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How to Make the Best Homemade Pasta

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What would you say is the most romantic way to show someone you love them? Some might argue getting flowers, chocolates or a life-sized teddy bear is the way to go. We like to believe that food is at the heart of every great relationship, and what better way to celebrate love than with homemade pasta? We spoke with local Toronto pasta queen Jessica Maiorano of Pasta Forever to get her expert take on how to make the best homemade pasta.

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Pasta Forever is a Toronto-based collective of professional chefs dedicated to the art of pasta making. Located at 1693 Dundas St. West in Toronto — this team of passionate pasta aficionados makes everything from sauces to sandwiches and your favourite pasta shapes. If you’re looking to make something special for you loved ones or opting for a bit of self-care, read on to learn more about how you can make the best homemade pasta.

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What are the essentials for making homemade pasta?

“If you’re planning on making fresh pasta at home, good flour is essential. Whether you’re using semolina or 00 flour — a higher quality flour is usually fresher, will be easier to work with, and will always yield a better end product. If you’re making pasta that has eggs in it, try to opt for fresh, organic, or farm eggs — these two items are worth a little splurge.”

Do you always need a machine of some kind to make pasta?

“No! This is the biggest misconception of pasta making. Italy is basically split into two parts: the north and the south. In the north, you’ll find more doughs made with 00 flour and egg — which is used for stuffed pasta and long noodles. These types of shapes are of course easier to make with a pasta machine (although, you’re always welcome to try just using a rolling pin, nonna style). The south of the country, however, uses mostly semolina and water doughs. Cavatelli, orecchiette, capunti, and foglie du’olive, are all shapes that need nothing more than a butter knife to shape.”

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What is the most popular pasta people order from Pasta Forever?

“We do a weekly changing pasta lunch special, and that is always our most popular. In the summer, our most popular lunch special is a sweet corn agnolotti with a saffron butter and blistered cherry tomatoes. In the colder months, people tend to love more classic, comforting dishes, like a lasagna bolognese and rigatoni al ragu Genovese.”

Do certain types of pastas fit certain types of sauces?

“Definitely! We don’t ever want to see a shape from the south, such as a cavatelli, or an orecchiette, paired with a cacio e pepe from the north — it just doesn’t work. A really chunky sauce or a pesto usually doesn’t lend itself well to a delicate stuffed pasta. At the end of the day, think about how thick your sauce is, and how and if it will cling to your shape.”

What is the perfect pasta for date night?

“Honestly, you can never go wrong with the Roman classics: cacio e pepe, carbonara, alla gricia, and l’amatriciana. These are famous classics for a reason, they all only use a handful of ingredients, if that. The trick to them is in the technique and the patience. If you can master a classic, your date will always be impressed.”

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Step-by-step guide to making pasta at home

“Cavatelli, the shape I grew up making with my nonna and my zia. Incredibly close to my heart, and one of the most accessible shapes to make at home, as it requires little to no equipment!”

Pasta Guide: 

  1. Pour 100 grams of semolina into a bowl and make a well in the centre.
  2. Slowly pour in 50 grams of room temperature water.
  3. Begin to mix, making sure you’re scraping the bottom and sides of the bowl. Dough should begin to form shaggy pieces.
  4. Transfer dough to a wooden surface and begin to shape your dough in a ball. Knead for 5-6 minutes, or until there is no more dry flour. The ball of dough should be smooth and bouncy. Cover with plastic wrap and let rest at room temperature for at least 20 minutes.
  5. After resting, unwrap dough and cut off a small section. Roll this section into a half-inch wide rope — the length doesn’t matter. Once the rope is rolled, cut the rope into a bunch of half-inch squares.
  6. Using the side of your thumb, press down on one of the cut squares of dough, and push all the way to the right until your thumb is fully off the dough. The shape ends up looking like a small taco or a hot dog bun. It should be hollowed out in the center and the sides should come together to touch. Play around with the angle of your thumb and the pressure that you use until you’re happy with the shape!
  7. Boil pasta for about 5 minutes, then serve with your favourite tomato sauce.