Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Pasta Mama

Last I left you, I promised to tell more about my homemade pasta experience. As you may know, I am getting married in May. This past year has been an exciting, wonderful time in preparation, but I must say…the last couple of weeks have been especially wonderful, because we’re beginning to receive wedding gifts.

Among said gifts is a hand-crank pasta maker. Growing up, I spent a handful of Saturdays with my dad, rolling out pasta in the kitchen, and then slurping the fresh noodles with some kind of homemade sauce, and thinking to myself that there was never anything more delicious. I am among the lucky few to have grown up with a father who does things like makes pasta from scratch, bakes sourdough bread, preserves lemons, and uses the Thanksgiving bird for scratch-made stock. What can I say? The man is unique, and I am a more educated and inspired cook because of him.

I digress. Making pasta is among one of the easiest and most satisfying, if not time consuming, things you can make. Flour and eggs magically transform into a ball of supple, golden dough. Actually, let me back up. They transform into the golden, supple ball when you use the correct amounts of ingredients. For my inaugural pasta making, I followed Mario Batali’s recipe for basic egg pasta dough, which is the same as the one found in the Italian cooking Bible, The Silver Spoon Cookbook. Their recipes were as follows: 4 cups all-purpose flour + 4 large eggs. Maybe a teaspoon of olive oil. And a sprinkling of water, if the dough looks dry. Perfect, I thought. It can’t be wrong. If millions of Italians use this and an expert of Italian cooking uses it, it’s got to be perfect.
Not so much. I don’t know if my flour was extra thirsty or the package of organic large eggs had an ego problem and was exaggerating on the size, but the combination listed above yielded a bowlful of hard, crumbly dough that weighed about 10 pounds. Let it rest, I told myself. Maybe it will get better. It got worse. I couldn’t even roll it!

Fuming at Mario Batali in his smug orange clogs, and frustrated at wasting 4 beautiful organic eggs and almost all of my flour, I almost gave up. But then I remembered how great homemade pasta is. So I started over. This time with a scant 3 cups of flour and 4 more eggs, plus another egg yolk and about a teaspoon of olive oil. Belissima—it was perfect. I later found a Batali recipe calling for 3 1/2 cups flour and 4 extra-large eggs. Perhaps I just got a dud recipe.

(4 eggs plus 1 yolk -- perfect!)

(Nice and moist...much better this time.)

(Beautiful ball of dough, with the bad one in the back. For shame.)

It rested (next to the offending lump of unyielding, rock-hard dough, just to show it what it should look like) for 40 minutes or so, and then Jason helped me roll it into silky strands of fettuccine.

My advice for making pasta: First, start with 4 eggs + 1 egg yolk and 3 cups of flour (unless your eggs are enormous). You can always add more flour to a gloopy dough, but you can’t take it out. I’m not here to make a liar out of Mario Batali (or any number of internet sources that all gave the same amounts of ingredients), but the 4+4 thing didn’t work for me. Secondly, almost every recipe says to make the dough on a large cutting board by mounding the flour and creating a well in the center in which to put the wet ingredients, but I don’t have a large enough board. I made a well in the middle of flour in the largest bowl in my kitchen, and it worked just fine.

My Pasta Dough
Serves 4 to 6 depending on cut of pasta

3 cups all-purpose flour
4 large eggs
1 large egg yolk
1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil

In a very large bowl, or on a large wooden cutting board or clean countertop, mound the flour into a mountain shape. Use your fingers to make a well in the middle, turning the mountain into a volcano. Add the eggs, egg yolk, and oil into the center of the well. Use a fork to lightly scramble the eggs, and then slowly but continuously stir the eggs, incorporating a bit of flour each rotation.

Keep stirring in this manner until about half of the flour is incorporated. The dough will look raggedy. Scrape the dough off of the fork, and then use your fingers to finish mixing in the remainder of the flour.

Transfer dough to a lightly floured work surface. (Skip this step if you’re already working on the counter. Duh.) Knead the dough for about 5 minutes until it’s elastic and smooth. Cover with a clean kitchen towel, and allow to rest for 30 to 45 minutes at room temperature.

Divide the dough into 4 equal pieces, and follow your pasta maker’s instructions for beautiful, tasty pasta.


Colleen said...

Congrats to you on having the patience to make this - TWICE! Looks like the effort paid off!

Kristin said...

First off, yum. Secondly, I can't imagine I'm telling you something you don't know but it's my only thought (and maybe what I'm about to tell you is what scant means...) but I recently learned that the proper way to measure flour for baking is to spoon the flour into the measuring cup and level with a knife. I used to always just scoop it! Hehe. I never had any issues with scooping and my recipes coming out too dry, but I just thought I would share. :)

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