Saturday, August 18, 2007

Fresh pasta

The process is long, laborious, but SO WORTH IT. From this book. Everyone must try this at least once, just to say that you have / you can / you tasted pasta made that day by your own hand.
The texture is slightly rough and very porous: perfect for a delicate sauce (not bolognese. Save that for good bought pasta.) Maybe a lemon, olive oil and garlic sauce, or a beautiful fresh tomato and herb silky sauce.
You can impress people BIG TIME with this at a gathering or dinner party, or just treat yourself one weekend. Once you've tasted it, nothing will ever be the same...
Fresh Pasta (for 2-3 people)

  • 2 big, good eggs (free-range/organic/best quality) at room temperature
  • 2 cups 00 Italian pasta flour (don't bother with the ordinary stuff)
  • Few drops water
  • Few drops olive oil

Tip the flour onto a clean, dry, scrubbed countertop. Make a wide well and crack the eggs into it. Using a fork, carefully whisk the eggs. Slowly incorporate flour from the bottom and sides of the well, blending it with the eggs. When the mixture is thick and won't easily spill over the edges, push all the remaining flour into it. Get rid of the fork. Mix and knead with clean hands until a big floury mass.

This is where the work begins. Add a few drops water / olive oil / both, if it is too dry. Start kneading the ball. The object is to stretch the ball, not compress it. This stretches the fibres in the gluten and makes for a soft and digestible pasta. Knead, knead, knead. Stretch it away from you, push, fold over and rotate 45 degrees. Keep kneading until your fingers and wrists develop RSI. I usually have the radio on, or an open magazine nearby, to entertain me. This will take about 20 minutes of solid kneading. If you're not sure, knead some more. Pasta cannot be over-kneaded.

Eventually the ball will be soft, pliable and feel a bit like skin. Quite sensual, really. When you poke it, it should bounce back somewhat. Now you are ready, grasshopper. Wrap it tight in a plastic bag with no air pockets, leave it on the bench and go have a rest, glass of wine, whatever. Come back in half an hour for the next bit.

Roll out the ball with your rolling pin. Again, stretch it, don't compress it. Push, turn over, rotate, push again. If you have a pasta machine, you don't need to roll it out completely- just enough to get it through the roller attachment. In pieces, run the pasta through the rollers, progressively making them smaller, until desired thickness is reached. Then run the strips through the slicer attachment. I had my machine set on '3' and used the fettucine slicer, but you can get nice spaghetti too.

Without a pasta machine: no problem, but a bit more work. Keep rolling, stretching, rolling, stretching, till the pasta sheet is HUGE and you can hardly roll it any more. Just cut it in half and keep going. Get it thin enough to be translucent, but not so thin that you can't pick it up. Then, roll it into a tube and slice it up with a sharp non-serrated knife, and unroll the slices into long pasta pieces. You can also just slice up the unrolled sheet freehand, for that rustic look.

Other options: cut the sheet into rectangles, fill and fold over, pinching the edges, to make ravioli; or cut sheet into pieces to fit your baking dish and make fresh homemade lasagne.

Coil the pasta into nests and sit them on a clean dry teatowel. Cover with a clean damp teatowel. Or hang the pasta decoratively around the kitchen to dry. If you dry the pasta, it will keep for weeks in a sealed container in the pantry. Keep away from household pets during the drying... they will find the pasta very tasty!

Bring a giant pot of salted water to the boil. Insert fresh pasta. It will only take 2-3 minutes: don't walk away from the pot! Reserve a little of the cooking water. Drain and throw back into the empty pot with the reserved water and some olive oil. Dress pasta as desired.

Note: you can increase quantities by going on approx. 1 egg and 1 cup of flour per person (it's more like 1.2 people). To feed six, use 5 eggs and 5 cups of flour. However, you'll need to divide the dough in half to do the kneading and rolling, otherwise it will be too big. Get someone to help you with the other half: hopefully a big Italian mama wearing black and moaning about her sons not being married yet.

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