Perfecting pro-level pasta at home may seem like a daunting feat, but we’ve got you covered with these tips from Top Chef Canada’s recent pasta-making elimination challenge, plus a few recipes to get you started in your own kitchen. From soft and supple gnocchi to tender ravioli, this advice from professional kitchens will get you rolling in no time.
Get the Recipe: Fresh Homemade Fettucine
The Best Flour For Homemade Pasta
The lucky cheftestants got to work with freshly milled flour from urban mill Brodflour, but chances are, you’ll have to settle for supermarket flour. Nonetheless, a few wise choices will help your success rate when making pasta. The specialty flour known as 00 or tipo 00 is the traditional pick when it comes to making pasta, due to its fine grind (this attribute also make it a good option for pizza dough). Depending on the kind of pasta, which dictates other factors such as the amount of eggs added, coarsely ground semolina or all-purpose flour can also be used in forming pasta dough.
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Eggs in Fresh Pasta
For some types of pasta, especially fresh egg pasta, the golden yolks lend a sunny hue to the finished product. Recipes vary in terms of the number but it is generally around a 1:1 ratio of eggs to cups of flour. Some kinds of pasta dough, such as tagliatelle, use a combination of two whole eggs and four egg yolks per four cups of flour for added richness.
Eggs also play a crucial role in the elasticity and texture of fresh pasta, although dried pasta is often made with no more than flour and water.
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Methods For Making Homemade Pasta
Although the tried-and-true method of making a well in the flour and adding the wet ingredients in the centre, then drawing the flour slowly inwards, works well to combine the ingredients gradually, this process can be automated using a stand mixer or other equipment (Alton Brown has an easy food processor method for his ravioli dough, for example). The dough is then kneaded, shaped into a disk and rested before rolling through a pasta machine or by hand using a rolling pin for flat types of pasta such as fettuccini, or shaping using molds or one’s hands with smaller shapes, such as pici.
Related: Get the Recipe for Valerie Bertinelli’s Homemade Pici Pasta With Carbonara Sauce
Homemade Pasta Shapes and Tips
There’s still more choices awaiting you: pasta shape dictates cooking method, time and even which type of sauce you should use. In a stressful double-elimination, the remaining five chefs had to choose their pasta types, make their own dough and create their best dish for guest judge Danny Smiles (a former Top Chef Canada contestant himself and now owner of three restaurants including Osteria Fortuna, planned to open in June 2020). Adding to the pressure was the freshly milled flour, which will cause pasta dough to oxidize (changing colour and flavour) if made too far in advance. As a result, chefs couldn’t use the one hour prep time the day before to make their dough, instead needing to make it the day of the Eliminate Challenge.
At home, however, you have the advantage of all the time you need to tackle a fresh pasta project. Take some inspiration from each of the Top Chef Canada contestants and their dishes to create your own prize-worthy creation.
How to Make Homemade Orecchiette
Orecchiette is made by hand, with the pasta maker’s thumb forming the distinct indents that give each piece its distinctive “little ears” shape (Francis used a non-traditional method of forming it on a paddle, giving the pasta small ridges). Although he had never made orecchiette before, Francis’ precautions in making a test batch to experiment with the fresh flour and his technique paid off. The judges raved about his version with broccoli sauce, crunchy broccoli stems, fried spelt grains and an Asiago emulsion. Judge Danny Smiles observed that the dish adhered to its roots from Puglia, where orecchiette and broccoli are frequently used together.
Pro tip: Francis put his pasta dough in a vacuum bag to take the air out and speed up the resting process. If you have a vacuum sealer at home and are in a hurry, you can try this technique as well.
Get the recipe for Orecchiette With Homemade Ricotta And Cherry Tomatoes
How to Make Homemade Gnocchi
Due to the time constraints, Stephanie didn’t have time to make the traditional potato-based version of gnocchi, which requires cooking and cooling potatoes before putting them through a food mill, combining with flour and eggs and shaping into individual pieces. Instead, she opted for Parisian-style gnocchi, beginning with a choux paste (similar to eclairs) where butter and water are cooked, then combined with flour before putting it in a stand mixer to beat in the eggs. The mixture is piped into a pot of boiling water to cook. The judges liked the softness of Stephanie’s gnocchi, although they felt that they were a bit lost amidst the cornucopia of other ingredients in her Parisian gnocchi with pattypan squash, white asparagus, wild rose harissa and white asparagus sauce with ricotta.
Pro tip: When combining the eggs in the stand mixer, add them slowly one by one to ensure a soft and tender, eggier dumpling.
If you’d like to try a potato-free version of gnocchi, take a look at these Ricotta Gnocchi from head judge Mark McEwan.
How to Make Homemade Ravioli
Lucy’s first job on her first day as a chef at Terre Rouge was making pasta, so it’s no wonder that her cashew, caramelized onion and Gruyère ravioli won favour with the judges for its texture, winning her a place in the finale. Ravioli is made by running pasta dough through a pasta roller to achieve a thin, smooth sheet, then dolloping spoonfuls of filling in a single row across the bottom half. After folding over the top and pressing gently between sections of filling to remove excess air and seal each ravioli, a pasta cutter is used to trim each piece.
Pro tip: Listen to sound of the dough in the stand mixer — it will tell you when the dough is reaching the right consistency (you are looking for a stiffness similar to play dough).
Want to tackle your own ravioli? Try this Short Rib Ravioli and Creamy Mushroom Sauce, or Spinach and Ricotta Ravioli.
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How to Make Homemade Agnolotti
This pocket-sized filled pasta (or “little cute pillows with a beautiful pocket of filling on the inside”, as Imrun described it) starts out the same way as ravioli. The dough is rolled and dots of filling are piped onto the sheet of pasta, but before the final cuts are made, imprints are pushed into the sides of the filling to create a pillowy dent. Although Imrun’s use of nutritional yeast to top his kabocha squash and mascarpone agnolotti mystified the judges, they loved the thinness and execution of his pasta.
Pro tip: Using a piping bag to fill the agnolotti ensures even distribution and neatly centred dots.
Try one of these tasty ravioli recipes and adjust the method and filling size as described above to try them with agnolotti.
How to Make Homemade Tagliatelle
Rich with added egg yolks, tagliatelle’s long, flat ribbons make it a tender and versatile pasta. Adrian discovered the perils of deviating from the traditional recipe when he attempted to substitute squash purée for eggs, resulting in a soggy dough that stuck and broke in the roller during his first attempt. His second try was also too wet, forcing him to roll out the dough by hand, which ended up with tagliatelle that “looked more like spaetzle”, according to head judge Mark McEwan. Overall, although the judges liked the flavour of his butternut squash tagliatelle with butternut béchamel and scotch bonnet cremini mushrooms, the errors in executing the pasta itself sent Adrian home.
Pro tip: Be careful when substituting ingredients or adjusting your recipe, especially when using wet ingredients such as butternut squash that add moisture to the dough and can disrupt the water to flour ratio. Try making it yourself with this recipe for Homemade Tagliatelle.
Once you’ve made your fresh pasta, try one of these 50 Best-Ever Pasta Recipes for Easy Dinners. Watch Top Chef Canada Mondays at 10ep and stream Live and On Demand on the new Global TV App, and on STACKTV. Food Network Canada is also available through all major TV service providers.