Wednesday, June 1, 2011

How to make fresh pasta

I'm not gonna lie to you, okay. This pasta thing? I'm only writing it to get some people off of my back. "You're always making fresh pasta," they whine incessantly (though not, I'll admit, incorrectly). "But you never show us how you make it."

I respond to such complaints in a variety of ways, not all of them pleasant, but over time have learned to be at once playful and disparaging. "What am I," goes a phrase I have come to like using on these individuals, "your friggin grandmother?"

No matter. The whining continues. I surrender. Let's make us some pasta.

The first step you see here is — hm, how shall I say this? — completely unnecessary. What I mean is that I always mix two or three different flours when making pasta. Here you've got three: some 00 (left), a superfine semolina (center), and a more traditional, coarser semolina. I could tell you that there are good reasons for mixing these flours, but most times there are not. It's just the way I do it, and it all depends on what mood I'm in.

Of course, most recipes call for plain old all-purpose flour, and who am I to argue with most recipes? You want to use all-purpose flour, be my guest. I am not a rational person when it comes to this particular subject. I mean, the place I go to stock up on all my flour (Coluccio's in Brooklyn) is 337 miles from my kitchen.

Does that sound rational to you?

No matter what flour(s) you wind up using, or how far you travel to get it, sifting is always a good idea, I think. If you're taking notes (poor you!) this is about 2 1/2 cups' worth (1 cup 00 flour, 1 cup fine semolina, 1/2 cup course semolina). I use my kitchen countertop (a manufactured stone) as a work surface but any hard surface or cutting board will do. Many old-timers insist on using a wood surface but this works just fine for me.

Sometimes I make an oval out of the flour, other times it's more like a racetrack (in honor of my degenerate gambler brother, if you must know); doesn't matter, so long as there's room for mixing. Here you have three jumbo eggs, plus another three yolks, though these amounts also vary with my mood. Hell, sometimes I'll just use a dozen or more yolks. I'm not trying to be difficult here. Pasta-making to me is fun and I enjoy experimenting. All that matters is that the dough comes out right, and there's not just one way to make that happen. (Oh, there's also a pinch of salt in there and a couple tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil.)

Using either your fingers or a fork, mix the eggs and then start to gradually (in a circular motion) incorporate the flour.

Like so.

Once the mixture starts coming together I ditch the fork and start using a pastry scraper to finish the initial mixing. There's no need to be delicate here; just scrape along the work surface and keep cutting into the mixture so that it starts to form a mass.

Once you've got something that looks like this, it's time to start kneading. It's important to know that you don't need to concern yourself with over handling pasta dough. This isn't pizza dough, or pie crust, or any of those other things that require a delicate hand. Feel free to knead the dough as much and as long as you like, it won't hurt anything. If the dough seems wet, knead in some more flour; if it's too dry, wet your hands and knead in more moisture that way.

This is about what you're after, and it usually takes me around 10 minutes of kneading to get here. Pasta dough should not be sticky and wet, but it shouldn't be dry either. I know that doesn't tell you much, but it really does come down to practice. If you err on either side, wet is probably better because when you go to roll out the sheets you can start out on a floured surface, which can help get things into proper balance. Anyway, once you've got the dough where you want it, wrap it in plastic and throw it in the fridge overnight. You don't have to do this (letting the wrapped dough rest a couple hours at room temperature works fine). I just find that the overnight method allows for a more even distribution of humidity throughout the dough, and so I prefer it. If you do go my way just make sure to take the dough out of the fridge early enough so that it comes up to room temperature by the time you want to work with it.

This dough was refrigerated overnight, allowed to warm to room temp, touched lightly with a rolling pin, and is now ready to work. (Yes, I trimmed the edges just to make it look pretty for you.) Now it's time to make some decisions, based upon what type of pasta you're making and the kind of equipment you have. I use a commercial-grade electric pasta machine with a 9-inch roller that I snagged on eBay a couple years back. It was used pretty hard by a restaurant down south, but the price was right and it's the machine I really wanted. If you've come to a knucklehead like me seeking advice then I'm betting you don't own commercial equipment. And so I've snatched a couple videos off of YouTube, one demonstrating a commonly used manual pasta-making machine, another the pasta attachment for a KitchenAid electric mixer. (I own both, along with a bunch of others contraptions.) But first here are a few shots of my own machine at work.

If I'm making a lot of pasta at once, or if there are extra hands about to help out, I can work with big hunks of dough, which will produce really long sheets of pasta. I especially like to run long sheets when making lasagne; the noodle is wide enough so that each layer of pasta can be just one sheet.

More often I'll work with smaller, more manageable sheets, which means cutting strips off the large sheet of dough.

Thickness is a matter of preference, and every pasta machine will have several settings, from thick to very thin.

And don't be afraid to experiment going to a very thin setting. If your pasta dough is well made everything will be fine. Here you can see that I've rolled it out so thin that the sheet is becoming transparent. For a very delicate filled pasta this can be fabulous. Also, the thinner the noodle the less time it will take for the pasta to cook.

The reason I'm adding this shot is... well, there are a couple reasons. First, don't worry about having to buy a special drying rack for your cut pasta. I don't even own a rack; this spaghetti is sitting right on my countertop. Second, if you're worried about the pasta sticking together, then just sprinkle some course semolina over it. I don't use flour here, as I think the pasta absorbs it; the course semolina is a better way to go.

Well, that's about it. Here are the two videos I told you about. Any questions, you know where to find me. Just no whining, okay. Please?

The manual machine.

And the KitchenAid attachment.


Ciao Chow Linda said...

There's nothing like homemade pasta and you seem to have it downpat. I too, use a combination of all-purpose and semolina flours. I think it helps to give the pasta more substance, more bite. When I first saw the photo of the eggs in the well, it looked like red wine had been added!

Claudia said...

I also thought a little red wine had been sneaked in... are you coming clean? I love how you maybe have a recipe. As Grandma said, "it depends on the weather." Your weather was perfect.

Mister Meatball said...

Nope, no red wine in the mix.

Though I might have seen some in a glass whilst I was making the stuff.

Jeannie said...

I was looking forward to this post! Now, to get that pasta machine....

Ellie said...

I love the way you make pasta, mine is much more simple, but yours sounds better :) I will have to make an attempt to purchase the semolinas!! Thanks :)