ready to cook. “This is how it’s been made for hundreds and hundreds of years,” says Funke.