February 13, 2013 by E.
Let me just start off by saying that I am super excited about the changing of the seasons. I know it’s still cold and dreary in most of the Eastern US (and aside from the few sunny days we’ve had recently, DC is no exception), but the sun is now rising at 7AM and setting after 5PM, which means we’re getting over 10 hours of sunshine (weather permitting). More daylight hours make me a happy girl.
Unfortunately, my Honey has been less happy at work. He’s been put on a project he’s not thrilled about and has had to do a lot of extra-curricular activities at night (networking happy hours, team meetings, etc). His work days have been longer this week, which leaves me in an empty apartment with nothing to do but laundry. So, naturally, I avoid the laundry in favor of doing something I like way better – cooking!
All his work clothes get outsourced to our local dry cleaner’s anyway (A. is fanatical about his shirts and I refuse to touch them for fear of ending our relationship), so the laundry can wait until tomorrow. Good food, however, is a daily necessity.
Which brings me to the title of today’s post. Last year, my mom bought me a pasta machine, so I could make homemade pasta, and spoil myself here like I was spoiled in Italy. At first, it seems intimidating and super-gourmet, but in reality it’s quite the opposite. My pasta dough contains exactly 2 ingredients: flour, eggs. I don’t use a fancy flour – I use good ol’ all purpose flour. And, if you don’t have eggs, you can use water.
In fact, eggs were a relatively recent addition to pasta dough. In the poorer regions of Italy, water was the norm, because eggs were too expensive. (According to what I read in this book, which is excellent.) Anyway, the point it – you don’t really have an excuse not to make fresh dough. It’s easy, it’s relaxing, it’s dirt cheap, and it’s delicious.
Pasta dough is a recipe that’s very hard to teach over the computer. Until you’ve made it, you won’t really understand when I say “it feels tacky” or “it stretches easily” or “it feels silky smooth”. Use this as a general guideline (there are also several great videos on YouTube), and don’t be afraid to try it. Pasta dough is very forgiving. If it’s too wet or sticky, add more flour. Too dry, add water or another egg. So, here we go!
The Ingredients (per person):
3/4 cup to 1 cup flour (could be all purpose, semolina, bread, whole wheat, or a mix – I mixed bread flour and all purpose), plus more for rolling out the pasta
drizzle of olive oil
Clean your workspace (counter, kitchen island, etc.); we’re going to be making the pasta dough directly on your counter. Just like rules were meant to be broken, kitchen counters were meant to get messy.
Measure out flour and dump into a small pile on the counter. I was making 3 quantities of pasta dough, so I measured out 3/4 cup flour 3 times (equal to 2.25 cups). Remember, you can always add more flour later, if needed.
Make a well in the center of the pile of flour. You want the well big enough to hold the necessary number of eggs (in my case, 3), and the flour should be distributed about evenly on all sides.
Crack the egg(s) into the center of the well. If any egg runs over the well, move flour around to plug the leak.
Using a fork, gently beat the eggs in the center of the well, moving in a circle to keep the eggs contained within the well.
Once the eggs have been beaten so that the yolks and whites combine, begin to slowly incorporate flour from the well, using the fork to scoop in a little flour at a time.
Continue this method until most of the flour has been incorporated and stirring with a fork is difficult. Now it’s time to use your hands!
You’ll probably want to wash your hands to keep your sticky fingers from sticking to the sticky dough. Continue incorporating flour and kneading the pasta dough until it no longer feels wet/sticky/tacky. Think about how it feels when you remove the price tag sticker off of something – that residual goop that sticks to everything? Not what we want out of our pasta dough. This process could take as long as 5 minutes – be patient. Once you can knead the dough without that tacky feeling, the dough is done!
Well, your work with the dough is done. Now it’s time to let the little guy rest. Spread out some plastic wrap, drizzle the dough with a touch of olive oil to keep it moist, wrap it up, and leave it out on the counter to rest, for about 45 minutes to an hour. Use this time to do the dishes, paint your nails, watch an episode of your favorite really bad TV show, or clean your counter, which is probably quite a mess.
So…how to clean your kitchen counter so guests aren’t shocked and dismayed by your unsanitary living conditions? Well, I usually make A. do this part (he’s getting to eat my wonderful, home cooked, made with love food! It’s the least he could do!), but since the whole point of this meal is to make him UNgrumpy, I figured that would be counter-productive.
Try to scrape as much as you can off the counter before wetting it. I use a dry paper towel, followed by a pastry scraper or a fork. For the stubborn, really stuck on bits, take a damp paper towel, place it over the stubborn area, and spray the top of the paper towel with kitchen counter cleaner. Wait a few minutes, then wipe away. You’ll probably have to wipe a few times, but it does come off, I promise!
Whew, almost there!
After your pasta dough is done resting, it’s time to roll it out. Smaller sized balls of dough are easier to manage, so you may want to break this up. Keep any dough you’re not working with covered in plastic wrap to keep it from drying out.
Start by lightly dusting your work surface and the pasta ball with flour. The pasta dough should feel pretty silky-smooth at this point, and should stretch fairly easily.
If using a pasta machine, begin with the machine at the lowest (thickest) setting. (For me, this is 0.)
(You can also roll out the pasta dough, just like any other dough, with a rolling pin. Make sure your working surface and your rolling pin are dusted with flour.)
Slightly flatten the dough into a roughly rectangular shape with your hands, and run through the pasta machine.
Fold dough over itself into a roughly rectangular shape, flatten with your hands, sprinkle with flour, and run through again. Repeat this process until your dough stretches easily, is the desired shape (resembling a rectangle – mine never come out perfectly shaped), and comes out of the pasta machine completely smooth, not wrinkly.
Then increase the machine setting to the next level (one level thinner). Run through the machine, and lightly dust with flour if needed (I pretty much always dust mine to keep the dough from sticking to itself).
Repeat this process until you’ve achieved the desired thickness. This is where the “therapy” part comes in. Rolling out pasta is so methodical and soothing. I could do it for hours.
Although my pasta machine goes up to a level 9, that is really, really thin pasta. Since I actually like my dough a little thicker and with more bite to it, I stop at a level 7, just when you can start to see through the dough.
And that’s it! Now you’re ready to cut into the desired shape. My pasta machine comes with a cutting attachment, so you just roll the sheet through and out comes spaghetti or fettuccine. If you aren’t using a machine or don’t have the cutter attachment, just sprinkle the pasta sheet with flour, cut the sheet to your desired length, roll up, and slice into noodles.
Fresh pasta cooks in mere minutes, so be careful not to over-do it. My general rule of thumb is that when it floats in boiling water, it’s ready. Serve with your favorite sauce, or just sauteed garlic in olive oil with a liberal sprinkling of cheese and fresh cracked black pepper. These pasta sheets were used to make ravioli (more on that later).
Time consuming, sure, but just like everything else, the more you do it, the quicker you become. Total time for me (making the dough, letting it rest, cleaning up, rolling it out) was about an hour and fifteen minutes. I let my dough rest for 50 minutes, which means I had less than 30 minutes of hands-on time.
Sorry for the extra-long post, but I hope you enjoyed it!