5 reasons why you should make your own fresh pasta
Artisan Pasta Maker
Making fresh pasta from scratch has increased in popularity in the last 5 years or so. It’s hard to miss all the new instagram pastaias, who create colorful and artistic pasta shapes, or the success of “pasta grannies,” Vicky Bennison’s project, where she tours around Italy filming skilled nonna who make their region’s traditional pasta entirely by hands. The fascination for artisan pasta making is growing, and more and more people are interested in the skill. Making pasta by hand captures the imagination, and people wonders how hard it might be, and whether it’s really worth their time.
When I tell people my work, I get this wow look in response, often followed by a string of reasons why they don’t make their own pasta.
“If you’re going to buy pasta, you should buy dry pasta. If you’re going to make it you can make the real thing, but you shouldn’t buy fresh pasta.”
Why should I bother to make pasta at home when I can buy it ready-made in supermarkets?
I have been asked this question many times. Why should anyone spend an hour or more making pasta from scratch, when all you gotta do is to go to your nearest supermarket, and choose from a wide selection of deliciously looking fresh pasta, or even order it online and get it delivered straight to your door? It sounds like complete insanity! Or maybe like something only an Italian nonna should be doing. Definitely not an activity that fits into our hectic lives, where balancing long work hours – and maybe a family – is already time consuming and doesn’t leave us with much time for ourselves.
Also, the idea of having to clean up a huge mess afterwards is off-putting. Many people tell me that they don’t make pasta at home because they don’t want to clean afterwards, imagining this incredibly huge mess that comes after making anything from scratch.
Another reason I hear often is the lack of space. Homes in the UK are very small, and kitchens are usually tiny. The idea of not enough space is off-putting for many people, as we are used to watching cookery shows held in professional kitchens, with lots of space.
My grandma’s kitchen was tiny: almost no counter space, and a small table where only 3 people could sit around. This never stopped her from cooking up a storm (including making pasta from scratch) for the whole family every Sunday.
“Lots of people tell me that they only buy supermarket fresh pasta, because they feel it’s better quality.
I beg to differ.”
Is it really worth buying fresh pasta in supermarkets?
This is the one million dollars question, isn’t it?
We are so used to the convenience to buy whatever exotic food we want by just browsing the shelves of our local supermarket. The fresh pasta market outside Italy has steadily increased in the last 20 years.
When I first moved to the UK in 2002, the fresh pasta selection was measly: just a few packages of boring ravioli and tagliatelle. Today, we have a vast array of choices, from the basic cheese ravioli, to the more sophisticated black truffle and grana padano tortelloni. And all this for a reasonable price: for about £2-3 you get this delicious and quick meal. Surely, it is not worth the time and the money to source the ingredients yourself, and make the pasta from scratch.
Homemade fresh pasta vs supermarket fresh pasta
We all know that homemade is better, so I’m not telling you anything new by proclaiming this.
However, let me tell you what you are really buying.
When I think about fresh pasta, I think of someone preparing the pasta in the morning, and selling it on the day to be consumed within a couple of days.
This is definitely not the case when talking about “fresh” pasta in the supermarket. Even though many supermarkets want to convey the idea of making fresh stuff in store, they don’t. Fresh supermarket pasta is mass produced, therefore the adjective fresh is a misnomer.
How packaged fresh pasta is made:
Most of the pasta that is sold as fresh is actually a glorified ready meal.
The main difference between dried pasta and fresh pasta, if we just consider plain pasta with no filling, is the water content.
Water content in dry pasta is maximum 12.5%. Anything over that and the pasta will mould.
In freshly made artisan pasta, the water content is between 25% and 35% (the fresher the pasta, the higher the water content). Because of the high hydratation, the pasta has to be eaten within a couple of days, because it spoils quickly.
In packaged fresh pasta, the water content is between 20% and 25%. With this amount of hydratation the pasta has a short shelf life. In fact, it does not. The average shelf life of supermarket packaged fresh pasta is 6-8 weeks. Tell me which fresh product lasts as long as this.
Supermarkets fresh pasta is made with powdered ingredients, to facilitate the production, and therefore it’s highly processed.
Once the pasta has been filled, and cut, the problem of the high water content remains. To avoid this, the pasta has to be treated to destroy or deactivate microorganisms, spores, and fungi that will lead to decay.
Some pasta is pasteurised, that is, exposed to a temperature of 63℃ (145℉) for 30 minutes either packaged or unpackaged. Some pasta is pasteurised more than once. Pasteurised pasta lasts on average 15 days. If double pasteurised, it lasts 1 month.
Other manufacturers prefer to sterilise the pasta, because it gives a very long shelf life.
Moist heat sterilisation usually involves using very high temperature(134°C -273°F) steam for a minimum of 18 minutes. Then there’s dry heat sterilisation, where the product is placed in a hot air oven at 190°C (374°F) for 12 minutes for packaged products. Half this time for unpackaged products.
The problem with heating the pasta at such high temperatures is that not only it destroys dangerous microorganisms, but also important nutrients. It also affects the quality of the taste and the texture.
There are several ways to sterilise food, some of which involves using chemicals. I am not going to go in depth here, but I feel this is something you need to know before you buy that stuff. I don’t know how many times I have heard people tell me that they only buy fresh pasta (meaning the supermarket packaged variety) because it’s better. I beg to differ!!!!
Supermarket fresh pasta’s expiry date.
Notice the time stamps.
“The average shelf life for packaged fresh pasta is 6-8 weeks. If your supermarket pasta expires in a couple of days, it means that is old.”
5 reasons to make pasta at home
You know what the ingredients you have used:
The only way to be sure of the quality and freshness of the ingredients is when you buy them yourself. From the start to the end, you know what you have put in your dough, in the filling, and that the nutritional value of your food is mostly preserved. Only for this reason, making pasta from scratch is worth a try.
You can make it exactly according to your taste:
Do you love anchovies, but you cannot find any anchovy flavoured pasta? You can make it yourself! You can add spices, herbs, pureed vegetables, or even wine to your dough to create your bespoke pasta. You can fill it with your favourite cheese, or meat, or whatever tickles your fancy. The sky’s the limit!
Making pasta is not as messy as you might believe:
Homemade pasta doesn’t require lots of tools, does not require lots of space, and the dough is not sticky at all! The only thing you might have to do is to hoover the floor under your table if you have been a little too keen with the flour.
It’s a great way to relax and unwind:
Making pasta (or cooking from scratch) is not a chore, as some marketing messages have led to believe. It’s actually a very mindful and relaxing activity: it forces us to slow down, to take it easy. Even the kneading: once you get into the rhythm, your mind completely zones out. It’s like meditation! Shaping pasta requires your attention, your being present, and therefore it’s the ultimate mindfulness! With the added bonus that you get to eat delicious food at the end.
Making pasta at home with family and friends will help you bond:
Doing things together is the best way to strengthen a relationship. Today we are too used to sitting down in front of a pc or on our phone watching videos of cute kittens, or mindlessly browsing social media. Or binge watching the latest super tv series. This isolates us from the people we love. Making pasta together is an excellent way to reconnect with our loved ones. As we relax and slow down and start to use our hands instead, we have the time to also pay attention to the person sitting with us, making pasta (or food) with us.
I remember when I was a child, when my family would sit all together around the table to make pasta (or to make the tomato passata and pelati for the winter): it was a lot of work (especially the tomatoes!), but it was also a joyful time: we would be together, working together, catching up with each other, gossiping about the whole neighbourhood, telling jokes, and generally having a good time together and enjoying each other’s company.
Making your own fresh pasta at home it’s definitely worth the try!
You don’t need the fancy equipment you see on Instagram or on TV. You don’t need a large kitchen: if you have a table, you can make pasta. You don’t need to get your pasta shapes instagrammable to enjoy the process and make delicious food. The only thing you need is the willingness to try: you might enjoy it more than you thought!
So, next time that you reach for that packaged pasta in the supermarket’s fridge, stop for a second: yes, it’s convenient and quick, but these are the only upsides. The downsides are way too important to ignore. After all, it’s your health too!
Instead, go and get a bag of good quality flour, some eggs, and whatever ingredients you fancy to make your pasta special: you won’t regret it.