Thursday, March 11, 2010

Fresh Pasta!

Pasta is excellent if you can get it fresh (not that it's not great anyway... but it's especially good fresh). The texture is chewier and more robust/meaty.

If you've never tried it, this is your big chance- AND you can learn to make it yourself.
As for tools you don't NEED a pasta machine. The machine does make things much easier, especially if you're working with larger quantities of pasta, but all you would really need is a rolling pin and a knife. You could cut the pasta into noodles, or use the sheets to make lasagna or ravioli.

This particular recipe is adapted from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone by Deborah Madison. It's a very good book (that ANYONE could really use), and yes, among MANY other things there are plenty of vegetable recipes included.

We'll go for the "plain" egg pasta today. The recipe makes about a pound of pasta enough for 4 large servings or 6 smaller ones. The dough is fairly stiff, so you may want to split the recipe in 1/2 and make it twice (as in having 2 one cup recipes to work instead of one larger recipe). This is especially good if you have someone else who can help with it since this is the "by hand" version of pasta from scratch.

To cook pasta you need a large pot of salted water (supposedly 6 qt per 1 lb) so the pasta has plenty of room. Salt does not mean a pinch of salt, actually. Well salted is more like it. I read somewhere that you want pasta water to taste like sea water. I don't know that I ever use quite that much (*choke*), but Deborah Madison says 1 t per qt. You should have a rolling boil before adding the pasta, and while the pasta is being added you want to stir to prevent noodles sticking in clumps.

Fresh pasta should take 3-7 minutes to cook, so you need to watch (and test) carefully to get "al dente" pasta. Once you have drained the pasta add to sauce. It's usually a good idea to reserve some of the pasta water to add in case you need to thin the sauce.

Fresh Pasta

2 c flour
2 large eggs
2 T extra virgin olive oil
1/4 t salt

Put the flour onto clean counter, shape into a mound and make a well in the center. Place eggs, oil, and a few pinches of salt into the well. Break them up with a fork and gradually begin pulling the flour from the sides. Eventually the mixture will begin to get too still to use the fork and you'll have to start using your hands. Bring more flour into the eggy mixture until you have a smooth dough mass that no longer sticks to your hands. The dough will be pretty stiff (it takes quite a bit of wrist work) and you will probably not end up using all the flour!

*When you can no longer add flour, pass remaining flour from counter through strainer and discard lumps. Return flour to counter. Knead dough, picking up as much flour on the counter as the dough will hold. (see below)

Silky and moist, but not sticky is the texture you want (5-10 minutes of kneading). Slip dough into plastic bag to rest for 10-15 minutes before rolling it out. You'll definitely notice the dough is easier to work with after the rest period.

*The dough will be shaggy and dry- knead until it smooths out. At this point you probably wouldn't want to try to incorporate more flour. I actually push the flour aside and knead on a relatively clean counter... I have flour close by if I need to add more.

Look at how much of the flour wasn't used! Put it through a sieve and save the flour for dusting the finished pasta so it won't stick to itself.

By machine per Natalie:
Cut off about 1/3 of the dough (because it's easier to work with) and flatten slightly. Have machine set to the greatest thickness and put dough through machine. Fold flattened dough onto itself and put through machine a second and third time. Go to the next smallest setting on the machine- the notch will click into place. Run the dough through the machine and repeat several times as above. Continue repeating until dough is of desired thickness. If dough becomes too long to handle with one hand while cranking the pasta machine with the other, you can definitely cut the sheet of pasta.

When ready to cut, add cutting attachment and run pasta sheet through machine. Toss pasta in a little flour to keep strands from sticking together and place on a sheet pan. You can cook the pasta immediately or keep it covered up to several hours with a clean kitchen towel (I usually let it dry out a little for an hour or so before I use it... I think it's because I'm afraid of it immediately sticking together in a mass if I cook it right after I make it).

By hand ("pasta rustica") per Natalie:
I would probably recommend separating pasta into thirds again as it's easier to work with. Roll dough to desired thickness, fold onto itself and roll again. Repeat several times. If you find partway through rolling the dough no longer wants to cooperate and is springing back instead of rolling out, cover with plastic and let rest 10 minutes or so while you go on to another bit of dough before coming back to it.

When you have your desired thickness of pasta, fold sheet onto itself several times and cut noodles to whatever width you like.

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