Staples – Pasta

Flour is my favorite food.

I think if Adam can consider lettuce a food, I can consider flour a food. It’s almost magical how one unassuming ingredient can become a million of your favorite things with next to no accompaniments:  image

  • Add an egg and you have pasta.
  • Add yeast and you have bread.
  • Add olive oil and baking powder and you have crackers.
  • Add butter and you have pie crust.

I love diving into the flour bin after a long day in front of the computer working on far less tangible things. I have even been known to play French music, open a bottle of red wine and just mess with flour until something wonderful happens.

And I used “mess” in the most literal sense, as it some how manages to get all over me, the kitchen, the floor, and even the dog. [Especially the lower half of Frank the basset hound’s ears that drag on the floor!].

The following are mainly just tricks of the trade and our favorite easy pasta a few different ways:

Basic Pasta

  • 1 cup of flour 
  • 1 egg
  • Salt and Olive Oil for cooking

There really is not much to making pasta, but a positive attitude and a willingness to experiment. I use one cup of flour to one egg as a starting point, but it really varies quite a bit depending on the quality of the eggs you can get, the type of flour and even the humidity in the air.  So don’t worry too much about the recipe and focus more on the texture of the flour and moisture content.

It is always easiest to use a small bowl with a fork to incorporate the flour. By adding about a cup of flour to the bowl and making a well in the center to place the egg, you can incorporate as much flour as you need and leave the remainder in the bowl.  After breaking the egg into the well, I spin the egg quickly in the center of the bowl to scramble it and create a wet dough. It is more important to keep the same consistency throughout the dough, rather than to use all the flour. With the fork continue to incorporate flour as you stir until you have a pretty firm dough that wants to behave more like a ball of dough. 10351976_986285938064_465232067048157756_n

At this point try to press as much flour into the dough as possible by pressing the fork against the bottom or sides of the bowl. Once the dough will no longer accept any more flour, remove the ball from the bowl and turn onto a floured surface. If I’m in a hurry or trying not to make a mess [for once] I will do this in my hands and spare the counter and the floor, and the dog! Work only a minute or so to create a ball, adding more flour as you knead if the dough is sticky.

The dough should be pretty dense and dry on the outside with some moisture if you were to break it in half. Don’t worry about lumps in the dough for now. Wrap in plastic and let sit on the counter for 20 minutes or in the fridge for longer. This allows the dough to become more elastic and easy to work with. If you are in a rush, you can also roll it out immediately. Start heating your water as soon as you start rolling because it should be very hot. I boil the water unsalted, and then add 1-2T of salt and a few tablespoons of olive oil (a big drizzle). I know that sounds like a ton of salt, but so far there is just egg and flour in the pasta, so the only seasoning is coming from the water.

Two ways to roll

Pasta Machine Because we make pasta quite often, I nearly always use my pasta machine which stays out year round next to the stove. This wonderful little device is imported from Italy and should honestly last a life time if properly cared for. I used to use a kitchen aid attachment for a motorized pasta press but really like the hand crank version better. It’s quieter and less obnoxious for starters [so you can really get into the french music and wine] but also gives you better control.  Our machine is from Marcato Atlas 150 and cost around $75. I’ve had it about 5 years and it works and looks like new. image

If using this style machine, start by flouring everything; the machine the dough, the counter, yourself, everything! [Although some of the mess is likely too blame on the 1 ft by 2ft counter I have to work with, that allows extra flour to easily fall to the flood]. Cut your dough into 3 or 4 pieces and squash them so they are roughly disk shaped and have one end that will fit through the rollers.  Starting on 0 (the widest setting), continue to crank the rollers and gently guide the pasta through the wheels. Never force it though the rollers or you can damage your machine. If needed, take it out and squish a bit more so it will naturally get taken through the rollers as you crank. At this point you will have a lumpy ripped mess and think you have failed miserably at pasta making and want to retreat back to the plasticy stuff they sell in a box. But don’t give up. It always looks rough to begin with. I fold the rough edges in on itself (often like tri-folding letter for an envelope) so the next pass squeezes the rough dough together and you have crisp edges on the outside. Do this a couple times on the widest setting until you have some semblance of a rectangle and the dough looks mostly solid, not lumpy.  From here, continue to increase the settings until you achieve the desired thickness, adding more flour to the machine and counter as needed. I think a  no. 6 or so is good for a normal pasta, but if you are feeling adventurous you can go as thin as the machine goes. After rolling you can use the spaghetti or fettuccine cutting attachments, or I love a super thin 1 inch wide noodle cut with a pizza wheel or pasta cutter.  The picture above shows this ribbon type noodle that seems the pick up a pesto just perfectly. Toss the floured pasta directly into the salted, oily water and give a gentle stir. The pasta cooks insanely quick because you are not re-hydrating it like the box kind, so be prepared to pull it out of the water in about 2 minutes. I.e. 120 seconds. I.e. not enough time to start something else. Just have a sip of wine, find a strainer or a pasta spoon and don’t over cook the pasta! I try to use a pasta spoon instead of a strainer, because for one my pasta is generally too thin and will go through the holes but secondly, the pasta water is a great starter for a simple sauce. See another post about that here, but there are lots of other types of sauces it can be used for.

French Rolling Pinimage

The french rolling pin completely intimidated me at first. But after playing with dough for a while on my pasta machine, I visited Adam in Seattle and we started talking about tortellini. While he ran into the office that day, I found this wonderful kitchen shop in West Seattle that had everything imaginable. Knowing most things wouldn’t fit in my suitcase and we hadn’t yet decided to officially merge kitchens, I showed some self restraint and ended up with a nice dough scraper, french rolling pin and pasta cutter.

The biggest secret to hand rolling pasta is that you aren’t really rolling it at all. One would assume that similar to a pie crust you just go to town like an american rolling pin and press and turn, press and turn. But a french rolling pin doesn’t have handles for a reason, and tapers off on both ends.  While you can press the initial ball of dough flat with the pin as normal, at that point you just get the dough insanely floury (even by my standards – see photo), and actually roll the dough around the pin pressing outwards with your hands. Continue to roll and press to the outside in multiple strokes and once all the dough is on the pin, unroll it an repeat. Think about stretching the dough to the outer edge of the pin instead of pressing it against the table (in fact it is often easier to just hold the pin in two hands off the table entirely). If your dough doesnt stretch easily, best to let it rest a bit longer and use more flower. This takes a few rolls but you will get the hang of it. I’ve heard people also just use cheap dowels for this as well, if you want to try it before buying more gadgets.1294406_914940529834_627549953_o

Once at a consistent desired thickness, cut into strips or shapes for tortellini or ravioli. In this case I used about a cup of ricotta cheese, and egg yoke, fresh Italian parsley, salt and minced garlic. Cook tortellini or ravioli in very hot water, but slightly longer than regular pasta to ensure contents have cooked.

Ravioli and angel hair pasta freeze very well and should be cooked from frozen for those days you don’t feel like cleaning flour off the walls for a meal.

Grab a nice bottle of wine and enjoy,

Kate & Adam

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