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.  

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