Thursday, November 12, 2009

Fresh Pasta

There are only two things that really scare me (actually, three, but I don't see how I can eloquently weave the inherently frightening nature of clowns into this post). One of them is, as I've mentioned many times before, baking from scratch. The other is making fresh pasta, which much like baking generally involves making a dough, albeit a significantly more fickle one. While with baking you're generally safe sticking to a recipe and carefully measuring out your ingredients, pasta making requires a careful eye and an instinct for necessary adjustments. Despite having what I'd like to think of as a keen instinct for cooking, I've always been sure I'd never posses the same talent for pasta making. Having never known the proper consistency of fresh pasta dough, I felt it was reasonable to think that I must be lacking the instinct necessary for perfecting it.

This week however, something changed. Finding that my CSA had run its course (those five months flew by!) and that I'd soon be visiting the farmer's market and grocery store with growing frequency, I decided that I should continue to save money by using what was already in my home. After all, with a fridge full of produce and a few free extras from the CSA (it's good to volunteer on the last shift!), why dole out the cash for anything from the supermarket? And so I planned a meal of fettuccine with roasted beets, beet greens and toasted walnuts, only to realize on the way home that there was no pasta in the house. I considered other options but decided to stick with my plan. I'd spent some time catching up on my food show DVRing recently and learned from Lidia's Italy that you can easily make pasta dough in the food processor, and that it happens to be her preferred method. While I was still dubious about my ability to know how I should adjust the dough, I figured that even if my fresh pasta was a disaster, at the very least it would be a good way to use up all that flour taking up space in my pantry.

It was with feigned confidence that I carefully measured out three cups of flour and briefly pulsed them in the food processor. Then with the motor running I added in the eggs, water and a bit of olive oil. I was immediately set at ease when 20 seconds in, the dough formed into a ball--a sure sign, I'd been told--that I was doing a good job and well on my way to conquering my fear. A mere 10 seconds later I was knocked off my high horse when I stopped the motor to see that a ball of dough had indeed formed, but the rest of the mixture sat pooled at the bottom of the processor bowl. First panicking and then attacking the problem with my general 'I will break you' attitude, I reminded myself that pasta making was all about playing a game of cat and mouse with the dough. If part of the mixture was pooling, that meant it was too wet and sticky (which I confirmed by poking it with my finger and spending five minutes and 3 paper towels trying to get it off). So I added in a tablespoon of flour and continued to run the machine adding flour a tablespoon at a time until the entire mixture came loose and formed a big doughy ball. I poked it one final time and found that it was still moist, but no longer sticky. I'd successfully made what appeared to be good pasta dough.

Although it felt like an eternity, the whole thing took no more than 5 minutes. What I didn't know was that even though I thought the scary part was over, rolling out the dough was actually the hard part. I ignored a tip I'd read that mentioned cutting the dough into 8ths before rolling instead of the traditional 4ths. It didn't explain why so I ignored it, but a few minutes into rolling dough through my machine it became clear that by rolling a piece of dough so large I'd wind up with a three foot long sheet that was difficult to maneuver whist also turning the handle. So despite that one unexpected bump in the road, the whole thing went rather smoothly, and I already have tips for myself and others on how to make the whole thing go even smoother next time. Here's how to make the pasta step-by-step with my tips on how to make the process easier. And if you'd like the recipe for the dish I made with the pasta, just drop me a line--I'd be happy to post it or send it along your way.

Fresh Pasta

3 cups flour
3 eggs, lightly beaten
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup very cold water

1. Add flour to the bowl of a food processor and pulse 3-4 times to aerate. With the motor running, add eggs followed by the oil and cold water. Run the processor until a dough starts to form in the shape of a ball. If the dough is wet and sticky, add a tablespoon of flour and continue to process. Repeat until the dough is no longer sticky. If the dough is hard and dry, add cold water a tablespoon at a time until the dough is moist but not sticky.

2. When the dough is the right consistency, carefully remove it from the food processor and place it on a lightly floured counter top or cutting board. Knead the dough for 1-2 minutes then flatten it into a disc and wrap it tightly in cling wrap. Let it sit at room temperature for at least 30 minutes. If you'd like to freeze it for future use, leave it in your freezer for up to a month (defrost it in your fridge and let it come to room temperature before rolling it out when you finally use it).

3. Divide the dough into 8ths and carefully roll it out using a pasta machine (or pasta attachment on your stand mixer). Begin on the widest setting and continue running pasta through each setting until it is at the desired thickness for the type of noodle you'd like to make. Make sure to toss your cut noodles with a light dusting of flour to keep them from sticking to each other (skip this for stuffed pastas). It shouldn't take more than 2 minutes to cook your pasta in salted, boiling water. Enjoy!


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