I was out for dinner last night at a little Italian restaurant. i thought I’d play it safe and order a pasta dish but when it arrived it was rather disappointing, not as good as can be created at home with just eggs and flour.
If you’ve never made pasta from scratch you’ve been missing out. It’s not only easy but also doesn’t require any special equipment. I cheat a little and use a food processor to mix the pasta dough and an attachment on my stand mixer to roll and cut the pasta. The food processor and mixer attachment allow me to make pasta in a matter of minutes, so it needn’t be an onerous job. That being said, you can get the same end result in only a few more minutes with simply a rolling-pin and a little elbow grease.
Start by mounding up 3 cups of flour on your kitchen counter and add a handful of semolina flour, if you have it. Semolina is a hard flour and give the pasta a nice “tooth” when you bite it. Make a well in the middle of the flour and break 4 eggs into the well, use a fork to beat the eggs then start incorporating the eggs and flour by stirring with your fingers on the outer edge of the eggs and with each revolution pulling a bit of flour into the egg mixture. Once you have all the flour incorporated into the eggs, if it’s too wet and sticky, add a little more flour, a quarter cup at a time, until the dough comes together and cleans the counter. Knead the dough for a few minutes until it forms a ball. Roll the dough into a cylinder and wrap with plastic wrap. Let the dough rest at room temperature for about 10 minutes. This allows the dough to hydrate.
After the dough has rested for a while, unwrap the dough and cut the cylinder into about 4 equal sized pieces, take one piece and wrap the rest until you’re ready for them. Flatten the first disk of dough and roll out the pasta until it’s about 1/8 – 1/16 of an inch thick. At this point you can loosely roll it up and cut it with a knife to fettucine thickness or as thick as you’d like. My Italian friend’s mother uses a piece of a broom stick to roll the pasta dough around, she then slides out the broom stick and slices the roll of pasta into the thickness she wants.
Separate the pasta strands and dust them with semolina flour then place them on a cookie sheet until they are ready to cook. Repeat with the rest of the pasta dough. Fresh pasta sheets make fabulous ravioli or lasagna. You should only boil fresh pasta for one or two minutes, longer and it gets mushy.
Want to really impress at your next dinner party? Try colouring your pasta with beet juice, spinach or squid ink. Add a contrasting sauce and it will be a thing of beauty.
Cooks illustrated is a great resource for cooking techniques and they have a well illustrated article about making pasta without a machine.
Next time you’re thinking of going out to an Italian restaurant, save your money and try making some homemade pasta.