Over the weekend my mum and younger sister visited the farm and whilst here, Adam insisted that we make my mum’s version of ‘pasta di casa’ – a dish I only make rarely because of the time factor involved – this pasta is made strand by strand.
The generic term Pasta di Casa can be used to describe any pasta made by hand and at home. It symbolises the pasta made by mothers and grandmothers across Italy and other places, which is homely and filled with their love of family.
The ‘pasta di casa’ form made by my mother can be more correctly called ‘fusilli’ or ‘bucatini’ pasta (the commercially produced versions of this pasta). Long strands of pasta with a hole down the centre of each strand or a spiral twist to the strand. Today you can actually buy specific machines which will press out the bucatini and spirelle pasta shape as well as many others such as, macaroni, rigatoni, penne, etc.
The process described here relates to a time before pasta machines of any type existed and the entire pasta process was done by hand. It takes patience and skill to create this pasta, but the effort is well worth it.
Begin with a basic pasta dough mix as follows:
Makes – 4 to 6 serves
3 cups plain flour
good pinch of salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
⅓ to ½ cup water (as needed)
extra plain flour for kneading and rolling (as needed)
Combine all the ingredients (less the water component) and follow any of my pasta making methods described in the pasta recipe pages of this website, combining a little water at a time until you bring all the ingredients together to form a solid mass.
This dough needs to be worked for at least 10 minutes, so it becomes soft, silky and smooth. Furthermore, it needs to be rested for at least 30 minutes once kneaded, so the moisture in the dough equalises throughout the dough.
Before you begin, you first need a thin reed of some type upon which you can twist a piece of pasta dough and then roll it out. I usually use a long wooden skewer as they are readily available, but my mother and grandmothers would commonly use a thin water reed/stem which had been allowed to dry. In Italy they sell thin steel rods specifically for this task, which are known as ‘fusi’.
1. Take a smallish handful of the rested dough and roll it on a floured bench so it becomes an elongated rope of dough. You want to roll the rope of dough until it is approximately the diameter of your smallest finger (say 1 cm thick).
2. Once you have the desired thickness cut the sausage of dough into 5 to 6 cm long segments.
3. Take one of the dough segments and wrap it lightly around an oiled skewer in a spiral fashion.
4. Lay the skewer on a lightly floured board/bench and using the palm of your hands, gently roll the dough backwards and forwards on the board surface so that the finger of dough thins and stretches along the skewer.
5. The pasta dough will gradually get longer and longer on the skewer and thin in thickness to form a solid circle encasing the wooden skewer.
6. Hold the dough covered skewer by one of its ends and lay it in the palm of the other hand. Apply a little pressure to the pasta dough surface, gradually rotate the wooden skewer so it moves freely within its pasta casing.
7. The idea is to slowly rotate the skewer again and again as you gently tease the pasta dough down and off the wooden skewer.
8. It may take you a few practice-goes to work out the correct amount of pressure to apply when rolling and forming the pasta strand as well as to remove it successfully from the skewer core.
A trick for beginners – is keep the strands no more than 10 or 12 cm long. As you get more practice and experience you can gradually make the strands longer and longer. With practice, you can eventually make strands that are 20 – 25 cm long.
Further, although the idea is to create a solid, even strand of pasta with a hole down the centre, this is not always the final result. Don’t be too worried if some sections of the strand have not fully joined, it simply adds to the character of the pasta and rather than hand-made bucatini you have made hand-made spirelle.
9. Once you have made a successful strand lay it on a tea towel and continue forming the rest of the pasta dough.
This pasta is cooked in the same way as all other pastas. Simply place a large pot of water on to the stove, throw in a good pinch of salt and when at a rolling boil, drop the pasta strands into the water. The length of time you cook the pasta is really a matter of personal taste.
Much is said about the pasta being cooked ‘al dente’ (just right) when it floats to the top or sticks when thrown at a wall … for me, the best tool for determining when the pasta is adequately cooked for you, is your mouth. DO NOT be afraid to take a strand of pasta and savour its texture and flavour. It should be soft on the outside with only the finest of firmness at its centre. Because of this pasta’s thickness, it normally takes 15-20 minutes for pasta di casa to be cooked. I suggest you begin taste testing the pasta at the 15-minute mark to see if it is cooked.
After draining the pasta, it can be topped with any sauce of your choice.