A couple of weeks ago, I bought a pasta maker from Sur la Table.
|Like a sleek Maserati!|
I’ve always wanted to make my own pasta. In fact, I placed making it on my informal list of New Year’s resolutions. I also got a bag of King Arthur “00” pasta flour and a drying rack. I was good to go. What I found surprising was how easy it is to make homemade fresh pasta. I made a linguini with beef braised in Marsalla. Not a bad performance for opening night. But before I get too far down the road of chronicling my pasta adventure, let’s talk a little bit about this magical food.
In terms of ingredients, pasta is about as simple as it gets. It is made from durum-wheat flour, water, and eggs. (A popular, but false belief, is that Marco Polo introduced pasta to Italy from China, but the first known reference to pasta can be traced to Sicily in the Middle Ages.)
Durum wheat is the hardest wheat that humans can grow. (The name comes from the Latin word for "hard.") It is this hardness that gives pasta the ability to retain both shape and firmness when cooked. Durum wheat is high in gluten and is used only for pasta, never for baking, cereal or other purposes. It also gives pasta its yellow-amber color and nutty flavor.
And all those different shapes! Unlike Italian politics, there is a logic to those varied pasta shapes. Tubular shaped pastas (e.g., ziti and penne) are best with hearty, meaty sauces like ragù. (The true Bolognese sauce—NOT the stuff in the jar with the little gondolier on the label!). Ribbons like pappardelle should be used for creamy sauces—think, “the wider the noodle, the heavier the sauce.” Rods, such as spaghetti are better with olive-oil or tomato-based sauces., and the thinner the pasta, the more delicate the sauce. And finally, chunky sauces should be served with short pastas that have lots of ridges to hold the sauce.
And let’s not forget the fascinating names the Italians have come up with to describe their pasta. Some of my favorites:
Linguini (“linguine” in Italian)—”little tongues”
Tortellini—often goes by the name ombelichi di veneer and means "Venus's navels", in Bologna; only the Italians!
Now let’s talk about the pasta I made. Well, first there’s the recipe I used. One of my favorite cookbooks and probably the best all-around Italian cookbook out there is The Silver Spoon. It’s the Italian version of The Joy of Cooking. Here’s the recipe for pasta dough:
Fresh Pasta Dough (Basic Recipe)
Preparation: 40 min., plus 1 hr. resting and drying
Cooking: 2-3 min. (unfilled)
1¾ cups bread flour, or preferably Italian type “00” plus extra for dusting
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 egg yolk
Sift the flour into a mound on the counter. Make an 8-inch well in the center. Beat the eggs and the yolk together, then place in the well. Using your fingers in a stirring motion, gradually incorporate the flour [this is the hardest part], then knead for about 10 minutes, or until the dough is smooth and satiny.
|Check out that technique!|
If the mixture is too soft, add a little extra flour; it it is too firm, add a little water by running some water over your hands, then kneading the dough with wet hands. Shape the dough into a ball and let it rest for at least one hour. The dough can be made 24 hours in advance and kept wrapped in plastic wrap in the refrigerator.
|Doesn't he look cute!|
Roll the dough out on a lightly floured counter or use a pasta machine to make thin sheets by passing the dough through the rollers starting with the widest width. Pass the dough 3-4 times through the two widest settings, folding the dough in half lengthwise between each roll. Continue to roll the sheets more thinly. Hang the thin sheets of pasta to dry.
When the pasta sheets feel leathery, they are ready to be cut. [I skipped this step and cut the pasta immediately and then hung the cut pasta to dry; it really didn’t seem to make much difference.
|Note the intense concentration!|
Of course, I have no basis of comparison, and there’s probably a grandma in Sicily who will send me some hate mail once she reads this!] If the pasta is dried too long, the pasta will crack. [This is why I cut first because I knew I would get distracted by the baseball game on the TV and forget about that damn pasta dough!]
It is best to cook the pasta right away after drying and cutting by immersing in a large pot of boiling salted water. If you are not going to eat the pasta right away, then blanch the pasta by immersing it in the boiling water for 30 seconds. Drain, rinse in cold water, and repeat, and then toss in a little olive oil. Store in a plastic bag in the fridge or freeze. To cook, immerse in salted boiling water. Note that fresh pasta takes only a minute or two to cook until al dente, or has a little “bite” to it, which is what al dente means.
And here’s the final product:
So, go ahead and give homemade pasta a try. It is not that hard and so rewarding. Of course, I am not giving up on keeping a few boxes of fettuccine or linguine in the pantry. When that pasta fix kicks in, one cannot wait!