Scott-McComas Williams of Ragazzi in Sydney
In essence, pasta dough can just be flour and water, but there are a few important things to consider when making great pasta from scratch. We sit down with Scott-McComas Williams who talks us through how to make the very best fresh pasta dough.
What are the best flours to use in pasta dough?
We use a combination of different flours at Raggazzi. The two main flours we use are a double zero (tipo 00) flour from Dubbo, and a durum wheat semolina flour from Gunnedah, called Bellata Gold. We also use the durum wheat flour for baking bread. We like to try and keep all our products local, and we care greatly about the quality in the flours - there is no point wasting your time with poor quality flour.
We sell the durum flour in store, but if you’re looking for flours anywhere outside of Sydney, you want to look out for a durum semolina, which is a type of wheat that grows in the Southern regions of Italy. This wheat needs less water to grow, whereas typically wheat grown for plain flour requires more water and the wheat is softer.
The conditions of where the wheat is grown reflect the end result of your pasta dough as well - a durum wheat flour will give you a tougher dough and tipo 00 a softer result. For a pasta dough, look out for the label for tipo 00 flour, which is readily available, and there are also great quality Italian flours that you can find in the supermarket. They usually have a pasta illustration on them, so you know they are suited to making pasta. In our semolina dough, we use a mixture of semolina flour and tipo 00. You can use straight semolina flour, but it gets very hard to work with using your hands, so the addition of tipo 00 makes it much easier to work with.
What do you mix with the flour to create your dough?
You can use eggs or water or both. Adding yolks add richness and silkiness to a dough. The whites of the whole egg give the dough extra protein and strength, and we always use some whole egg in our ravioli dough - it helps with the folding and stretching when you’re making filled shapes.
We do Tajarin pasta in truffle season - a Northern Italian shape made using a lot of yolks. It’s rich, silky - almost buttery, and quite intense as a noodle itself - the perfect match for truffle or even caviar. It’s expensive using just yolks. In a dough, we add roughly 30% liquid in a dough of eggs, yolks or water.
Key rules to making fresh dough?
1. Never trust the recipe, trust your hands.
It might be a balmy Sydney day, or it might be a dry Melbourne day, and the environment you make the dough in will impact it. The size of the eggs can also impact it. We do weigh our eggs, but that can also change with environment and moisture. I always have a spray bottle of water on hand when I’m making pasta dough. If the dough looks a bit shaggy, I spray a little on to hydrate it slightly. Pasta dough can just be flour and water combined. You want a dough that is not too wet, but also smooth. A dough that’s under hydrated is no good. The moisture will help it come together, but you don’t want it to be sticky, either.
2. When your dough is made, you need to work the dough to strengthen the gluten.
When you make a flour dough, you don’t need to knead too much, as this can be done through a sheeter (pasta machine), as you’re going to get the gluten structure developed when you laminate it (roll it through the machine). When making a dough, we only need it to just come together, so you can set it aside to rest.
Semolina dough on the other hand - it’s not going to go through a sheeter and get that structure boost for laminating. We’re going to give that a good knead, at least 10 minutes on the bench. A food processor or electric mixer can also be used to knead the dough for you. Without working the gluten one way or another, you’ll have pasta that doesn’t hold well when cooked. If you go to the trouble of making it from scratch, take the time to laminate the dough really well, either through the machine, or by hand.
3. Resting the dough is really important.
We wrap our dough and let it rest for half an hour to hydrate, but at least fifteen minutes is fine. It's really important to hydrate the flour properly. We use yesterday’s dough as you also can make it a day ahead.
There is a growing interest in gluten free pasta - you keep your gluten free pasta dough recipe under lock and key, but can you share anything with us how to make a gluten free dough?
We sell our gluten free pasta in store and all our sauces are gluten free. It took us a while to come up with our gluten free pasta as we had to try so many different ratios and combinations. I can tell you we use chickpea flour and buckwheat flour, as well as a few others. It’s about trialling out a ratio of various flours to get the best result. We add eggs in there, which adds protein to bind it, and the whites also help set it when it cooks, which creates a false ‘bite’ to it. Gnocchi is also another way to go, using potato and adding xantham gum to bind it.
How long will fresh past keep and what’s the best way to store it?
Pasta doesn’t need to be dried and can be cooked straight away. The fresher the dough, the less cooing time it needs. You can make it ahead and store it in a Tupperware container, just don’t overpack it. Dust it with some semolina - fine flour will affect the pasta hydration but semolina will just fall off it when it gets cooked - then layer it between sheets of baking paper (about 3 layers, no more) in an airtight container. It will keep fresh for 2-3 days.
For someone who doesn’t have a pasta machine, what would you suggest?
Work on your semolina dough, as this dough is perfect for hand rolling pasta shapes. We have big machines at Fabbrica to make the pasta, but I always make it by hand at home. It’s fun to roll pasta with friends. If you’re making a busiate, one person can roll the long pieces while another can cut and press the shapes.
What would be the easiest shape to start with?
It is time consuming to make pasta by hand, but pici, a long, thick spaghetti made with your hands is a great one to start with if you don’t have a pasta machine. It’s like giving play dough to kids - we just naturally want to roll it into long pieces.
Once you have your long pici, you can then make other shapes with it, by cutting off pieces and forming it into shapes like busciate or capunti. Contrary to people striving for perfection, they don’t have to be perfectly even. They might come up uneven in shape at first, but I quite like the imperfections with cooking as they create textural differences - like farfalle has a part in the middle that’s thicker, but cooked at the same time, or trofie, which tapers at the end. I used to carry around dough with me to practice whenever I had time to make different shapes like trofie.
You can find Scott’s recipes for making pasta dough, various pasta shapes and accompanying sauces in Eatable Volume 02: The Pasta Edition.