Make a flower and herb press

Dried flowers - Making a flower press | Ink Sugar Spice blog

Welcome to an article that will help you make your own flower press from two old cork-backed placemats ~ although you can use these instructions with any boards/ply that is cut to size.

Dried, pressed flowers and herbs can be used in a variety of crafts, and as this is such an easy make, why not create your own pretty flower press?

It’s a simple make but one that will last you forever.

Ink Sugar Spice blog https://inksugarspice.wordpress.com/

Notes

I’ve also given additional instructions for preparing the boards for painting, should you wish to customise your press once complete (as I have done in some of the images). However, by using a placemat with an existing image, it will still look good.

You will need a sturdy surface on which to make the press, as you need to both drill and hammer. A solid or portable workbench with clamps is ideal. However, you can still make this at home if you have a strong working surface that will survive being pummelled with a hammer. Better if you have some scrap wood over which you can drill holes without damaging any surface.

Please do go on to read the hints and tips on this accompanying article on how to use a press and dry pressing plants.

Ink Sugar Spice blog https://inksugarspice.wordpress.com/

Equipment and materials

  • Two cork-backed placemats, typically 29 cm x 21.5 cm (or two 4 – 8mm depth boards, cut to a similar size)
  • Cardboard or an old cardboard box – enough to cut out six pieces of card using one of your placemats as a template
  • 4 carriage bolts (M6) and wing nuts – 6mm thread x 65mm bolt length is ideal (and what I have used)
  • 8 washers to fit the carriage bolts (and wide enough to cover the drilled hole, as this will depend on the drill bit size used)
carriage bolts, wing nuts and washers needed for the flower press
The four carriage bolts, four wingnuts and eight washers necessary for the flower press
  • Cutting mat or other surface protector
  • Sharp craft blade
  • Straight edge
  • Pen/pencil
  • Centrepunch (or a large nail) and hammer
  • Half moon cutter (if you have one – this is not essential but will give you the same results as my example)
  • Drill and 8 or 9mm wood drill bit
  • Sanding block or medium sand paper (about 120 grit)
  • Clamps, if possible (though I did test that you can handhold the placemats as you are drilling, as they are simple and quick to drill through)
  • Scrap piece of wood (to use as drill guard)

Additional equipment if painting the boards:

  • White primer aerosol paint
  • Paints or permanent markers of your choice
  • Matt clear aerosol varnish

Additional materials for use

  • Blotting paper or alternative – please see the guide on Using a flower press for a run down of materials and suggestions

Method

  • First of all, cut out the six cardboard inners, using one of the placemats as a template. Draw an outline round the placemat onto the cardboard and cut out with your craft knife. Now use this first one as a template for all the others: draw round it, cut out and repeat until you have six pieces
  • Next, mark where the drill points will be on each placemat: at each corner measure in 2 cm in from both edges and make a mark with your pen or pencil (you can cut a 2 cm x 2 cm square of card and use this as a guide if you wish)
marking the drill holes for the flower press
Marking the drill holes for each corner
  • Put a placemat cork-side down on a robust surface, such as a concrete floor, over a table leg (protecting the table first) or a workbech. Place the centrepunch (or the large nail) on one of your corner marks and hit the centrepunch with the hammer. This will make a guide indentation for your drill, to stop the drill from slipping. Repeat until all eight marks have been punched (four at each corner of both placemats)
  • Put a placemat cork-side down on the scrap piece of wood (if using). Position one of the punched marks over your scrap piece of wood and overhang the work surface (so you drill through into thin air, not your table!). Clamp down if possible
  • Position the tip of the drill bit into the punched mark, and drill through the placemat right into the scrap wood. By using some scrap wood underneath you minimise tearing of the cork (though some may still happen – don’t worry this won’t affect the press’ use – see the next point)
  • Drill all eight holes and then sand off any burrs and rough edges. (If the cork has ripped or torn at all during drilling, don’t worry! Just trim off the ripped edges with your craft knife and sand down. It won’t affect the press at all if some cork has been shorn off as this is outside the actually pressing area)
  • Place a washer on each of the four carriage bolts and push them through the holes of one placemat – make sure the picture side of the placemat has the bolt heads (and the cork is “inside” the press)
The carriage bolt (with washer, unseen, on the underside) pushed through the newly drilled hole in the mat for the flowerpress
A carriage bolt through the newly-drilled hole (a washer has been placed between the bolt head and the board, which is on the unseen underside. Note that the cork layer is on the ‘inside’
  • Now slice off a triangle on the corners of all six cardboard pieces. Just cut enough so they can fit in the press (if you have a half moon punch, as I have used, you can do this instead)
Cutting the corner off the cardboard inners, note that it's close to the drilled hole so that you keep as large an area of card for pressing as possible
Punching out the corner so that the card inners fir within the carriage bolts – you don’t have to have a half moon punch, just slice a triangle off each corner instead
  • Place all six cardboard pieces in the press and put the second placemat on top, feeding the carriage bots through the holes on this placemat. Keep the picture side upwards, so the cork is inside
Layering up the sized and cut inner cardboard inners
  • Pop the remaining washers on the bolts, then screw on the four wingnuts
the finished corner - with carriage bolts, washers and wingnuts in place and all six layers of carboard inners
How each corner should end up – a board, six layers of cardboard, the other board and all fixed with a carriage bolt, washers and wingnut at each corner. Note how the cork side of each board is facing inside

Your press is now ready!! However, you can customise/paint the placemats. To do this:

  • take off the boards from the press
  • sand down the picture side of the placemat
  • wipe off any dust and spray with the white primer (remember to do this in a well ventilated area)
  • paint, draw, decoupage or decorate the placemat as you see fit
  • once dry reassemble the press

To use (briefly)

  • Sandwich plants, leaves and flowers between two pieces of blotting material (see advice here) within each layer of the press
  • You can utilise up to seven layers for pressing plants, so you can do as little or as much as you like at the same time. You have two layers that are cork and cardboard, and five spaces between the cardboard laters (remember to use two blotting sheets with every layer)
Separating herbs and petals, so they don't touch, on blotting paper as a layer in a flower press | Ink Sugar Spice
  • When you have loaded the flowers into the press, push down on the boards as much as you can with all your weight using one hand while screwing on the wingnuts with the other (or get someone to push down for you). This initial weight/pressure will enable you to tighten the press more and facilitate the flattening/drying process
  • Plants will need at least two weeks to dry, thicker/more succelent-type plants will need longer
  • Keep somewhere dry
  • Check the press regularly to see if it needs tightening as the moisture is lost from the plants (you can do this without disturbing the plants)
  • Replace the blotting paper when it becomes discoloured or damaged
  • You may need to replace the cardboard layers from time to time as they become indented from use

Check out my some hints and tips on using your flower and herb press in the following article:

Using a flower press
Ensuring plants are dry before putting them in a flower press | Ink Sugar Spice
Making a flower press | Ink Sugar Spice blog
Ink Sugar Spice blog https://inksugarspice.wordpress.com/

Easy dove grey crochet throw

Dove grey crochet throw in half shell stitch | Ink Sugar Spice

I’ve never posted a crochet article before, despite being fairly OK at it. I can’t be bothered to write down all those ‘SC’ and ‘YO’ instructions. I ‘freeform’ my crocheting, in that I never follow a pattern and I pretty much make it up as I go along, working to a sketch or an existing image I’ve found on Pinterest or elsewhere. If I need to remake it (such as the other glove!) I just copy the first item. I learnt to crochet and knit as a child, as my mum and one of my sisters were dab hands at both.

This project, however, is soo easy peasy that I thought I’d share (not much explanation needed from me). It barely qualifies as a ‘pattern’, but results in a lovely throw and can be adapted to any size you like. For instance, you could crochet two squares and make a cushion cover. I often sit there playing with stitches and patterns, unravelling what I’ve done if I don’t like it. This is exceptionally simple but does give a great, puffy and comfy half shell pattern in larger weight yarns (it’s not so great looking with finer yarns and smaller stitches).

I have made a video on the stitches for this throw – you can find it below. It’s not a particularly brilliant video (and slightly embarrasing!) but I hope it might help 🙂

Living room layout with dove grey crochet throw | Ink Sugar Spice
Ink Sugar Spice blog https://inksugarspice.wordpress.com/

Yarn

Use a heavy double knit yarn in a dove grey for this project. Of course you can change the colour but there’s something extra comforting – and currently bang on trend – about a fluffy dove grey blanket.

For my throw I used six x 100g balls in Robin Chunky, Silver.

At time of writing [Mar 2019] these were £2.05 each from a knitters’ market stall, so the throw cost me £12.30. This is an acrylic (100%) yarn as I wanted to be able to wash the throw without fear of shrinkage.

LoveCrafts – all things for knitting and crochet including plenty of DK yarn for this project. You can obtain 15% off your first order with Love Crafts. Just type in my name at the Checkout stage – Lynn Clark – to get the discount. [For transparency and honesty, I do also get 15% off an order if you use this discount code].

Hook

  • Size 7mm hook

Other tools

  • Large wool needle
  • Scissors/snips

Close up of the crochet throw | Ink Sugar Spice

Crochet stiches used

Normally people refer to the same crochet stitches: that is a double crochet means the same to most people but some crochets sites and patterns do list slight differences. To be clear, this is what I’m working to:

Single crochet

  • Your hook will already have one loop from the last stitch made. Put the hook through a chain.
  • Wind the yarn over the end of the hook: you now have three loops on your hook (the original loop, the chain loop and this new ‘yarned-over’ loop).
  • Drag the loop of yarn (you’ve just made) through the next loop along – you have two loops on your hook now.
  • Wind over another loop and then drag this through both loops on the hook. You’ve made one single crochet and are back to having a single loop on the hook.

Double crochet

  • Your hook will already have one loop from the last stitch made. Wind the yarn over the hook (now two loops on the hook).
  • Put the hook through a chain (you now have three loops on your hook). Wind the yarn over the end of the hook (four loops on the hook).
  • Drag the fourth loop of yarn through the chain loop (only) – you’re back to three loops on the hook.
  • Wind the yarn over the hook again (back to four loops on the hook) and drag this through loops two and three (now two loops remaining).
  • Wind the yarn over yet again (back to three loops) and drag this through all the remaining loops so that you have a single loop on your hook.

Notes

Leave a long tail on each new ball of wool join, so that you can weave the ends of the yarn in to the throw. If you weave in a long tail of yarn it is less likely to unravel and show after using and washing. Because this throw is loosely crocheted it is easy to weave the yarn end through without it showing up.

Stitch size/tension

Don’t fuss too much about getting the tension for this – it’s not a garment so doesn’t need to be exact to meet a size. I would recommend you crochet this loosely (nothing more specific than this instruction is needed), as generosity of stitch results in a softer finished item that ‘gives’ and moves, which is comfier in a blanket.

Joining balls of wool

Join balls of wool in the middle of a row of stitches, not at the end by tying a reef knot (or you can use the invisible Russian join if you prefer). Leave plenty of ‘ends’ to sew in later. Avoid joining at edges as usually the knot give a harsh, angular edge to the stitch which shows up at the edge of a project but which can be hidden in the middle of a row of stitches.


Length/number of rows and initial chain

I’ll leave you with the decision on how many rows – it depends on the end use of your blanket/throw and how much wool you’re willing to buy!

If you want to match the size of my completed throw, which measures 1m x 2.5m this is:

  • Foundation row of 120 stitches
  • 110 rows, excluding the initial foundation row (remembering that each row, excluding the foundation row, is actually three stitches tall)

Foundation/chain row

Tie a loop and then crochet a chain that is a multiple of three (3). I used a row of 120 for my throw.

First row

*In the third chain from the hook make one single crochet.

In the next chain, make one double crochet

Skip two chains*

Repeat between the * * for the whole way along

At the end stitch of the row, you’ll have two loops over your hook: just loop the yarn over the hook and pull through. Turn.

Second row onwards – including the final row

Repeat as for the first row, but the chain in which you insert your hook (every third chain along) is very easily visible:

*In the third chain from the hook make one single crochet.

In the next chain, make one double crochet

Skip two chains*

Repeat between the * * for the whole way along

Ink Sugar Spice blog https://inksugarspice.wordpress.com/

Finishing

When you have made your throw as large as you require, finish your final row with those last two loops on your hook. Cut off the yarn with at least 12 cm / about 6 inches spare and thread the end through these two loops and pull tight to secure. (Don’t do the final extra stitch on your last row or you will get an unwanted sharper corner).

Ink Sugar Spice blog https://inksugarspice.wordpress.com/

Sewing in

There is no substitute to properly hiding a loose end of yarn other than to weave it into the existing stitches. It’s tedious, but it works. It hides the end by mimicking the original pattern and secures the end, so that it does not (hopefully) come loose with wear or washing.

As an additional way to secure the end halfway through weaving an end in, I sew the needle through one actual loop of yarn (ie through the thread itself) as this anchors it and then do a little more weaving.

As this is the first crochet instructions I’ve written up I would be grateful to know if I’ve made any errors or made it too confusing!

Happy crocheting and enjoy the comfort of your fluffy throw.


Dove grey crochet throw in half shell stitch | Ink Sugar Spice
Ink Sugar Spice blog https://inksugarspice.wordpress.com/

Homemade ricotta – and ways to enrich, flavour or infuse it

ricottaGreenPlateOk, don’t be alarmed: it’s not full-scale, time-consuming cheesemaking.

However, you can easily, quickly and conveniently make your own ricotta and add flavourings yourself.

More often than not I just buy ricotta, but sometimes I make it myself if I’ve run out, I’ve got some full fat milk to use up or I just want my ricotta to be as nice as possible or flavoured a certain way for a particular recipe. (I’m not sure if I’m not just biased, but I think homemade is at least a little nicer than shop bought).

I’ve been using this method of half lemon juice and half vinegar to start the curdling process off for some years. I’ve only ever seen ricotta recipes that use either all rennet (not many normal kitchens have this to hand), all vinegar or all lemon juice only – this came about when I once ran out of lemon juice and had to improvise.  I liked the result and I’ve stuck to it ever since. Perhaps I should do a comparable, side-by-side taste test to see if what you use really makes a difference.

What is also different about my recipe is that I worked it out to be highly convenient for that pint or two-pint carton of full fat milk I might have in the fridge. It’s then much, much easier just to open a bottle or carton and tip it in your saucepan rather than other recipes which have a specific end amount in mind.

I’ve found that using 1 pint (568ml) of milk makes enough for two people for either a pasta filling, such as spinach and ricotta ravioli, or a light salad etc. A two pint recipe therefore is enough to serve four within a main dish or great for pastries or cakes calling for ricotta. Recipes on my blog which include ricotta are:

mangoCheesecakeNamed_2
Mango Cheesecake recipe – uses ricotta

Flavouring and enriching

See underneath the recipe for my ideas on how to flavour the ricotta or to make a richer, creamier version.

Notes

This takes time – but it’s pretty much all left to work on its own devices. There is only about 15 minutes tops of hands-on effort involved.

Equipment
  • Medium saucepan
  • Large bowl for draining
  • Colander or large sieve (choose a sieve/bowl combination that leaves a big gap between the bottom of the bowl and the bottom of the colander, so that the ricotta doesn’t sit in its own liquid and drains properly)
  • Muslin square (this is one place where it really has to be muslin – other cloths will have weaves that are too large or too tight for it to drain correctly)
  • Spatula
  • Tea towel (a very clean one)
Ingredients – based on 568ml / 1 pint of milk
  • Full fat milk – 568ml / 1 pint
  • Lemon juice – 1 1/2 teaspoons
  • Clear distilled vinegar – 1 1/2 teaspoons
  • Salt – 1/2 teaspoon
Ingredients – based on 1.36 l / 2 pints of milk
  • Full fat milk – 1.36 litres / 2 pints
  • Lemon juice – 3 teaspoons
  • Clear distilled vinegar – 3 teaspoons
  • Salt – 1 teaspoon
Method
  1. Pour the milk into the saucepan and add the salt
  2. Have the lemon juice and vinegar measured out
  3. Bring up to just under boiling – you must watch the milk as you need to catch it when bubbles start to come to the surface and the milk begins to let off steam, but has NOT yet started boiling properly (if you want to use a thermometer this will be 82C-84C). This takes around 5 minutes and remember to stir occasionally so the milk doesn’t catch on the pan

    WarmingMilk
    This is the point when you need to take this milk off the heat and add the acid
  4. Take the saucepan off the heat and immediately add the vinegar and lemon juice
  5. Stir the milk and continue to keep stirring while the curds and the whey begin to separate – about a minute or so of constant, gentle stirring

    curdsAndWhey
    What the milk looks like, just after the acid is added and the whey and curds are separating
  6. Place the muslin cloth inside the colander, then the colander over the bowl
  7. Tip the curds and whey over the muslin-strewn colander, so that the curds get caught in the muslin and the whey drains into the bowl

    draining
    The ricotta draining, through the muslin over the colander, into a bowl. Almost fully drained and just waiting to be given a squeeze and then it will be ready
  8. Cover it all with the clean tea towel (this keeps it clean and dirt-free. If you used a lid or hard surface you’d get unwanted condensation)
  9. Leave this to drain for a couple of hours at least (depending how your colander fits in your bowl you may occasionally need to tip out the whey if the bottom of the colander is sitting in the liquid)
  10. Squeeze the last of the whey out of the curds by twisting the muslin cloth together around the curds
  11. Dispose of the whey as you don’t need it (I’m told if you have pigs they love the stuff – I don’t think my cat would be interested…)
  12. Keep the ricotta in an air tight container in the fridge for up to three days or use immediately in a recipe

Flavourings

Once you’ve attempted ricotta, you may want to start adding to it.  There are two ways to do this: either add the ingredients after the ricotta has been prepared (basically just stirring them in) or by infusing the flavours at the early stage. As ricotta is quite bland but can be used in both savoury and sweet dishes it nicely lends itself to being flavoured.

Flavourings – adding to the finished ricotta

After it’s drained, you can add some additional flavourings. These are some of my suggestions or create your own:

  • Peppercorn
  • Chilli
  • Ham and pineapple (in place of ham and pineapple cottage cheese)
  • Nutmeg or ground cinnamon
  • Lemon and basil
  • Any fresh leafy herbs – thyme, hyssop, sorrel, tarragon, marjoram, lemon balm or verbena, fennel fronds 🌱
  • For sweet recipes:
  • Hazelnuts chopped in,
  • Crushed soft fruits like strawberries or raspberries,
  • A swirl of your favourite soft set jam
  • Honey and crushed figs
Flavourings – infusing the milk

Alternatively, you can add some ingredients (including some off the list above) into the milk as it warms as an infusion. In this instance you MUST sieve the milk into a separate bowl to fully remove the flavouring ingredient before you add the lemon juice and vinegar. Some suggestions are:

  • Peppercorn (less intense with no crunchy bits if you infuse!)
  • Garlic
  • Rosemary
  • Cinnamon or cassia bark
  • Any of the leafy herbs mentioned above
  • Star anise, cardamom pods or fennel seeds
Enriching the ricotta

To make an even creamier ricotta I substitute up to 50% of the milk for double or clotted cream.

limoncelloLemonCurdCheesecakeWP
My Limoncello Baked Cheesecake – the recipe uses ricotta and is on my blog

What pasta tools do you need [part 2]

[Updated May 2019 with additional images]

This is the follow-up post to ‘What pasta equipment do you really need? part one‘. That looked at the basics to get you started (and they are very ‘basic’ basics!).

Everything you see I owe to spaghetti – Sofia Loren

This focuses on what I think you may want to start considering or using if you’ve had a few goes at making something plain, like lasagna sheets, wide papperdelle or a simple shape like orecchiette.

There are two sections in this part of the post – the first is what will make your pasta making much easier (moving on from hands, knives, rolling pin etc). Many of these gadgets are inexpensive, though I have included a more expensive pasta machine here as it made such a difference to me I felt it needed to be in this section.

Then, I look at everything else – the stuff you don’t really need but is either fun, a nice addition to a burgeoning hobby or a really aspirational purchase for a serious pasta making addiction.

I’ve added a 🍝 pasta emoji next to all those I’ve used or own. Also I’ve given a rough idea on expense, from £ meaning very cheap (at just a few quid) to ££££ prohibitively (ie getting to professional equipment) expensive.

A very small selection of my pasta equipment, some hand made, some bought new, some bought second hand
A very small selection of my pasta equipment, some hand made, some bought new, some bought second hand
Ink Sugar Spice blog https://inksugarspice.wordpress.com/

Next steps – what really will help if you continue to make pasta

A large bowl (possibly) 🍝 £-££

Hmm – this is a next step dependent on how you intend to mix pasta and how you are to measure your ingredients… Some wouldn’t want to be without a bowl, while others would never miss one.

You can just mound up the flour and eggs on your work surface and do away with even a bowl and many people prefer to do it this way. I’m 50:50 and don’t mind either. However, if I can spread out onto my dining room them I’ll just mix it all on the table, but if the table is full and I have to work in my cramped kitchen I’ll do it in a bowl (I am a messy cow and would coat the kitchen with semola and egg otherwise).

Whether you like working straight on the table or not, it’s possible that you will need a bowl to measure out the weight of the ingredients – so this could be classed as a basic for you, unless you have scales with an integral bowl. It’s such a fundamental all-round kitchen requirement I suspect you’ll have more than one in your cupboards already if you use it for pasta or not.

A pastry brush 🍝 £

For wetting the edges of pasta to seal ravioli etc. It may be a simple item, but I’ve added it here rather than in basics as you can just use your finger tips! I actually use children’s paintbrushes (the flat ones, not the round ones) as I find they moult their bristles less and they’re considerably cheaper. And, on a totally flippant note they’re usually brightly coloured!

IMG_0182
Cheap but invaluable: a pastry brush

A dough scraper/cutter (also sometimes called a bench scraper) 🍝 £

Not an essential, but a very useful piece of kit. You can use a knife but you may end up ruining your blade or making large cuts in your work surface. I use my dough scrapers for lots of things and not just pasta. Yes, I did say ‘scrapers’: I have an antique one, a strong steel one and about three plastic ones (some are curved down one side for bowl emptying). The plastic ones are very cheap indeed. Bring the dough together, scrape it out of the bowl or processor and cut the pasta instead of a knife with your scraper. They’re invaluable for bread doughs too, scraping your tabletops clean after baking a mess and the plastic ones make great car windscreen ice scrapers!

Fine semolina (semola) – or even fine polenta 🍝 £

Ok, so it’s an ingredient and not a piece of equipment, but I’m listing it here for dusting the pasta instead of flour. Pasta dough just sticks less when tossed in semolina (make sure it’s the fine stuff) and if you do have a machine it won’t stick to the metal if you dust effectively with it. It is now not difficult to find either in supermarkets, health food stores and asian supermarkets. I mean, blimey, our local ASDA now stocks it. Look for the fine stuff, not coarse. You can, at a pinch, also use fine polenta for dusting, but don’t make your pasta with it.

A pasta rolling/cutting pin 🍝 ££

You can get these fairly cheaply and range from linguini to quite wide cutting strips. Choose a mid-sized one if you’re only going to buy one. Once you’ve rolled out your pasta to the correct thickness you just roll it over and it produces uniform strips. There is a knack to it, but you’ll get it and often you’ll need to peel the strips off the roller or give them a helping hand to separate them fully (which can get a bit annoying).

You can also get ones for ravioli making. I’ve never used one of these so I can’t vouch for how effective they are.

This is a cheap step up before you commit to a machine. But they do become defunct for you once you have a machine or an alternative way of cutting (actually you may prefer to go back to simple folding and cutting…). Once this happens, you could pass it on to someone you know who is just starting to try pasta making themselves 🙂

Skewers and small dowel rods🍝 £

Yes, really! A fist full of skewers is useful for a lot of things, not just spiedini, kebabs or making mini teepee huts for your kids’ action figures. Wood or metal, it doesn’t matter.

In pasta making, using a skewer will help you make busiate/fusilli and dowel rods (which you can buy in a DIY store – you don’t have to pay the extra for “pasta” dowels, or you can use a cleaned pencil!) will help with items like sagne torte, in fact you can’t make any of these without a skewer, dowel or alternative.

A drying/airing rack 🍝 ££

So much easier than all the balancing tricks I mentioned in part one. Although the makeshift stuff works, when I actually splurged on an airing rack I did think to myself why didn’t I do this sooner. Not least because it keeps all the pasta hanging in one area rather than spread all over my kitchen/dining room.

You can buy a wood frame one fairly easily (or make one yourself I suspect). I saved for a posh, design-led thing that I’d been coveting. OK, it’s a bit OTT but it’s a thing of beauty and so well designed – a true product of “form follows function” (if you’ve trained as a designer, architect or engineer you’ll be well versed with this Louis Sullivan quote).

It makes me happy when I use it – the opening twist action is a joy (yes, I am that nerdy). Also, if you shop around you can get something for a low price now – mine was very reasonable indeed, as I got it from an online retailer in a sale rather than the manufacturer’s site.

Screenshot-2018-5-8 Lynn Clark ( inksugarspice) • Instagram photos and videos.png

A pasta machine 🍝 £££ (for a ‘decent’ one though some are cheaper)

Oh boy, this was a revelation and now I have one I love using my machine (although I do still stretch and roll out pasta by hand some of the time).

It is much easier and less exhausting to make pasta with a machine (I’m talking about the manual ones here that clamp to your table and you turn a handle, not electric models).

However, what I did find out before I bought one was that any lightweight or cheap ones out there are probably not worth the money if you make fresh pasta often. There are plenty of reviews to suggest this. I’m glad I took that advice and didn’t succumb to buying cheap just to get one sooner. Get a robust, decent make and I’m sure it will last a lifetime of kitchen abuse – mine still looks a ‘minter’ still. The research I did before I bought one churned up two marques as the most reliable and seemingly well loved: Marcato and Imperia. Neither brands’ main models are cheap (though both have cheap entry level models) but they do appear to represent value for money and quality.

I have seen other makes but there are few reviews, poor reviews or nothing online about those. I eventually bought a Marcato Atlas 150 Wellness which came with cutters for tagliolini and fettucini (you can make these out – just – in the photo below). It’s just personal preference, and I suspect I’d have been equally happy with an Imperia (though I have used one and I think the roller setting action is preferable on a Marcato). Each machine comes in different widths for larger sheets of dough if you prefer (or are making an industrial-sized amount) so make sure you buy the size you need – 150mm wide appeared to be a useful home size.

Lynn Clark Ink Sugar Spice - using a Marcato pasta machine
Me with my Marcato Atlas 150 Wellness

You can buy these machines with an electric motor (which is detachable and they do come with a spare manual crank handle anyway) or actually later purchase the motor unit separately and retro fit it.

Cookie cutters 🍝 £

cutRavioli

A couple of round cookie cutters (one slightly smaller than the other) will allow you to make very good ravioli. Cut out the pasta with the larger one, wet one side to help it stick and then tamp down round the filled ravioli with the top (rimmed edge, not the sharp edge) of the smaller one to seal it. Fluted or plain is up to you.

Flour shaker 🍝 £

I find a flour shaker filled with fine semola invaluable – seems ridiculous that it’s easier than just flinging some flour with your hands, but it delivers just the right amount to dust pasta with.

Long handled scoop colander or wire sieve 🍝 £

If you make ravioli or other filled pasta you can’t just tip them out into a sieve or colander (called a scolapasta in Italian) over the sink – unless you’re exceptionally careful. Better to have a gentler alternative or your hard work may rip and ruin.

I think these are so helpful to scoop out the ravioli gently, drain off the water over the pan and then transfer. You need a long handled scoop/sieve so you don’t hurt yourself over the heat and you can ‘dig down’ into the water to gently raise the pasta out. The alternative to this is to have a proper pasta colander that fits inside your saucepan before you start to cook the pasta – I’ve listed on of these in ‘added extras’ below.

However, a scoop colander is pretty cheap. I recently got myself a triangular-shape heat resistant plastic scoop which is just perfect for the job. Prior to that I used a traditional Chinese wire skimmer. These are easily and inexpensively found in Asian supermarkets and do the job – although the wire can make an indent or even cause a tear if the weight of the pasta is quite high or you’re rushing! (That’ll be me then.) The solution to this is only scoop out a small number at a time and be more careful/gentle than I am.

Pasta server 🍝 £

A slotted spoon with ‘fingers’ radiating from the centre – or little dowels in the case of wooden ones. This goes hand in hand with buying a long handled scoop/sieve, as what one won’t pick up out of your saucepan the other will. I’d suggest having one of each. Best for ribbon pasta, like spaghetti or linguini. The fingers/dowels grip the pasta ribbons to stop them slipping off the spoon.

The added extras – what you can buy but don’t *really* need (but might be fun)

Ravioli cutters 🍝 ££

These come in the typical round and square shapes but also I’ve seen stars and hearts. You don’t need these – you can use the cookie cutters mentioned above. However these cut, give a fluted edge and seal all in one press.

IMG_0170
Making ravioli with a ravioli cutter

Garganelli/gnocchi board, garganelli comb (pettine), rosilli board 🍝or a household alternative 🍝 0-£-££

A garganelli board is a grooved paddle which sometimes comes with a little mini rolling pin or stick. Anything you make on this gets a nice set of grooves down it. It’s an identical ridge pattern to butter pats, if you’ve ever made your own butter, and you can actually use these if you already have some.

A no-cost alternative to get your groove on for gnocchi or semolina-and-water pasta is to use the tynes of a fork or a roll over a wooden honey dripper (one that’s cylindrical in profile rather than oval). – or experiment with other textures from your kitchen (that can be washed) such as the back of a grater or a sushi mat.

A garganelli board is used for a few things:

  • it joins squares (or other cut flat shapes) of pasta together into tubes by rolling the pasta down the board with the stick, sealing the ends together
  • you can press bits of pasta down it with your thumb or knife edge to create shapes like gnochetti
  • make gnocchi with the board – it works for this as well as for pasta
Garganelli board, plus a traditional wicker basket used to make cavatelli etc - Ink Sugar Spice
Garganelli board (and a traditional wicker basket) used to make ridges on pasta

A garganelli comb or pettine (Italian for comb) is used the same way but is a much different construction. Rather than cut or chiselled grooves, the grooves are made by thin slats of wood bound together.

It’s supposed to have been born out of some quick thinking by a cook in a prestigious Cardinal’s household in 1725, after extra guests arrived to dinner (in some versions of the story the kitchen cat ate the intended filling!). She had lots of pasta squares cut for cappelletti and needed them to go further, feeding more people than that amount would normally. She borrowed a comb from the estate’s weaving room and a twig, and garganelli were born. I love this story – I hope it’s true, though I’m a bit sceptical that it really made the pasta feed more people! There are many resources explaining this story, here’s one on the L’Italo-Americano blog.

A rosilli board is another alternative – where skewers or dowels are nailed, glued or slotted into to a piece of wood, tightly pack together. The creates concave ridges – personally I like this form of fluted board the least of all, but it is easy to reporduce as it’s so simple.

I have made my own pettini (this is just one of them) to traditional methods (ie full slats):

garganelli.png

Cavarola board 🍝 or malloreddus basket 🍝 which are £££ to purchase and difficult to source outside of Italy

Another similar item is a cavarola board, which is traditionally essential for cavatelli pasta shapes. This is a hand-carved board with patterns (typically a herringbone pattern) on, that emboss the pasta shapes as you press them along it – in the same manner as you’d use the garganelli board. These hail from the southern regions of Italy and are very expensive and hard to get hold of. The traditional ones are passed down through families and usually around the size of a cutting board, often with a handle and additional decoration.

Again, I had to have a go and have made some for myself, this one below was my first attempt (where I stuck with the traditional pattern) but I have made several more since of different sizes, in different woods and with some more modern patterns on to vary my pasta (another of my boards is shown the the second image further below):

cavarola.JPG
The first cavarola board I carved myself. Plus the cavatelli with the embossed pattern it produces

A woven basket is used to produce pasta shapes called Malloreddus on Sardegna. In other parts of Italy these shapes (which are very similar to cavatelli) are sometimes called ‘gnochetti sardi’ as are shaped like little potato gnocchi (so: gnochetti) and come from Sardegna (so: ‘Sardi’). The traditional shallow baskets are woven from reeds or wicker, and this basket making is dying out as a skill. It’s also now common for these to be made on a specially grooved piece of glass called a ciuliri or you can improvise with a wicker place mat. Alternatively use a garganelli board or pettine. Malloreddus in the local dialect means ‘fat little bulls’ or ‘fat calves’.

Fluted wheel 🍝 £

Great for making wavy-edged pasta, remember to use a rule or something straight as a guide to get a good straight line. Or alternatively, let loose with wild abandon go wavy edged freeform!

Additional add-ons for pasta machines ££-£££

Your Marcato or Imperia can use interchangeable pasta cutting heads (I do not know if other makes have these). Your machine will probably come with cutters that produce two widths of straight pasta (my Marcato is fettucini at 6.5mm and tagliolini at 1.5mm) but you can buy a number of different attachments to swap out these for such as spaghetti, bigoli, ravioli cutters and mafaldine (the wavy-edge sheets).

Ravioli moulds 🍝 ££

Little trays with multi indentations that help you produced uniform ravioli quickly. You lay a pasta sheet on, press in fill with meat or veg filling and then lay another sheet of pasta on top, then roll over with a rolling pin. This simultaneously seals and separates the ravioli. These come in various sizes to make big or little ravioli and in circles or squares.

There are other types (though the ones mentioned above seem more prevalent and more traditional) which are more ‘snap shut’ contraptions. You lay over the pasta sheet, fill, lay over a top pasta sheet and close. This closing action seals and cuts.

*Food processor 🍝 £££-££££ (I’ve asterixed this as I think it’s debatable that it should be on the list of pasta equipment)

It would be a bit OTT to suggest buying a food processor just for pasta dough, but if you own one for all your cooking then you can bring your dough together with it, but it is unlikely* that you will be able to “knead” with it (see the note below).

I have a food processor and the only time I use it to bring together the raw ingredients in it is if I’m making a coloured dough with something that will stain my hands – or I have used to processor to whizz up veggies for colouring (such as beetroot), after which I just add in the eggs and flour on top for a quick whizz-up.

(A caveat to this, I now have carpal tunnel syndrome. I have had one hand operation so far and did start using my machine while this hand was healing post-op until it recovered enough. So if your machine can cope (see note below), it can be used to make fresh pasta if you have this or any other issues with your hand such as rheumatoid arthritis or ankylosing spondylitis for example).

Unless you have a machine that specifies in the manual that it will knead pasta dough, you MUST take out the dough as soon as it is brought together. Few machines are capable of this, so please refer to the documentation or contact the manufacturer to check. (I have a Kenwood and this can handle the dough, but I did email the support line to check before trying and even then although they were adamant it would work they still suggested I start with a small amount to test).

If your machine can’t be used to knead, you can at least bring the dough ‘together’: that is, add in your water, eggs (if using) and flour and anything else and whizz them up until they just come together in a ball. Stop there and take out the dough.

If your machine does not specify it can knead dough, you could break your expensive equipment if you try to do it, so please check!

The process of kneading brings the ingredients together so it almost ‘self cleans’ the worktop, picking up every scrap of egg, water and flour as you work. If you are worried about making a mess (or colouring your hands, say when using beetroot or turmeric), mix your ingredients in a normal bowl first by hand – much easier to clean one simple bowl than a raft of food processor accessories.

An additional note: it’s also more difficult to tell the perfect dough consistency when adding egg, liquid or other ingredients to your flours in a machine than when mixing by hand. As you become accustomed to working with pasta dough you start to assess the consistency as you work it with your fingertips and the resistance of the dough in your hands: you’ll get used to judging the correct consistency by feel. Something you’ll miss if mixing in a machine.

A pasta attachment for your stand mixer £££

Most good makes of stand mixers sell pasta attachments to do the job of the hand cranked pasta machine. These attachments fix to the front of your mixer and basically turns the rollers continuously. Unlike a normal, manual pasta machine, you don’t need to turn the handle so you have both your hands free. I can’t advise you what’s it’s like to use one of these, as I continue to use my manual Marcato machine (I’ve got so used to it I’m pretty quick now).

Some makes of stand mixer actually include pasta extruders. They appear to be expensive. Some look flimsy as they’re made of plastic but there are ones with proper copper dies too, but again this would be even more expense. However, I could see that they would certainly be fun to use – I suspect if I could afford it I’d buy one for the fun, even though I don’t think I actually need one.

Pasta saucepan with internal colander (🍝 sort of) £££

Now, I covet one of these sets. [I have recently bought a pasta colander/boiler but it’s a standard one that goes in any saucepan you already own. While it works, it doesn’t fit perfectly and the base is quite a bit higher than the base of the saucepan, so it needs extra water to cook the pasta. As such, I only use it when I am cooking filled pasta as it needs that more careful handling. I still aim to buy a proper set or fin a saucepan that this insert actually inserts into properly.]

Not that I *need* one of these sets at all you understand, it’s just that they are just so made for each other. The set comprises a normal large, but deep, saucepan with a snug fitting internal colander – what you do is fit them together and cook your pasta inside the colander, lifting the colander out with the cooked pasta and leaving the water in the pot.

Of course, it’s ultimately the same job as tipping the pasta out over a colander in the sink, but way more elegant and also useful for refreshing pasta when not everyone eats at the same time. Plus, the idea I believe is that it is more gentle on the pasta shapes than tipping the lot out – so less breakage of the pasta which is useful for filled pasta especially.

The saucepan can clearly be used as a normal saucepan as well. I wish you could just buy one of these colanders to fit a standard saucepan (already in your cupboard). You can get little wire frying/boiling baskets for saucepans (not specifically for pasta), but they’re just not the same sung fit, purpose built thing at all.

Adjustable or multi blade pasta cutter 🍝 ££

This is a little gadget like several mini pizza cutters all in a row. It cuts multiple parallel lines in pasta sheets and usually you can alter the width of the cut. They come with straight or wavy blades and some even have interchangeable heads. I don’t own one but there are some that area fixed width, some you adjust but lock off the width of the gap between blades and some which don’t lock – I can imagine these are tricky to use and not accidentally move the blades.

Rather than use the one I have, I stick to rolling/folding my pasta sheet and cutting ribbons by hand (for widths wider than the fettucini cutter on my Marcato). I find it less easy and a bit of a faff. They can also be used for fondant icing or pastry to create perfect ribbons for lattice pie tops, for example.

Ravioli roller🍝 ££

This little contraption is rolled along a sheet of pasta and the curved blades press out circles or squares as you roll along. It’s supposed to be very fast to use, cutting down time from pressing out circles/squares with a normal circular cutter but frankly I find it’s not that fast as you often have to stop and peel out a piece of pasta before you can carry on. This slows things down somewhat. Although they come out neatly I’m not convinced that it’s better to cut out my ravioli after I’ve filled it and popped the top sheet of pasta on…

I find that with pre-cutting I end up with uneven edges and squashed shapes. That all said, it’s pretty fun rolling them down a sheet of pasta. A word of warning though, they are fairly sharp and will mark whatever you’re cutting the pasta on, so place a cover or board down or risk having lots of squares and circles indented into your worktop.

Cavatelli maker ££

This is a hand cranked (or less commonly an electric) machine that clamps to your table. It looks a bit like an old fashioned mincer, but in the top you press the pasta dough and out comes cavatelli shapes. It has two rollers into which you feed a long rope of pasta dough, these are ridged to create the characteristic cavatelli (or malloreddus/gnochetti sardi) pattern. As the rope of dough goes through the rollers, a wheel with paddles on cuts the right amount off for each shape and curls it over at the same time. I’ve seen people use these and it’s like lightning – you can make the shapes consistently perfect in very little time. I’m not sure I would need one – it sort of may spoil the enjoyment of making them by hand for me, plus I don’t serve up enough of this single shape to warrant one, preferring to alternate the artisan shapes I make. I can imagine it would be very useful for a pop-up cafe or restaurant who can’t stretch to the expensive of an extruder but which needs that level of automation and time-saving.

Corzetti / Croxetti / Curzetti stamp ££- £££ 🍝

These are beautiful, artisanal tools made by hand and a speciality of Liguria (and a few other northern areas) in particular in order to stamp out traditional patterns onto coin-shaped corzetti pasta. They come in two parts – a top stamp (usually with a handle) and a bottom stamp, which on the reverse has an edge to cut out discs of sheet pasta. These discs are then stamped between the two imprinted faces, so the pasta has images on both sides for decoration and to trap sauces. Apparently their origin was to display coats of arms and represent ducal coins.

I’ve coveted one of these for a while – they are expensive and hard to get hold of outside of the traditional regions they’re used in. Typically for me, that’s not stopped me: I’ve hand carved a few of my own now using proper hand carving tools and techniques (following some research) in a traditional beech. Beech is used as it’s quite a taste- and odour-free wood, though I think walnut is also used. The only difference with mine is they’ve obviously been carved in Derbyshire, UK, not Liguria, Italy, plus I’ve drawn up the designs myself. Some I’ve made with a nod to traditional Ligurian designs and others I’ve gone totally modern (for instance I’ve carved my own blog name into one!).

I have noticed that there are a few more now available that are clearly made by programming a design into an automated machine, and you could cheat by imprinting on a cavarola board or something similar and cut out the circles afterwards. This is not entirely in the spirit of traditional, but hey, if it’s cheaper, more readily available and you don’t care about tradition I say go find one of these machine made ones or improvise with other stamps. Better to make fresh corzetti yourself by using something modern than not be able to find an authentic one and give up bothering to make your own pasta.

Airing rack (£ if you make it yourself) 🍝 ££

A tray-like airer, usually with a wooden frame and a soft mesh so that the pasta shapes are not damaged as they dry. These sometimes come stackable, so you can have a much larger drying surface area in a smaller footprint. Pasta shapes will dry just tossed in fine polenta on a tray, but these allow for air to circulate all around the shapes so they’d dry more quickly and more evenly and you’d probably use less polenta overall. I’ve not used one, so I’ve no idea if pasta would stick to the mesh or come off cleanly.

You can make one of these fairly easily yourself. I’ve made some myself: smaller ones and a large one. The smaller ones I’ve drilled holes in and inserted dowels for legs (I first did one as a test project). It worked and have now made three more to stack together on my table. The larger one I based on the ones that Italian pasta makers actually use – it’s pretty large and has no legs. I think is useful when I make a lot of pasta and I stack it on blocks or between two chairs, and sometimes in summer I sit and make pasta in my garden and I rest it on my bench while I work.

My hand made drying rack and handmade trofie pasta shapes - Ink Sugar Spice
My hand made drying rack, and some trofie

Chitarra pasta cutter £££

A guitar-like (hence the name) cutter frame. If you have a pasta machine with a fettuccine or tagliolini head you wouldn’t need one. The idea is to lay a sheet of pasta over the strings and roll a rolling pin over the pasta, forcing it through the wires. The strips of pasta get collected in the base of the frame. It does look very medieval, and therefore quite cool!

I’ve found a website which details having a go at making your own chitarra: https://www.math.columbia.edu/~bayer/Chitarra/ This has inspired me and I’ve drawn up my own design to make a fairly simple one, and have recently bought all the materials. I now have to find some spare hours to have a go… easier said than done at the moment. I suspect it’ll be a disaster but I’ll report back. [April 2019: I’ve made the frame successfully and will string it as soon as I have time and post the pictures here].

Pasta extruder ££££+

This is getting serious and is feeding a serious pasta making addiction – or a small business. You can get extruders aimed at the home pasta maker that are either hand cranked (almost looking like old-skool meat grinders), hand-press ones that look gun-shaped and ones that add on as an attachment to your stand mixer or dedicated large electric machines.

The full-on electric machines for home use are pretty plasticky-looking. I’m sure they’re robust enough: they must’ve been tested, right?! However, one of the key enjoyments for me of pasta making is that everything is just so, well, darned cool to look at and to use. I know, I know: I’m a shallow, design-led, arsey aesthete but I don’t want a white plastic giant machine on my countertop. Plus, I have so little space something more crucial would have to give way – like the kettle.

There are nice shiny metal electric extruders out there, but you’re talking over a thousand pounds-worth of industrial kitchen machine. Most are technically small enough to fit into a home kitchen, but you’d have to have some serious money and pasta addiction to warrant one of these – I can’t see a home cook going this far. Something like a pop-up kitchen or small cafe I assume would be the bare minimum of establishments to make sense of purchasing one.

Pasta extruders make those shapes you can’t make by hand, including tube and spiralled shapes. However, not only could I not justify how often I cook with such shapes to obtain a machine (or even stand mixer attachment), I’m not sure I want the shapes that these make. I think dried is better for the type of sauces that are best with these complex shapes, so why would I make trompetti fresh (for example) when a dried pack is convenient and probably better for the ragu?

I can image these machines are an incredible amount of fun to use though. Have you ever watched a you tube video of an industrial pasta extruder? Mesmerising…

Finally…

Thanks for getting to the end of this mammoth article and its partner piece (part one). It did start out pretty small then I just kept thinking of equipment that could be used. Please do feel free to leave any comments on which equipment you think is essential or which is simply your favourite to use on either post.

[Last update: April 2019]

Ink Sugar Spice blog https://inksugarspice.wordpress.com/

What pasta tools do you need [part 1]

Trofie pasta shapes | Ink Sugar Spice
[Updated May 2019 with new images]

I’ve been making pasta by hand for a long time. For the first few years this was only infrequently in order to learn, ‘have a play’ or to impress. However, it eventually became such a routine thing for me that I didn’t even realise how unusual it was to make so much fresh pasta, especially the artisan shapes, outside of Italy. It took other people’s comments on my skill at pasta making and saying that I should do more with it to realise where I had got to.

I have an issue with how making pasta by hand can be promoted as complex, requires many expensive gadgets or even is simply billed as an elitist or chef-only thing to do. Some fresh pasta making can be tricky, sure, but most is very simple indeed and that’s what I hope to impress on you with these articles. I have stayed away from recipes here, these are about the tools and equipment to get you started and then get you obsessed! (If you want a recipe to try why not look at my roasted orange butternut squash ravioli).

Pasta was made by people centuries ago who had little kitchen paraphernalia (even in the kitchens of wealthy households kitchen equipment was incredibly basic by our standards). If they could do it with almost nothing then we can too in our modern houses. You need only the bare minimum of things to start, plus the ingredients and something to cook and drain it. It’s likely you’ll have this most basic equipment already.

So, what is really needed for fresh pasta making, what you might buy next as you progress and, finally, what isn’t necessary but might be fun if you can afford it? I ended up writing so much that I have split my ramblings into two posts. This is ‘the basics’. My second post focuses on going further and what gadgets might be used.

A note on dried pasta and when to use dried or make fresh

I want to add that this love of making fresh pasta by hand doesn’t mean I am a snob about using dried. Absolutely not! Dried is so versatile and often more appropriate or the best texture for the majority of pasta dishes. There’s more chance that you’ll make a pasta meal using dried, saving the fresh pasta making for specific dishes that need it or for special occasions. Dried pasta is such a utilitarian kitchen cupboard staple that you’d be rather missing out if you didn’t have a packet or two of dried pasta lying about – and it has an incredibly long shelf life, so it’s very useful indeed.

I make fresh pasta when I am making pasta ripiena (filled pasta) like ravioli, faggotini, tortellini, agnolotti and the like. I also make it fresh when I am handmaking artisan shapes, such as trofie or orecchietti. You can buy fresh pasta sheets in from the refrigerated section of most supermarkets, but I’ve tried these pre-made ‘fresh’ packets and I think they’re inferior to both fresh and high quality pre-dried: a strange, inferior middle ground. (I believe some delis make and sell fresh pasta, but I’ve never come across one in order to try, so I can’t comment on these). Some specialist delis and larger supermarkets do sell the artisan shapes pre-dried (dried orecchietti seems to be more easily available in past years), but I make my own because I enjoy it, again I’ve never tried the dried versions to comment.

multi striped sombreroni - Ink Sugar Spice

I also make fresh pasta when I want to do something different, like colouring or flavouring pasta or I just have a special meal to make. I use dried most frequently in mid-week family meals, baked pasta and when making pasta salads or soups.

I would say buy the best you can: if a pack says that it is bronze die cut this is said to be best because it creates a very slightly jagged finish to the pasta which helps trap sauce. Also cheap made pasta (probably not made in Italy as they have stringent rules for pasta quality and wheat used) is more likely to have a mushy texture (though overcooking any pasta will do this anyway).

In characteristic kitchen overkill for me, I’d actually suggest a minimum of five types of dried pasta in your ideal kitchen cupboard arsenal:

  • a thing strand type of pasta, such as spaghetti, linguine or similar for oil-rich meaty or tomato sauces or for seafood
  • sheets or large tubes like lasagne and cannelloni for robust bakes (unless you’re determined to always make your own – even I’ve got an ’emergency’ box of lasagne)
  •  pack of tiny shapes such as stellini, ditalini or even alfabetini for soups, broths and fleshing out casseroles
  • a ridged, twisted shape or smaller cup shape which is both easy to stab with a fork and which traps smaller dice veg and meat, such as farfalle, conchiglioni or fusilli – great for rich and chunky or creamy sauces, but can also be good in bakes or salads
  • a medium tubular or cupped shape for cheesy or smooth sauces, and for baking: maccheroni, cellentani or penne (all tubes) or conchiglie or lumache (cupped/shells)

Basics – and making pasta cheaply

Some recipes just cry out for freshly made pasta and, well, I just enjoy making it anyway. I hope you will too.

It has only been in the past 18 months or so that I have started to buy and use gadgets. For the best part of 30 years I made pasta by hand with a rolling pin and a sharp knife – mostly due to the fact that a) it worked and b) I couldn’t afford/justify the expense on fancy extras. Hands, rolling pin and knife is all you really need and, of course, a saucepan and colander/sieve to cook and drain it afterwards.

linguini_sketch
My sketch of a nest of linguini

Although many gadgets do make life easier and faster you can get away using so little, and there’s no necessity to spend money. Of course, I’m not trying to stop you going out and splashing the cash if you have it – I’m just here to reinforce the notion that homemade pasta can be as cheap as just buying the ingredients.

I have bought myself some gadgets now. Equipment has become cheaper and more widely available and of course my salary has improved over the years (albeit in small amounts!). I decided that it was time I treated myself to a few things. Some things have made such a difference I wish I’d felt able to afford them a lot longer ago, like the pasta machine and a tall airer. I’ve actually taken the same approach with bread making too. I’ve made my own bread for about the same length of time with the bare minimum of equipment, but in the last few years I’ve bought a few nice things to help. I guess pasta and bread can be classified as my hobbies, and people like buying nice “stuff” for their hobbies, don’t they?

The premise for these two grouped articles is that you can make pasta by only spending on ingredients and a few basics (most of which you will probably already have) to start with. So the first post (this one) covers the basics, and part two takes a look at pretty much everything leading up to all the bells and whistles should you want to buy ‘toys’ to expand your pasta making.

I’ve added a 🍝 pasta emoji next to all those I’ve used or own. Also I’ve given a rough idea on expense, from £ meaning very cheap (at just a few quid) to ££££ prohibitively (ie getting to professional equipment) expensive.

Ink Sugar Spice blog https://inksugarspice.wordpress.com/

The basics – what do I need as a minimum?

Your hands 🍝 £ free!

Your greatest tools in the kitchen. Don’t underestimate your own capabilities. You are a pasta making genius (already, or in the making!).

In an extreme example of how useful your hands are in this process, you could make something like orecchietti, pici or plain trofie (there is a twisted version of trofie too) without using anything else bar the ingredients and your hands until you came to cook it. You can knead the dough on the table and rip off the right-sized pieces of dough before shaping all by hand.

A sharp knife 🍝 £-£££

A long cooks knife is best as the larger blade will help you cut straighter pasta, like linguini.

Rolling pin 🍝 £

Any rolling pin will do. Totally essential!

If you want to make big sheets, then you need a bigger pin.  I’ve actually got an old broom handle I cleaned, sanded and now use for the biggest sheets, a large dowel rod I bought from a DIY shop and a cheap long-but-thin pin bought from a Turkish mini-market – all ranging from free to just plain cheap.

Something to hang the pasta on, or space for shapes 🍝 £ (even free if you’re creative with what you own) – and a note about storing/’drying’

It helps to drape long pasta like tagliatelli or linguini over something so it hangs like washing on a line, while you continue to work. This keeps your carefully made ribbons from sticking together and airs the pasta. (See further down for notes on small shapes)

Bloody dock flavoured tagliolini airing - Ink Sugar Spice
Bloody dock tagliolini

Please note that this is all ‘airing’ and not ‘drying’. Unless you live in a country with a comparable climate to Napoli (copious sun, hot winds) or you’ve bought a proper drying machine you’re best off forgetting about drying pasta yourself.

Here in the UK it’s pretty rubbish pasta drying weather, with the exception of high summer. If you tried to store inadequately dried pasta it would go rancid very quickly. I think it’s best to go buy a packet of pre-dried pasta in this case.

Yes, you can air the pasta and leave it for cooking the next day (or from morning till evening), but I don’t think it’d be advisable to go much further than that (I may be wrong – if you have experience of this please comment!). I normally cook and serve my pasta within a few hours, but sometimes if I have a big meal to prepare for a lot of people I will make it the day before to afford me time.

The glory that is freshly made and cooked pasta is it’s freshness – it’s undoubtedly best when eaten just a few hours after being made. That said, a little delay won’t be that noticeable!

If you really want to make far in advance, it’s better to freeze. On the few times I’ve needed to prepare a lot for a party in advance I sometimes freeze the dough rather than the shapes – but a caveat here: I chop it into cubes rather than freeze one lump. Let it thaw, work it little back together and it’ll be fine (though I confess not quite as good as fresh, but good enough).

Otherwise, shapes and pasta ripiena like ravioli and tortellini (depending on the filling) can also be frozen. Arrange them so they’re not touching on a tray (so they don’t stick) and then sweep them into a food bag when fully frozen and keep them in the freezer until needed (obviously letting them thaw first). I’m not 100% of the maximum length of time to store pasta in the freezer, but I’ve frozen it for around a week in advance myself.

Anyway, ignoring the argument for NOT drying/storing fresh pasta, it is essential to ‘air’ fresh pasta while you are working it, to prevent a congealed mass and negating all your hard work.

My freebie make-do solutions for airing ribbon pasta while I work in the past have included:

  • a wide-gapped wire cooling rack suspended by string from the ceiling or balanced between two towers of books
  • the backs of chairs (washed thoroughly first) – see the above pic from my Instagram feed: I still sometimes use this rather than getting the airer out
  • a couple of cheap dowel rods bought from a DIY store that I balanced between chair backs and later nailed into a block of wood
  • a length of new washing line tied between cupboard door handles (warn anyone coming in!!)

Smaller pasta shapes, like farfalle, can be tossed in semola (semolina) flour or fine polenta and just left on your table, on a clean tea towel, a baking tray or shallow wicker basket. Actually, strip pasta can also be handled in this way, curled into nests (in nidi – see the image below) or skeins (in matasse) to air. Just be careful to keep the strips fairly separate and not squeezed together accidentally betwixt thumb and fingers.

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blackcurrent and port tagliolini – airing ‘in nidi’ in nests while I continue to work the rest of the dough

A space for working 🍝 £ free (presumably you’ve already got some space…)

This is crucial. You need space to roll out the dough and cut it. You need the space for drying shapes. You need the space to not get in a faff when you’re colvered in flour and juggling dough.

It doesn’t have to be huge, but it needs to be flat, very clean and clear of clutter. Make your life easier and clear yourself a working space before you start.

Tagliatelle making | Ink Sugar Spice
Best if you have a bit of ‘elbow room’ when making pasta – I use my heavy duty dining table (rather than my cramped small kitchen) for pasta making

Saucepan and colander or sieve 🍝 £ – ££

OK, so it’s not anything to do with making pasta but if you’ve made it you’re going to cook it so I’m classing it as a basic need. I suspect that anyone considering making pasta or getting more in to it will be already well equipped with good saucepans, sieves and colanders, but here’s my take on these essentials:

A large saucepan is the right choice for pasta, but really you can cook pasta in anything heat proof. So, even a cheap small saucepan will do – well, for one or two portions any way and there’s no need to bother with non-stick. The reason I’ve nominated a large saucepan is that undoubtedly at some point in pasta making you’ll cook for a number of people. It’s all about the sharing. More people = more pasta = bigger pot.

You’ll often see people list a ‘heavy bottomed saucepan’ in equipment for recipes: while these generally are a better buy all round as they distribute heat evenly and are more robust they are not needed for pasta. Pasta floats and dances around in the simmering water so heat spots are not an issue. If you’re only buying one large saucepan to cover all your cooking needs (like me: I haven’t the space to store more) then do go for a well made one with a thick bottom core to it, as other foods and cooking methods will benefit.

Buy one with a lid if you can too, as it will a) stop your kitchen steaming up too much (even with an extractor fan) and b) save your gas or electric as it keeps in heat better and you can turn your temperature down.

A colander or sieve is essential as a match for the saucepan. You can’t keep draining pasta from your saucepan with the lid. Yes, it’s possible to do this, but eventually you’ll scald yourself with the water or at some point slip and drop all the pasta in the sink. It’s maddening when that happens! You can get sieves and colanders from cheap shops and markets for very, very little indeed.

Scales 🍝 £-£££

Although no doubt there are some Nonnas that can probably work out the ratio of semola or flour to water by feel, it’s best to have a set of scales. Mechanical or digital doesn’t matter, but you’ll need these.

You may need a bowl to go with your scales but I’ve not listed bowls in basics as you possibly might weigh with the integrated bowl or anything else to hand. Therefore I can’t justify this as an essential piece of kit for pasta making, despite it being a fundamental piece of kitchen equipment for just about everything else.

[Last update: July 2018]

Part two…

My next post will go on to look at what gadgets you can begin to invest in once you’ve tried to make pasta and decide that you want to continue. Or, if you’re wading straight in and intending to spend money on pasta equipment from the get-go.

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Ink Sugar Spice blog https://inksugarspice.wordpress.com/

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Ricotta scones

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The addition of ricotta in these scones makes them that little bit richer in texture without being as heavy as traditional double cream scones can be. It also gives a nice subtle creamy ‘tang’.

Added note: this is the first of some re-baked and re-photographed early recipes. I’ve refreshed and updated the photos for this recipe [August 2018], but the recipe is so good I’ve not tinkered with it at all: it’s one of my consistently most popular recipes. I’m currently on a (slow) mission to update the appalling photography of my early posts, well at least where the images don’t do the recipes enough justice.

Plus, if you want to go completely self-sufficient making these scones, follow the link below to my recipe for making your own ricotta to use in it!

Notes

You can leave them plain or add in about 100g of additional ingredients

You can even make your own ricotta! I have a blog post on doing just that – it’s surprisingly easy and very rewarding.

Equipment

  • Large bowl
  • Plain circular cutter (your choice of size, but I use 5cm as I prefer a smaller scone)
  • Rolling pin
  • Pastry brush
  • Baking tray, lined with parchment or baking paper or just dusted with flour

Ingredients

  • Plain flour – 300g
  • Butter, unsalted and cubed – 50g
  • Salt, fine – a pinch
  • Baking powder – 2 teaspoons
  • Egg, whole – 1 medium egg, lightly beaten
  • Ricotta – 2 tablespoons [See my post on making Homemade ricotta – and ways to enrich, flavour or infuse it]
  • Milk – up to 40ml may need to be added (this will vary depending on dryness of flour and how rich the ricotta is)

Additional ingredients

  • You can add in 80g – 100g of additional ingredients such as chocolate chips, glacé cherries, blueberries, raspberries, dried soft apricots etc if you don’t want plain scones

Method

  1. Put the oven on to 200ºC fan / 220ºC conventional and line or flour your baking tray
  2. Measure out the flour, salt and baking powder into the bowl and rub in the butter until it all resembles fine breadcrumbs
  3. Add the egg and the ricotta and mix together
  4. Add the milk (a little bit at a time as you may not need quite all the 40ml) to bring the mix together. It should be a heavy but pliable dough
  5. Add in any extra ingredients now, such as chocolate chips or glacé cherries
  6. Sprinkle a little extra flour on a worktop and roll the dough out to about 3.5cm (1 1/2 inch) thickness/depth
  7. Press out the scones with your cutter. Remember not to twist the cutter, but press straight down. Twisting while cutting will mean you’ll get wonky scones once cooked
  8. Re-roll the scone dough and continue cutting until you have use it all
  9. Place all the scones on the prepared baking tray and brush the tops with a little milk
  10. Bake for 15 minutes
  11. Leave to cool
  12. Fill liberally with jam and clotted cream (my fave is Rodda’s – and remember it’s always jam first then cream for a Cornish cream tea – but cream then jam for a Devonian cream tea) or you could go simple and just use a good quality butter
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