Pasta 101

If you’re as much of a pasta fiend as I am (and I know you are) then you’ve probably discovered the merits of fresh pasta over the dried stuff we can buy in cello bags at any grocer’s. Not that there’s anything wrong with the dried stuff; it’s easy, convenient and generally pretty tasty stuff…but it just doesn’t compare to the fresh stuff. Making pasta isn’t difficult but I won’t lie; it is time-consuming. I wish I was as quick with the stuff as Zia Louisa who thought nothing of whipping up a batch for unexpected guests…but I’m not, so it becomes a bit of a project…but oh-so-worthwhile.

What you need for four good-sized servings:

1 cup all purpose flour

2/3 cup fine durum semolina (we’ve talked about this stuff before)

2 eggs

1 tbsp. olive oil

1 tsp salt

2-3 tbsp. warm water

Take all of the dry ingredients and blend them in a large bowl.

Once blended the dry stuff needs to have a well made in the centre. I failed at getting a good pic of that but it’s basically like making a bowl within the bowl. Into that inner bowl the wet ingredients are put. Like so:

At this point the inner bowl is folder over onto the wet ingredients.

I’m a big fan of the wooden spoon for that part. It can be done with the hands, but hands aren’t quite as good at getting underneath everything and pulling the stuff from the bottom up to the top. Once the wet ingredients are completely covered in the dry it’s time to stir…and stir and stir and stir until the contents of the bowl look like this:

Now it’s time to get the hands in there. And it’s important to use hands now because they will be the gauge for how moist the dough is. If it’s not sticking together then we’ll want to add more water, 1 tablespoon at a time, until it does. If it’s too sticky then we’ll want to add more flour, one tablespoon at a time. The result should be a wee bit sticky, leaving a thin film on the hand but firm too. When worked into a ball it should look a little like this:

Once it’s there, remove the ball from the bowl and work it into a rough log, then cut the log into 1 inch thick rounds.

Now the pasta is ready for rolling. I have a handy dandy pasta roller and cutter. It’s a dream.

And it’s pretty dirty so I shall sacrifice one of those 1 inch rounds of dough to help get it clean. In pressing the dough and pulling it along the rollers and the cutters all of the grub gets pulled out without compromising the integrity of the machine. Washing it is pretty much out of the question as it may rust those moving bits which do all the dirty work. I always save the end pieces of my dough logs for this job; one for the beginning of the process and one to give it a go over at the end.

Once satisfied with the cleanliness of one’s machine, the pressing of the real stuff may begin. Before beginning that, it’s important to flour the surface the pasta will be spending time on in between pressings. Most pasta machines start with the thickest pressing at number 1 (as does mine) but whatever the number, we want the first pressing to be at the thickest the rollers will allow then get thinner incrementally with each pressing.

Here’s the dough after the first press:

The end product should determine how thin the dough gets pressed but it’s important to get it thinner incrementally or the dough will tear. I usually cheat and go from 1 to 3 then up to 6 then 7 for things like ravioli or 9 (which is the thinnest setting on my machine) for things like spaghettini.

It’s best to move onto the cutting stage just before you’re ready to cook the pasta as this stuff doesn’t really store well (unless you’ve got a proper drying rack…which still doesn’t work for things like ravioli.) I swear by the biggest pot in the house for cooking pasta…doesn’t matter how much I’m cooking. The more space the noodles have to roll around in the boiling water the less chance they have of sticking together or requiring oil (we’ve talked about that before too) after they’re cooked. So I fill that big pot to within 2 inches of the top add a little salt and no pasta whatsoever until it’s at a rolling boil. But we’ll talk a bit more about that tomorrow.

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