Seven steps to perfect pasta

Eve O'Sullivan
03 December, 2015

We were lucky enough to have a pasta masterclass with L’Anima head chef Lello Favuzzi; here’s what we found out.

With its ultra-sleek interior and City of London location, L’Anima is at the sharp end of Italian fine dining, but beautifully balances elegance with robust, seasonal flavours, especially when it comes to pasta dishes; think prawn and langoustine ravioli in a lobster broth, fettucine with girolles and truffles, and pappardelle with wild boar ragu. Although head chef Lello Favuzzi is of Sardinian, Puglian and Sicilian heritage, his dishes represent the best of Italian cooking, countrywide. While we know there’s little chance of being able recreate all the magic at home, we were keen to get as many tips as possible on how to make the (almost) perfect plate of pasta. And according to Lello, it’s the little things that make a big difference.

Flavour from the first step

One of Lello’s secrets, we discovered while working away in the kitchen, was garlic-infused olive oil. ‘If you infuse it for a few hours before you use it, the oil will add a mellow burst of flavour. Just put a clove in a pan with the oil, heat then allow to cool. You could do this in the morning before you go to work.’ We’ve tried it, and we like it. Simple after-work spaghetti now feels like something much more sophisticated. Another tip: toast your saffron. ‘It will improve the flavour and colour if you are adding it to fresh pasta’, suggests Lello.

Refining classics

‘Have confidence in simplicity,’ declares Lello, ‘and remember that refining flavours will greatly improve your dishes.’ His suggestion for basil pesto? ‘Don’t use basil stalks – it will muddy the intensity of the leaves – and blanch them for a few seconds before you blend them with the rest of the ingredients. It’s a small thing, but the colour will be much more vibrant for it.’ As for pine nuts, you don’t have to stick to using these as a hard and fast rule. ‘I actually prefer the creaminess and nuttiness of walnuts, so I often use those instead’ says Lello.

Use tinned for taste

In the summer months and early autumn, there is nothing better than a fresh tomato, but when the cold weather hits, shun the out-of-season fruit for tinned plum tomatoes. ‘My favourite brand is Nola’, Lello says. ‘And always use tinned plum tomatoes above passata, even if the recipe calls for it,’ he adds. ‘You can’t beat the flavour of tomatoes harvested at their best.’

Which wine?

‘Cooking’ wine, it seems, is a very British thing. When we asked Lello what he’d recommend using in dishes that require a splash of wine, he answered ‘only cook with wine that you’d happily drink.’ Although devoting half of a decent bottle to your ragu feels a bit painful, your food will thank you for it. ‘If you are making a duck ragu, try using port instead of red wine,’ he adds. Although not liking port is unthinkable to us, there are plenty that don’t – if you are one of the haters that has a bottle in the back of the cupboard, now is its chance to shine – but again, not the cheap stuff.

Timing is everything

‘Whatever the packet says, cook your pasta for two minutes less. Why? Because you must always mix the pasta into your sauce; that will provide the final cooking.’ Even if you are making a fettucine with a meat sauce? Yes. Ravioli? Yes. There are no exceptions to this rule.

Cheese: the crucial addition

If you’re anything like us, then as soon as the Grana Padano is grated, you’re itching to get it in the pan. But hold fire. ‘You should only ever add the cheese when the pan is off the heat – it needs to gently melt, not toast and stick to the pan, and, depending on the sauce, always add cooking water with the first handful to create a sauce that will cling to the pasta. Add the rest of the cheese when it’s in the dish, with a little more oil.’ When we watched Lello make us a few spaghetti dishes, we noticed that the sauce was much more silky – and generous – than our own. It’s all down to the emulsion created with the cheese and that pasta water. Take note!

Making your own pasta is definitely worth it

Admittedly, you’d be hard-pushed to find an Italian chef that didn’t think that. However, after spending a morning with Lello learning how to knead the dough and easy ways to shape it, we concur. Pasta for ravioli should be as thin as you can make it, so when you hold it up, you can see your hand through it,’ says Lello. ‘But pasta dough for pappardelle, fettuccine and spaghetti can be thicker. If you don’t have a machine, just roll it as thinly as possible and make “rag” pasta (pasta dough cut into rough shapes). It’s just as good.’ We made ten different pasta shapes, but our favourite was gnocchetti Sardi, of Sardinian origin, like the chef himself. It’s gnocchi-esque, but smaller. ‘I serve this with seasonal seafood, and put saffron in the pasta dough,’ he adds. Invest in one of these extremely good value little shapers, and you’ve got hours of fun in the kitchen, as well as a talking point when it gets to the table.

Gnocchetti Sardi

Serves 4

500g semolina rimacinata (hard wheat durum, refined)

240ml lukewarm water

1 Make a big well in the centre of the flour and add the water. Using a wooden spoon, slowly pull the flour into the water moving around in a circle. When the flour and the water are combined, test it with your fingers. Knead it by hand until elastic, about 5 minutes. The dough will be ready when you pull it and it doesn’t fragment but stretches a bit. Wrap the ball in clingfilm and leave it in the fridge for half an hour to relax.

2 Divide the dough ball into 4. Roll the first quarter between your palms or on the board, dusted with a little extra flour, until it is 1cm in diameter. Using a knife cut it into small portions 1cm long. Roll them on your gnocchi ridger (su ciluliri) with a quick motion to obtain a rounded shape of pasta resembling a fat little bull. Dust with semolina and leave to the side until you need them.

3 In a big pot of salted hot boiling water cook the gnocchetti Sardi for 5 minutes and drain. Serve with a sauce of your choice. 

For more information about L'Anima's perfect pasta dishes, including the new winter menu, click here

Lello Favuzzi grew up in Sardinia with a Sicilian mother and Puglian father. He worked for two seasons at the five-star hotel, Cervo in Sardinia, then at La Gritta restaurant in Palau, Italy, before launching Santini restaurant with a small group of friends, in Milan and Edinburgh. In 2003  he began working as Sous Chef at restauranteur Alan Yau’s Anda in Marylebone. Following this he worked at Franco’s on Jermyn Street, which won rave reviews. Favuzzi then moved to The Wolseley before joining  the team as Sous Chef at former Corbin & King restaurant, St Alban. In 2008 he became part of the opening team at  L’Anima – where he became Executive Chef earlier this year.

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