Ella Walker learns the art of being a pastaio – and it’s not as tough as you might imagine.
In Italy, it’s said that only the Pope is more famous than pasta magnate Giovanni Rana. Owner and founder of fresh filled pasta brand, La Famiglia Rana, he’s the man who brought packaged pasta to the masses for the first time in the Fifties and Sixties, and many Italians grew up watching his appearances on TV.
Rana is now in his 80s (although he still lives on the site of the Rana pasta factory – you can see his pool from the windows of the company’s complex), so much of the business is run by his son, and the CEO, Gian Luca Rana.
However, it’s Gian Luca’s wife, Antonella (who has more than a little of the Nigella vibes about her) on hand to show us the true meaning of making pasta from scratch. She notes, rather portentously: “You can a lot about a person from how they make pasta.”
What you’ll need…
For the pasta (makes 3-4 portions):
180g all purpose flour (or 120g flour and 60g semolina)
1 pinch of salt
For the filling:
30g Parmigiano Reggiano Cheese
40g chopped baby spinach
Salt and pepper, to taste
Here’s what to do…
1. Make the pasta
Any flat surface will do, but a cool marble table top is ideal for making pasta, as it gives it “a super silky texture,” says Antonella. We start by making a well out of the flour and salt, before cracking in the eggs.
Then we start the pretty messy job of swirling and mixing the flour into the eggs, working from the outside in, “like building a sandcastle on the beach” says Antonella, who charmingly calls this bit the “volcano stage”.
Now, it’s kneading time. “Pasta likes your hands,” shouts Antonella encouragingly. “It’s so therapeutic!”
She tells us to keep working the dough until it’s smooth and elastic, and to use it like a sponge to pick up all the bits left on the marble.
You could keep working it and never be happy, but eventually you have to wrap it in clingfilm, and leave it alone to rest in the fridge for an hour or two.
Meanwhile, as your pasta takes a breather, mix together the cheesy, spinachy filling ingredients.
2. Fill the pasta
We spend a good 15 minutes rolling out our pasta into a huge dough circle – one that’s thin enough to see through if held up to the light, but not so thin it tears. Next, we cut it in half, then the filling begins.
Antonella shows us a nifty way of spooning teaspoons of filling along each half of each dough semi-circle, brushing around each mound of cheese with water, before folding the dough over and back on itself (exactly like an apple turnover). She shows us how to gently push the air out with our fingertips, so the ravioli are completely sealed.
3. Shape the pasta
At this point, pasta aficionados can get their fancy pasta cutter wheels and ravioli stamps out – but biscuit cutters will work just as well. Antonella also shows us how to pinch and crimp the dough into fiddly, mini tortellini (mine are destined to become waterlogged – they’re very tricky to seal properly).
“Every pasta is different, because every pair of hands is,” muses Antonella, who is kind, no matter how skew-whiff your attempts: “Every tiny every piece will be different, and it mirrors you in that moment, in that place.”
4. Eat the pasta
This is the easy bit – cook, then scoff. Ta-dah.
Ella was hosted by La Famiglia Rana – Italy’s best loved fresh filled pasta brand for over 50 years. The UK tortelloni range aims to bring the best of Italian traditions to consumers and is available from Sainsbury’s, Ocado, Asda, Morrisons and select independent grocers around the UK. Visit rana.co.uk.