Delizioso delights await Italian diners
Passion and patience are the key ingredients to creating mouth-watering Italian food, according to StarBistro Head Chef Joe Parke.
And he should know having spent a considerable amount of time working in the Veneto region of Italy as a chef in a small town on the coast outside Venice.
‘I was fortunate enough to be sponsored to work in Italy when I was a student at catering college, and was immersed in the country’s food and culture,’ said Joe, who has worked as a chef for 23 years. ‘It was during this time that I fell in love with Italian food and learnt so much about typical dishes.’
Joe had made pasta at college in the Forest of Dean but working in Italy fine-tuned his skills. You may be surprised to know that homemade pasta is not made the same way throughout Italy. Regional differences mean ingredients may differ, with some chefs varying the use of butter, cream and eggs, and families proudly passing down recipes through the generations. Whatever recipe is being followed, Joe advises that pasta-making is a culinary art form that cannot be rushed.
‘Using the best durum wheat flour you can buy, which is now widely available in most supermarkets, will start you off on the right path. 00 and 0 flour is Italian milled and used for pasta making. It’s similar to unbleached all-purpose plain flour but much finer and creates a dough that is silkier and helps to maintain its chewy nature when cooked.
‘Another piece of advice that I was given while working in Italy is to fold and stretch the mixture using the heel of your hand so you can feel the mixture change. Not all Italians use egg yolks when making pasta, but if you do the pasta will become richer and silkier,’ said Joe.
Joe says a traditional rich ragu sauce served on a bed of well-made tagliatelle is his pasta dish of choice. That’s probably why it features on the menu for StarBistro’s Italian Buffet Evening on Friday 12 April. Tickets cost just £18 and include a choice of five different types of pasta, sauces, salads and a homemade sourdough pizza or two. Book your table today by telephoning 01242 535984.
Joe’s pasta recipe
The recipe Joe uses is a royal pasta dough, using only egg yolks so it is rich, silky and smooth.
- 400g of good-quality Tipo 00 flour, plus extra for dusting
- 75g of fine semolina
- 12 large free-range eggs
- 2 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil
- 4 tbsp of cold water
- Pile the flour and semolina into a large bowl and make a well in the middle.
- Separate the eggs and add the yolks to the well.
- Put the egg whites in a container and freeze for making meringues at a later date.
- Add the oil and 4 tablespoons of cold water to the well, then use a fork to whip up the eggs until smooth, before gradually bringing the flour in from the outside. When it becomes too hard to mix, use your clean floured hands to bring it together into a ball.
- Knead on a flour-dusted surface for 5 to 10 minutes until smooth and elastic (eggs can vary in size and flour can vary in humidity; this dough shouldn’t be too wet or dry, but tweak with a touch more water or flour if you need to). Wrap in cling film and leave to relax for 30 minutes.
Traditionally, Italians would have used a very large, long, thin rolling pin. You can do it that way if you like, it just requires a large flat surface and a bit of elbow grease but Joe uses a pasta machine.
If using a pasta machine, attach it firmly to a nice clean table and divide your pasta dough into four pieces, covering everything with a damp clean tea towel to stop it drying out as you go.
One at a time, flatten each piece of dough by hand and run it through the thickest setting, then take the rollers down two settings and run the dough through again to make it thinner. Importantly, fold it in half and run it back through the thickest setting again, repeating several times to make the dough super-smooth so that it turns from a tatty sheet into one that fills out the pasta machine properly.
Start rolling the sheet down through each setting, dusting with a little flour as you go. Turn the crank with one hand while the other maintains just a little tension to avoid any kinks, folds or ripples.
Take it right down to the desired thickness, which is about 2mm for shapes like linguine, tagliatelle and lasagne. For anything turned into a filled pasta, such as ravioli and tortellini, go as thin as 1mm because when it’s folded around a filling it will double up to 2mm.