When Manuela Zangara was looking for people to review her new cook book ‘Homemade Pasta Made Simple’ I thought ‘Well, I am the perfect candidate to test and review her cookbook because I have tried homemade pasta a couple of times and it was a disaster. So- if I can do it based on her instructions anybody can.’
And guess what? Success!! I am so excited to have broken the hand made pasta barrier! And it was thanks to Manuela’s book. In a nutshell the insight on ingredients, clear instructions and variety of dough, stuffing and sauces in this book helped me break the barrier I had for homemade pasta. I had the answer to my pasta problems in the very first Chapter! I was using the wrong flour! Simple as that… I didn’t stand a chance before. Thumbs up!
This book could keep you in pasta recipes for years! It will appeal to omnivores and vegetarians alike since the pasta and gnocchi bases are meat free. There are plenty of vegetable sauces in addition to the meat sauces.
Manuela was born and raised in Italy and now lives in Australia with husband and children. There are many references to her Grandmothers’ recipes, making pasta as a child with her family and other family traditions revolving around pasta. There is no doubt that this girl knows her stuff.
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Let me tell you about this little gem Homemade Pasta Made Simple. The book is broken into very logical sections- Getting Started and The Recipes
Part I Getting Started
- ingredients and equipment – what you need and what you don’t. Which ingredients work for different pasta types. I learned what went wrong in my previous attempts right in Chapter 1!
- the dough recipes – 3 basic recipes including gluten free that you can use to make 45 + pasta types and another 14 gnocchi recipes
- the skills ie – the techniques of what the dough should feel like – the mechanics of kneading and not over-kneading. There are references for hand mixing dough or using the food processor. There are instructions for rolling dough out with a rolling pin or a pasta machine. The idea is that you don’t need a lot purpose specific tools to make pasta.
Part II The Recipes
This section is how to fashion the various pasta shapes broken into hand shaped, ribbon-cut, stuffed and gnocchi. Manuela provides advice on which dough recipes is best for which shapes, a little history of where the shapes and names originated, regional variations on that pasta type. It is like a little tour of Italy through the eyes of pasta! Honestly – it made me consider plotting a wine and pasta tour of Italy.
The copy I had was an advance copy so there were notations where future photos or diagrams would be. These are essential for the hand shaped pastas in particular. Manuela provides the technique of a quick twist here or a fold there but you do need to have a picture in your mind of the end result.
Next come instructions and directions for about 15 ribbon cut pasta types. In other words how to keep your fettuccine from becoming papardelle for example. Next are recipes for the stuffings as well as gnocchi and gnudi recipes.
About the sauces – there are 30+ of them. Tomato based, pesto, walnut, cream sauces, pumpkin, seafood- lots of variation to choose from. When I was travelling in Italy it struck me that their cooking is often about 3 or 4 outstanding ingredients. I had a salad of arugula, shaved parmigiano and fruity extra virgin olive oil. It was outstanding. Manuela’s sauces remind me of that focus on a few key ingredients. I have a tendency toward ‘everything but the kitchen sink’ in some of my salads and sauces so I had to restrain myself and I am glad I did. Again, Manuela makes suggestions for which sauces work best with which dough or pasta type.
- Hand-shaped -Cavatelli, Farfalle, Trofie, Orecchiette
- Ribbon-Cut -Lasagne sheets, Pappardellle, Rombi, Malfalde, Spaghetti alla Chitarra
- Stuffed – Pumpkin Ravioloni Quadrati, Lemon and Ricotta Stelle, Prawn and Leek Caramelle
- Gnocchi and Gnudi- Potato Gnocchi, Butternut Squash and Potato Gnocchi, Chestnut Gnocchi,
- Sauces – Tuna, Ricotta and Olive Sauce, Walnut Sauce, Gorgonzola Sauce, Arrabbiata Sauce, Spicy Pork Ragu, Ragu alla Bolognese
I decided to make 2 dishes with 2 different sauces.
I started with the gluten free dough and decided to make Spinach and Ricotta Ravioli Tondi because ravioli is featured in the first most basic shaped pasta and thanks to Manuela’s suggestion that it is suited to the gluten free dough. I chose the Butter and Sage Sauce filling to go with it.
Spoiler alert! I am very pleased with my finished product. It was delicious and you would never know that it wasn’t just regular pasta. I have had some horrific gluten free pastas from the super market- dry, tough almost inedible. Not this – the dough is tender and has no foreign flavours or textures.
But there were moments when I felt like Lucy on the chocolate conveyor! Please do not be deterred by that comment! It is just meant to illustrate that there is a learning curve when you actually make and shape the dough.
I think my dough was too dry. I suspected it was – the picture shows it was cracked and not silky smooth. I did add a bit more olive oil as I was kneading it but – being inexperienced I didn’t want to stray significantly from the recipe and I thought the resting period may solve the issue. It didn’t.
So I fought with the first few strips- they tore in the machine or went crumpled. It was the pasta maker’s instructions that helped me trouble shoot to add a bit of water as I was flattening it. Part way through I got so I recognized the right amount of moisture to flatten and the right amount of flour to start rolling and for the pasta maker to be able to ‘grab’ the pasta.
I also realized after the fact that I automatically put the dough in the fridge to rest like you would for pastry dough. Manuela’s instruction did not say to refrigerate and now I realize that was probably a BIG mistake. My issues with the first strips of pasta probably had a lot to do with it being too cold. My bad!
The recommendation was to roll out to 8th setting on the pasta machine. I could only get to 5 or 6 and then the dough would tear and crinkle. An Italian Nona might be horrified but they turned out fine for me. I was pretty excited about my progress.
I made 2″ circles and started with the suggested 1 tsp of filling but I couldn’t get it all to stay in the rounds so I had to cut it down to 1/2 tsp of filling. Maybe the thinner dough would have made the difference here? But 2″ is 2″ so not sure. Anyway I have filling left over that I will gladly use to stuff something else!
Now inspired – my next attempt was Fettuccine with the Tomato and Basil sauce. I was whizzing along with this one! The Know-By-Heart Egg Pasta Dough came together beautifully! It was silky and smooth after 7 minutes of kneading. I was so excited! Isn’t that beautiful!!
Again, I could only get to 5 or 6 on the pasta setting instead of the recommended 7.
The Fettuccine rolled out beautifully and cut beautifully. I wound them into the nests to hold them until I was ready to cook them following the instructions and photo. I ran into a little trouble when I cooked them. In hindsight I must not have dusted the cut ribbons with enough flour before I wound them into the nest form. Some of the nests wouldn’t unwind in the boiling water. I teased at them with a fork. After a few moments of apprehension I had enough loose ribbons to serve. This is where you have to actually practice the steps in order to gain the skill. You can see the difference from one nest to the other… I probably have too much on the flour-y ones and obviously not enough on the others. Next time I will know though!
Perhaps a few more trouble shooting comments or warnings would have been helpful but it is hard to imagine what the ‘unitiated’ mind might come up with (like refrigerating the dough to rest!)
My husband is in seventh heaven because I now have the homemade pasta bug and he is enjoying the results! I can’t wait to try more pasta types and sauces.