Sunday, March 13, 2011

Fresh pasta

One luxury in this world, in relation to the mouth, is fresh pasta. In fact, it is a relatively cheap and simple luxury, and well worth the time, if you are so inclined.

Your Italian ancestors (or any ancestor with noodles in their cuisine) would say that you can do this by hand, and they are correct. But if you are going to get this process done efficiently (especially for beginners), a pasta maker is a good tool to invest in. It may collect dust for the first 3 years (looking in my direction), but if you can find a good go-to recipe, it will become an important kitchen tool. I use an Imperia brand hand crank machine, but there are many others on the market that work great. Stand mixers also come with this as an attachment too. Think of this as the talking piece to a fun pasta party night, glasses of red wine, and good cheese.

I have recently found an excellent recipe that produces a strong, resilient egg dough, which produces silky noodles, perfect for an infinite number of recipes. The basis of most egg noodles is eggs and flour, sometimes water, sometimes oil. Traditional recipes call for durum wheat, but if this can't be found, all-purpose flour is good too. A mixture of different grain flours can also be incorporated for textured noodles with interesting flavours. Vegetable purees (spinach, squash etc.) can be incorporated into the eggs before mixing to make a colorful noodle. But here is the basic recipe that is sure to please, from The Art of Simple Food, by Alice Waters (of Chez Panisse, Berkeley). This dough will be the basis for any shape and form of pasta, so have fun!

Fresh Pasta
For 4 servings

Measure into a bowl 2 cups flour
Measure into another bowl 2 eggs and 2 egg yolks.

  • Make a well in the flour and pour in eggs. Mix with a fork, as if scrambling eggs, incorporating flour bit by bit. If using a stand mixer, combine with paddle attachment, pouring eggs in at low speed.
  • When flour is too stiff to mix with a fork, finish mixing by hand. If crumbly, add water dropwise, mixing until dough starts to come together.
  • Turn out onto floured surface and knead lightly (for both hand and stand mixer method).
  • Shape dough into a disk and wrap in plastic to rest for at least an hour. The dough can be put in the fridge overnight, allowing to come to room temperature before using.
To roll by machine:
  • For ease of rolling, cut a quarter of the dough (wrap the remaining to prevent drying).
  • Roll pasta through widest setting. Fold dough into thirds, and pass through machine again. Repeat two more times.
Folding dough into thirds, like an envelope, circa 1810 (just need a wax seal!)

This also kneads the dough, so multiple passes through is important
  • Roll, decreasing settings each time until pasta is of desired thickness. I did the pasta to the thinest setting ('6'). The dough is now quite long, and if you would like a specific length of noodles, divide sheet appropriately.
Before and after
  • Run pasta sheet through desired noodle cutting attachment. My machine comes with a fettuccine cutter, but other options are available. It is also fun to cut the noodle sheets by hand, so get creative with widths and shapes.
  • Toss noodles lightly with flour to keep from sticking. 
To prepare:
  • Boil a large pot of water, salting once boiling. Keep at a rapid boil.
  • Add pasta (stir to keep from sticking), cook for 3-6 minutes, depending on the thickness of noodle. The pasta is done when the noodles are cooked through, but still have a good bite (al dente).
For a super easy, comforting pasta for one, mash 1 tablespoon of butter, pinch of salt, pepper and quarter of garlic, minced. Toss with cooked pasta (1/4 of the dough), and you are ready! Fresh herbs, lemon zest, and parmesan cheese would fit in nicely too!

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