Saturday, May 26, 2012

Mangia! Going back to my roots with homemade pasta

This week has been a good week. We're getting close to the end of the quarter and classes are a little crazy, but things have been good otherwise. I'm wrapping up the project with the hospital, and I started training for my summer internship. I also got to spend the whole week with Paul, which is always a treat--it's funny to think that we won't be long distance for too much longer!

This week I also accomplished one of my culinary goals: making pasta from scratch. I sort of inherited my great-grandmother's pasta maker, and decided it was time to put it to use. If you've never seen one of these things (and I hadn't until I saw this one), they're pretty nifty:

Still in the original box. If you look closely, you'll see the
price: $19.95.

Unboxed. The first slot is for rolling and the other two are
for cutting different widths.

The unfortunate thing is that even though I have my great-grandmother's pasta maker, I don't have her recipe. My guess is that (like a lot of the things she made) she never needed one. The recipe you see below comes from Italian Cooking Made Easy and uses both semolina and all-purpose flour. Semolina is coarser than regular flour and makes the dough a little sturdier, which is good if you are using a pasta maker or making a stuffed pasta like ravioli or tortellini.

I've tried to show some of the technique through the pictures, but if you're really interested in trying this I highly recommend watching a few videos. This one by chefpaulm52 on YouTube is one of the best one around.

So after studying up on my pasta-making technique and finding an available photographer (Paul) for capturing action shots, I made some pasta!

Homemade Pasta
Serves 2 as a main dish, probably 4 as a side

  • 1 1/2 cups unbleached flour
  • 1/4 cup semolina flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 2 eggs

1.  Combine the two flours and salt in a bowl. Pour onto a work surface like a wooden cutting board or a clean countertop. Mound the flour and form a well in the center. Beat the eggs and olive oil together, and then carefully pour them into the well.

Keep the egg contained in your flour volcano.

2.  Using a fork, carefully knock some flour into the egg a little at a time, stirring to combine. Keep the walls of your well intact as much as you can to corral the egg.

An action shot of the stirring process.

A close up of the flour going into the egg.

Eventually, you'll end up with a gooey flour mess that looks something like this:

You'll keep adding flour as you knead the dough.

3.  Gather the flour mess together and start to knead it, incorporating more flour as needed. My method was to form it into a log (lying vertically) and then fold up about a third from one end and press down with the heel of my hand, and then fold it up the rest of the way and press down again. Then I rolled it with both hands until it was a log again (now lying horizontally).

Add flour as needed to keep the dough from sticking.

4.  Keep kneading it and adding flour as necessary for at least ten minutes. Eventually, the dough will start to change. It won't feel so dry and will become easier to knead. It will become softer and smoother, and sort of tacky. It will start to feel...a lot like Play-Doh, actually.

See the difference?

Once this happens, ball it up in your hand and poke a finger in. If the dough bounces back all the way, you're done kneading.

The finger test.

Wrap the dough in some plastic wrap and let it rest for 30-60 minutes at room temperature.

The dough's tired--it needs a break.

5.  Now you're ready to roll! Cut the dough into small pieces, and keep them covered with the plastic wrap until you're ready to work with them. Take one piece of dough and flatten it with the floured heel of your hand. Run it through a wide setting on your pasta maker.

You don't have to go through each setting on the pasta
maker--the instructions for mine said to run the dough through
number 7 a few times, then number 4 once, and then
number 2 twice.

Fold the piece of dough in thirds (fold the ends in so you end up with a nice rectangle), flatten it, and run it through the wide setting two or three more times, folding after each rolling. This helps knead and stretch the dough a little more.

Run the dough through a medium setting, and then a thin setting once or twice (without the folding step). Then, switch over to the cutting blades! We used the wide noodle blade, which resulted in a fettuccine shape.

Cut noodles and dough waiting to be rolled.

Toss the cut noodles with a little flour to keep them from sticking together. At this point you can refrigerate or freeze the noodles, or lay them out to dry.

6.  To cook the fresh pasta immediately, boil a pot of salted water and add the noodles. Be sure to shake off the excess flour before you throw them in the pot.

Into the pot they go!

Cook the fresh pasta for only about 2 minutes! Then, drain it and serve as you normally would.

That's what I call a balanced meal.

This pasta was probably one of the best things I've ever made! It had a great texture and just the right amount of "bite." Two minutes was the perfect cooking time.

Another blurry action shot. Paul couldn't wait to dig in!


I'll never know how my pasta compares with my great-grandmother's...but I'd like to think she'd be proud.  

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Noodles with Swiss Chard and Peanut Sauce

Well, it's been a while. A very eventful while.

In the past month since I last posted, I witnessed Paul's graduation and celebrated Mother's Day. I've seen a roommate evicted and discovered that the kitchen sink was clogged. I've finished the first draft of my project for Cincinnati Children's. I've done a six-mile run, my longest to date. And though I haven't told you much about it, I have done quite a bit of cooking.

I've had to be creative the past couple of days because the kitchen sinks are still clogged, which means I can't make too much of a mess. It's difficult to clean up without a garbage disposal, a dishwasher, or even just a place to wash your hands. So, I've armed myself with paper plates and plastic utensils for the duration, and gotten friendlier with the microwave and toaster oven. More on that later.

For now, it's back to happier times. To cat times. To these cats:

Lila & Squish.

These cats belong to my friends Doug and Stacy, who went off to Boise last week and needed a house/cat sitter. Which means that I got to spend almost a full week with these little (adorable) balls of fur. The cats really aren't important to this story. I just like them and the picture.

Anyway, the point is that taking a mini-vacation from my house was pretty nice. I'm a creature of habit, but sometimes I need to shake things up.

A food related example: spinach. I have been buying pre-washed, organic baby spinach in plastic tubs for months now. Every week it went in the cart at the store. Every week it ended up on my sandwiches, sauteed with my eggs, wilted in my pasta...and finally I just couldn't take it any more.

Enter the new leafy green on the block: Swiss chard. Similar health benefits, but prettier. And cheaper, too. I got a bunch (organic) for about $1.50.

My roommates' reaction: "What is that giant vegetable?"

Now I've seen chard popping up in recipes for a while now, and had a vague idea of what it was, but it took my spinach ennui to help me take the leap. And I have to tell you, this stuff is pretty tasty. To me, the greens taste like thicker spinach, but in a way that is different enough to keep me interested. It's a little crisper, maybe. The stems taste sort of like beets. Which is odd, because I don't really like beets, but I like these stems. So in short, Swiss chard tastes like things I don't feel like eating, but in a way that makes me feel like eating chard. (My relationship status with Swiss chard: It's complicated.)

Anyway, here's how you prepare it:

1.  Fill a large bowl or a clean sink with water. Add your chard and swish it around to clean the leaves. If there is any grit, it will sink to the bottom.

2.  Using paper towels or a salad spinner, dry the chard. (I suppose you could also do this after you cut it--might be easier that way!)

3.  Lay a leaf on the cutting board. Cut off the end of the stem and discard it. Run the tip of a sharp knife along both sides of the stem to separate the greens.

Easier than it sounds, I promise.

4.  You can leave the stems whole or cut them up (assuming you want to eat them--some people throw them away). I chopped mine up like celery.

Chard comes with different colored stems. Mine was just red, but
I've also seen yellow and white in the supermarket. Sometimes stores
bunch several varieties together and call it "rainbow chard."

5.  Bunch or roll up the greens and slice them. I don't think it's the conventional way of doing things, but I like to roll them up from a short end and then slice so that I end up with long ribbons of chard. They mix well with pasta that way!

Pretty and healthy.

6.  Store your chard greens in a paper towel-lined bag or plastic container. I washed out one of those spinach tubs and used that. Store the stems separately.

You'll probably end up with more than you thought.

After you chop it all up and see how much space it takes, you'll probably be wondering what you are going to do with all this chard. Well, you can eat it raw, saute it, steam it, boil it, stir fry name it. But for some more specific options, The Kitchn's Open-Faced Ravioli is a great choice. Or, if you've cut it into nice long ribbons, a noodle dish might be appropriate.

Noodles with Swiss Chard and Peanut Sauce
Serves 1


2 oz long pasta, such as linguine or fettuccine
1 1/2 cups Swiss chard greens, cleaned and cut into ribbons
1/4 cup of Swiss chard stems, cleaned and sliced
1/2 cup snap peas
1/4 cup carrot, sliced into disks (half a medium carrot, or a handful of baby ones)
1 clove garlic
1-2 tsp cooking oil
Soy sauce
Sriracha hot sauce
2-3 tbsp prepared peanut sauce (homemade or store-bought--I don't have a good recipe yet!)


1.  Boil a pot of salted water (or add soy sauce to the water) and add the pasta. Cook it for the minimum time indicated on the package. When there is about 4-5 minutes left of cooking time, add the carrots. When there is about 2 minutes left, add the peas. Drain.

2.  Meanwhile, heat the oil in a nonstick frying pan over medium heat. Add the chard stems and saute for about 5 minutes. Add the chard greens, garlic, and soy sauce and sriracha to taste. Saute for another minute or two, until the greens are just wilted. Turn the heat to low. (You could just as easily boil the chard with the noodles too--I just happen to like the sauteed texture better--or saute all your veggies. It's up to you!)

3.  Add the drained noodles and vegetables to the frying pan. Pour the peanut sauce on top. Toss everything together (tongs work well for this) and cook for another minute. Serve with extra condiments, if desired.

Noodles, veggies, and sauce. Does it get any better?

The great thing about this recipe is that it's adaptable and a great way to clean out the fridge. With so many veggies, you don't need a huge serving of pasta. And once you get a feel for how long different kinds of vegetables need to cook, it's easy to switch things up. You could also add chicken, beef, tofu, or some other kind of protein to this dish, or use a different kind of sauce.

So, have you tried Swiss chard? What do you do with your leafy greens?