ASB Basics: Fresh Pasta from Scratch
Why is it that the most basic of staples are the foods which daunt us the most when it comes to making them from scratch? This question came to me first at a Salvadoran restaurant when I was eating a tortilla and having a little moment. This enjoyment soon turned to resentment as I realized that every dry, tasteless tortilla I had eaten before had been a total waste of time and calories.
Pasta, tortillas, and bread—these are foods that in other countries people make at home every day, and would never dream of resorting to the plastic–wrapped cardboard we are used to. People make these staples at home every day — there is no way it could be that complicated...
That Salvadoran restaurant happened to sell the corn flour they used for the tortillas, and so I bought some. After a few youtube searches I realized that all I needed to do was mix hot water with the flour, roll them flat, and cook like a pancake on the stove. The best tortillas I ever had were the ones I made myself.
This semester at Cornell, I'm taking two Italian classes, an intensive intro–class, and an Italian food culture class. I love the food culture class because it has a combination of native speakers, beginners, and everyone in between, and it's about my favorite subject: food. The class is taught exclusively in Italian, but for a beginner, I am actually able to participate a decent amount, with background knowledge in food and Spanish (which allows me to understand everything). Anyway, this class has really got me thinking about my one true love: pasta. There's something so basic, essential, about pasta, but at the same time when it's made well it can be incredibly light and elegant.
I was lucky to have a weekend break at home this February—a nice distraction from the Ithacan freeze—and the one thing on my mind this weekend has been PASTA. You can totally make this recipe without a pasta machine—in fact, there are some amazing youtube videos of nonne welding rolling pins seemingly larger than their grandma–selves (life goals)...so if they can do it, you can too. This time, I didn't. Luckily, my friend Maia's mom is a cooking cognoscente and let me borrow her machine a couple of days. The machine makes quick work of rolling out a lot of dough, but it is nothing that a rolling pin can't do. I encourage you to try making this pasta just once...you might not be able to stop.
A note on flour:
You can use all–purpose flour if that's all you have. You can use 00 Italian flour if you can find it, and you can use ultra-fine semolina flour if you can get it. You'll have delicious pasta with any of these options. All purpose and 00 will be a little softer and semolina flour will have a little more flavor and bite. I like getting the best–of–both–worlds and opt for a mix of semolina and 00, but you can do whatever works. You can probably get 00 and semolina flour at your local grocery store—but if you can get your hands on the good stuff from a particular favorite Italian grocery or restaurant, even better. For me, that's part of the fun.
A note on method:
You can make your dough whichever way is easiest for you. It is traditional to make a little flour volcano on the counter and add the eggs to the center, but you'll get great results just using a stand mixer with the dough hook attachment. In terms of rolling pin vs. machine vs. neither, do whatever you are comfortable with, and keep in mind there a lot of shapes that require NO rolling at all.
1 and 3/4 cups (200g) 00 flour
1 and 1/2 cups (200g) semolina flour
4 fresh, large eggs
Pinch of salt
Drizzle of EVOO
Extra flour for working
Read the entire method before starting. Not kidding.
On a clean countertop (see footnote for stand mixer instructions), dump the flours together in one clump. Use your fingers to make a large well in the center, keeping thick borders.
Whisk the eggs together in a bowl and add to the center of the well a little at a time, in manageable amounts. Add a tiny drizzle of the olive oil and a pinch of salt. Use a fork to incorporate the eggs with the flour around the border of the well.
When the mixture becomes too thick to manage with a fork, use your hands to mix the dry bits with the wet.
Knead for several minutes (maybe even up to 10) until all the flour is incorporated and the dough goes from shaggy to smooth. If the mixture is really too dry to incorporate all of the flour, you can add water a DROP at a time. You want a dough that is somewhat pliable but also not too wet—as it sits in the fridge the flour will hydrate and become easier to work with.
Wrap the kneaded dough in plastic wrap and let sit in the fridge at least a half hour (preferably an hour). This indispensable step allows for the gluten relax, and the flour to hydrate, making the dough easier to work with.
On a floured surface or using a pasta machine according to its instructions, roll out manageable sized pieces of your dough. Alternatively, make shapes that require no rolling. See this video for inspiration. Keep dough you're not actively using tightly wrapped in plastic, to keep it from drying out. Generally, you want your dough thin enough to be able to read the newspaper through. To make hand-cut long pasta like tagliatelle, gently and loosely roll up well–floured sheets of pasta and cut to your desired width with a chef's knife. Keep in mind that the pasta gets a little bigger when cooked.
Cook your pasta in abundant boiling water, with a crap–ton (that's a technical measurement) of salt. At LEAST a quarter cup of kosher salt. Fresh pasta usually cooks in less than 2 minutes, and floats to the top when it's done. I know you're not a monster who gets rid of pasta water (liquid gold for your sauce) so I will stop here. Enjoy!
Storage and cooking times:
If you don't want to use all your pasta at once, leave it on a floured sheet tray several hours to dry partially before wrapping and freezing.
According to King Arthur Flour, you can use these as general guidelines for cooking times:
Fresh pasta, no drying or freezing: 2 to 3 minutes
Fresh pasta, frozen: 3 to 5 minutes, depending on size
Fresh pasta, air dried: 4 to 7 minutes, depending on size
Commercially dried pasta: 6 to 10 minutes, depending on size
...but of course, rely on your own judgment (taste) and intuition.
Method with Stand Mixer:
Dump the flour in the bowl with the eggs, a drizzle of olive oil, and a pinch of salt.
Using the dough hook attachment, knead until smooth, around 5 minutes. The bowl might pop off the mixer because it's such a thick dough so HOLD the bowl in place the WHOLE time.