Pasta is easy to make. Once you get the knack of it, anyway.
I started attempting to make my own pasta about two years ago for a lasagne. I had just started studying culinary arts. I was tackling things that I knew I needed to learn. Pasta being up there on the list, considering how much people already loved my lasagne.
Off to the internet I went to learn the recipe! I watched videos, I read food blogs, I must have studied every pasta recipe on the internet. It was lengthy too. Some cooks add some extra stuff to be more creative, insisting it helps, some stick to the bare bones basics. I decided to stick with the most basic of recipes.
My first attempts were, well, sad. A sticky, gooey mess that only slightly resembled the Blob with meat sauce and bits of Italian sausage. My friends, being as supportive as they are, or no idea what good pasta is supposed to look or taste like, insisted that it was the best pasta they had ever had. This lie still makes me laugh. I have good friends with good intentions.
Shortly after my first attempt, I got myself a pasta machine, thinking that would change everything. Oh, Dear Readers, you can not hear the boisterous laughter coming from me right now, but I assure you, I am writing this through tears of laughter. The pasta machine only made all of my pasta sheets a uniform thickness.
Here is a hint; Do not overwork your pasta by running it through the machine too many times, it is easy to overwork pasta during the pressing process. Especially when you are new at it! Over worked pasta is tough, almost leathery.
I do not eat a lot of italian food. It is the bell peppers, but that is a whole different blog. However, more than the Italians use pasta and noodles in cuisine. Pasta is a very inexpensive food to make, and with a little practice, can be so much better than the dried up pre processed pasta you can buy at the store. The cost of making pasta, this time for me was about 75 cents for 6 servings of fresh pasta. That means 3 nights of dinner for 75 cents for me and my room mate.
Flour and eggs. Depending on the egg size and flour batch, my pasta averages 3 cups of organic unbleached white flour (I prefer Wheat Montana White All Purpose flour) and 3 or 4 eggs. I do not like to have a huge floury mess when I am in the kitchen, so I use my largest bowl for this, some use the countertop.
I put the flour into my big bowl and whisk it with my dry whisk, this is much like sifting flour, not quite but almost. I use my fingers to make a pit in the middle of the fluffy flour. I have found the mixing process works better if the eggs are beaten before adding them to the flour.
With the eggs in the flour, using my hands, I start covering the eggs with flour, then push the wet eggs to one side until they break through the flour, then cover them again. I do this for a few minutes, trying not to work the flour too much, I just want it to soak up all the moisture from the eggs. I mash it all together, within a few minutes a large yellowish beige ball is now collecting the remaining flour in the bowl as I now knead into a firm ball the size of a huge grapefruit.
I like my doughs to be a little sticky when I rest them. When it comes to pasta, I like the dough ball to be sticky, then I roll it in the remaining flour so the sticky is covered with dust. I wrap it in clingfilm, and put it in the chill box (yes, I stole it from Alton Brown) to chill for a while. How long? When I see that it doesn’t look dusty any more, the flour is still absorbing the eggs. It is still sticky, but workable.
After I am satisfied with the way it looks I cut the ball in half, then in half again, and again. That gives me 8 pieces that have to be squished through the machine, which turned into last night’s dinner and at least two more meals in the future (uncooked, unused pasta freezes great). But wait! The dough is so sticky! I shape the small piece I am working with into a roughly shaped rectangle, then drop it in some fresh flour before I push it through the pasta machine.
Last night I recruited my roomie to help out while I rolled out the pasta, her job was to cut the sheets into noodle size strips. I cranked out beautiful sheets, and she sliced them very carefully for uniform size. “Don’t you have an attachment to do this?” She asked as we toked along.
“Of course I do!” I said happily as I kept cranking. Twice through on 7, twice through on 6, one time through on the remaining settings 5 through 1. Setting 1 is the goal here, then the sheets are ready to cut. I was using scissors, my roomie opted for a pizza cutter. Of course there are a plethora of pasta tools. Scissors and pizza cutters work fine if you don’t have fancy equipment.
After the pasta is all rolled out and sliced up it is time to cook it. Most people know how to boil water, in theory. I salt my water instead of adding salt to the pasta dough. Salt changes the chemistry of eggs, and can alter the texture of the pasta. It seems to me that salting the cooking water seasons pasta much better and keeps the texture creamier, smoother. Don’t cook these noodles for too long, they will be a soggy mess if overcooked.
Last night, I made the best pasta I have ever made. I made Fettuccini Chicken Alfredo. It turned out much lighter than I expected. Much better than I had hoped. I do love it when I can impress myself with my cooking.
I would not know how to make pasta if it weren’t for the dedication of other cooks and chefs in the culinary world. I thank every cook and chef I have ever studied. Each and every one of you are more valuable than gold pressed latinum to me.