Monday, October 17, 2011

Let's Get Fresh . . . Pasta!

Song Pairing:
Ballads and Blues by Miles Davis

It's time for one of those songs that make you feel brilliant yet calm - slows you down so you can enjoy the experience of what you are about to do.  In truth, one song won't do.   I don't want to scare you - but you're probably going to need a playlist for this - an entire album even.  And Miles Davis is my first choice.  This just happens to be one of my favorites of his - but if you have another Miles Davis - go ahead and use it.  Listening to Davis always shows just how smart you are.  And making your own pasta isn't difficult at all - but it makes you look like a genius!

The moment I knew I had to learn to make fresh pasta was while sitting on our hotel's terrace, gazing out at Lake Como and the twinkling lights of Bellagio and Menaggio across the water.  We decided to dine "in" at the hotel on our first night in Italy.  It was so romantic - a train ride into the mountains from Milan, passing quaint little villages along the way, an easy stroll from the station down the hill to Albergo Olivedo, which sat right across from the ferry dock.  Even the karaoke night entertainment from the nearby park where locals sang their hearts out in broken English to American pop songs couldn't dispel the unmistakable fact that we were in one of God's own masterpieces.  They brought out our dinners 
and we tasted and - 
this is where you insert that sound of a record player's needle being drug across the vinyl.   
I wanted to shout - while standing on my chair - fork raised in the air!  
"What the heck!  This is amazing!"     
Forget about the mountains and the lake!  In this dish before me were all my hopes and dreams and desires of food that I have ever had!  And if that wasn't enough, my husband had me taste his ravioli.  I felt every bone in my body melt.  I stared intently at his bowl of pillows of cheeses, lightly coated with fine olive oil and butter, ribbons of sage and a light sprinkling of parmesan.  It was simple.  Sheer simplicity - where everything I had been learning in culinary school had come together in one dish.  Quality fresh local ingredients, handled with respect and care in a thoughtful presentation - you will never be disappointed.  Not disappointed?  How about "you will be transformed!"

A few months later, after all my internships were over and I was officially out of school, I set about teaching myself to make fresh pasta.  I had watched a chef from one of my internships make it and asked enough questions to get a good idea of technique.  I had watched shows on the Food Network and the Cooking Channel.  I discovered different recipes for dough, noting which would work best with each type of pasta.  I felt like I was ready to give it a "crank." 

I purchased a hand-cranked pasta machine and a few attachments for different shaped noodles.  My first attempt was . . . awesome!  Why had I waited so long?  I had scared myself into thinking it was going to be this big ordeal when, in fact, it wasn't!  Yes, it took time.  But, if I made it an activity of sorts, dedicated this time as "pasta production time," much like I had "knitting time", or "reading time", or "laundry time" - then it would be perfectly acceptable to take an hour and make some pasta.  I could leave it in sheets and freeze it for future use, or cut it into noodles and freeze, or store in the fridge, or even just cook it right then!  Really - this investment of time was speedily gaining merit if I could produce pasta as I had had it in Varenna - and everywhere else I went in Italy.

I want you, dear reader, to enjoy the wonder of fresh pasta as well.  So let's get going.  Don't start the music yet, though.  I'll let you know when to cue in Miles.  The real action starts after the dough has chilled for half an hour.  Do I hear a "why do I have to do that?"  It's to let the gluten relax.  Otherwise it'll be fighting you like a teenager about curfew! 

3 eggs
2 c. flour
1/2 t. kosher salt
1 t. extra-virgin olive oil

Place ingredients into the bowl of a food processor and pulse until it starts to come together. 

 Notice that it will look rather rough and raggy.  That's ok.

Lightly flour the counter top or a cutting board and empty the contents of the bowl.  Lightly knead a few times just to fully bring ingredients together to form a small ball.  

Cover well with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.  You can also freeze it at this point for further work another time.

If you are using a pasta machine, clamp it to the counter top and lightly dust with flour.  Open the feed to the widest setting, usually "1."  Also flour the counter around your work area.

Prepare 5 or 6 pieces of parchment paper to hold your sheets of pasta if you aren't going to cut them into noodles and/or use them right away.  Cut your 12 1/4" X 16 1/2" parchment paper in half, lengthwise, and lightly spray both sides.  As I finish my sheets of pasta I lay them on the paper and stack them.  Build the stack sitting on a sheet tray or box for support.  When I'm finished I double-wrap the whole thing very well.  You can use these sheets to make lasagna or ravioli.

If rolling by hand, flour your work surface.

After 30 minutes, remove the dough from the refrigerator and unwrap.  Divide in half and keep the half you're not using wrapped so it doesn't dry out. 

Start your music!

Flatten the dough with your hand until it is about 1/4 inch thick so it will fit into the opening of the machine.  Crank it through. 

 Fold both ends in towards the middle and roll again.

Keep doing this until you get a nice rectangular shape, taking care to keep the machine dusted with flour so things don't start sticking.  As you work the dough you will notice that the "ragginess" goes away and the dough starts becoming rather attractive!

Continue feeding the dough through the shoot while gradually reducing the size of the opening.  I usually find that the smaller it gets the less feeds you need at each setting.  Thus, by the time you're at a "5" and higher, you will only be feeding it through once at each setting.

 Note - do not pull on the dough as it comes out.  Let it come to you.  When the dough gets too long for you to handle easily, simply cut it in half and work one half at a time.  You can reroll scraps if you keep them moist.

 When it's to the thickness you want (usually around a "7" on my machine), lay it on the parchment paper.  Continue until all dough has been rolled.  I tend to like to freeze it at this point.  It can be made into anything at this point.  Want some fresh pasta but not sure yet what you're going to do with it?  Freeze it in sheets.  You can always cut it into noodles later.  I do trim the sheets of pasta up a bit, keeping in mind the size of the pan I use for lasagna.

I decided to turn this batch into fettuccine and pappardelle noodles.  I don't have a pappardelle cutter but they are so wide I just used a pizza cutter and hand cut them.

 When I cut my dough into noodles I like to hang them to dry on 3/8" dowels I've cut to fit on the lip inside the hood vent over my stove.

I can then bag them and freeze them or keep in the refrigerator for several (10) days.  You can also just plop them into well-salted boiling water fresh from the cutting, without drying, if you like.  Pasta is so easy to get along with!  Remember, though, that fresh pasta cooks in a fraction of the time that the dried product you get at the grocery store cooks.  Plan on 3 - 4 minutes for fresh.

Variations:  add 1/4 cup of chopped fresh herbs such as basil, oregano, or rosemary to the eggs before you add them to the processor bowl.  Sun-dried tomatoes will also create a wonderful pasta.

If you time it right, about the time "It Never Entered My Mind" starts playing, someone will come into your kitchen, twirl you into their arms and dance you around the kitchen!  You ARE that brilliant, you know!  Seriously, though, if you're sweetheart likes to cook, I highly recommend a stay-at-home date night making pasta together!

Some of these noodles are going to have a rendezvous with that Avocado and Arugula Pesto I made a couple weeks ago!


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