Tuesday, July 15, 2008


Homemade Pasta

For the interested/serious homecook, there are many culinary milestones. Most of these milestones involve learning and honing a technical skill (such as boning a chicken or mincing garlic with the back of a knife at a breakneck speed - a vital skill that I have yet to accomplish) or making a certain dish or component of one. In that which concerns the latter, something that my angelheart Eric and I have long wanted to do is make pasta at home. Accompanied by my good friends the sassy sauciere queen Lily and the gardenia-loving epicure Titaina on a day of bone-chilling breezes and distant Winter light, I crossed a culinary goal off my list.

While dried pasta is a great convenience and shop-bought fresh pasta is typically of good quality, apparently nothing holds a candle to pasta made simply and quickly at home. The options are limitless for he or she who has long crossed the pasta-making divide before me. One can use almost any type of flour with almost any type of flavouring. But first things first, the following recounts our baby-steps into the world of making pasta from scratch (but for the milling of the flour and the gathering of eggs; however, this is as close to "from scratch" as most of us ever get, and technically, this is the spirit of the expression), as taught by the sassy sauciere queen Lily. (Funnily enough, the pasta-making machine was a gift to the sassy sauciere queen Lily from the gardenia-loving epicure Titaina, who probably had an ulterior motive at the time, but I'm sure she didn't expect it to take a good year or two before finding herself invited over for homemade pasta!)

The following amount of dough makes enough for four (that said, we had no pasta left over, but we were especially hungry and were so enamoured of our first group effort that there somehow managed to be more room for pasta in our bellies than usual).

Homemade Pasta

2 1/2 - 3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 eggs

Yes, that's it!

1) In a medium-sized bowl, stir salt into 2 1/2 cups of the flour to combine well.
2) Add the eggs.
3) Combine with a fork until granules are formed. If the mixture is too dry, add water by 1 tablespoon increments. If the mixture is too moist, add extra flour by one tablespoon increments.
4) On a very lightly-floured surface, knead the granules into a ball.
5) Cover with cling-film and allow to rest for 30 minutes (it was a cool day, so we let the dough rest at room temperature for 20 minutes).
6) Most hand-cranked pasta machines have two sets of rollers: one to roll out the pasta dough, the other to cut the dough into a desire shape. We separated our ball of dough into 5 smaller balls.
7) Take one of the small balls, flatten with the palm of your hand.
8) Set the machine at the widest setting (number 1 on the sassy sauciere queen Lily's Marcato - made in Padua) and feed the flattened dough through it, turning the crank slowly. Fold the dough in three (as one did up until the late-90s when preparing letters for envelopes), and pass through again. Repeat once more.
9) Increase the setting by increments of one, passing the pasta dough once each time (you no longer need to fold the dough). The higher the setting, the narrower the setting becomes, creating very flat dough (the highest setting on our machine is 7). You will find that the pasta dough becomes shinier and that you have to pull it gently - otherwise it will fold and/or tear (only dust lightly with flour if you feel that the dough is too soft and is likely to stick to the machine).
9) Choose desired rollers for cutting the pasta (we chose fettuccine - long flat ribbons), and pass your long, flattened dough through the cutters. Place in a pile, with a mere pinch of flour to prevent sticking.
10) Repeat steps 7 to 9 with the remaining small balls.

One only needs to cook the pasta for two to three minutes until it is al dente. To ensure this is a quick process, bring a large pan or pot of heavily-salted water to a rolling boil before adding the pasta. If is is not boiling rapidly, there is a possibility of the pasta becoming water-logged and viscid.

The possibilities for pasta are endless with this egg dough. Instead of cutting it into fettuccine, the dough can be adapted for all types of pasta: other long pastas, such as pappardelle (wide ribbons) and tagliatelle; short pasta, such as garganelli and penne (both tubular pastas); flat pasta, such as lasagne and cannelloni; and filled pastas, such as tortelloni (large parcels), ravioli (square-filled pasta with fluted edges) and cappelletti (little hats). Apart from shapes, there are endless variations on flavourings also. One of the most intriguing to my mind is Stephane's semolina dough flavoured with beetroot and squid ink, which he combined into striped ravioli cases, "zebravioli". Clearly, you can let you imagination run free.

We, on the other hand, kept it simple with a topping a rustically grated parmesan after tumbling our fettuccine into a ragù (a meat sauce, which for us was made by sweating down an onion and two small bulbs on fennel in olive oil with thyme, to which was added two 450g/14oz cans of tomatoes plus 3/4 of its juice, 1 cup of beef broth and one bay leaf, brought to the boil and left at a steady simmer for 40 minutes, by which time the liquid was mostly absorbed by the mince). Homemade pasta is silken, light, and a joy to behold. We all felt like we were taking part in a time-honoured tradition, albeit with steel rolling pins and cranks to make life easier. That said, there is a great sense of accomplishment that comes from making pasta oneself. I would not recommend it when preparing for a crowd, but for a small lunch for three or four, it seems no big deal, especially when one can rope friends in for assistance. Seconds, ladies?

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Shaun, sweetie

It looks fabulous. My mum has told me that they have a pasta machine tucked into the morass that is their basement. Apparently, I'm welcome to it...if I can find it.

I've tried this before and although I ended upwith flour around the entire kitchen, it was well worth it.
Bravissimo Shaun!

Your fettuccine looks divine! Homemade pasta is indeed a treat, even in households where it is standard procedure on holidays & Saint's days. And you've said it very well, there is just something about the texture and the satisfaction of the whole process.

Later next week (July 27th is the Festa of San Giorgio and San Giacomo), I'll make extra and freeze it (for a week at the most) for a quick (and quieter) dinner a few days later. It's then just a question of choosing what sauce to make.

Hope you are keeping warm!
I have been pouring through your blog pages and just wanted to tell you how much I have enjoyed reading your post and recipes.
Your photos are fantastic. I love it when pictures accompany the recipes.
Shaun, I love that you add fennel to your ragu! I became addicted to fennel when I visited Italy for the first time this past winter (erm, I mean December over here). I've never added it to my ragu, but I bet it must add a nice refreshing bite - whenever the temperature here decides to dip below 90F I'll be making some of that ragu : )
Jasmine, honey ~ If I were you, I'd hit the searchlights now. It really is worth the effort of making pasta at home - it just cannot be compared to dried pasta, however well-made.

Anthony ~ I can imagine how such a mess could arise. More hands on deck keeps the kitchen tidier - at least when it comes to making homemade pasta.

Mary ~ Trying hard to stay warm without turning on the heaters. Thank you for your kind comments. I'd be interested to know what sauces you choose to make to dress up your homemade pasta.

Liz ~ Welcome! Thank you for the complimentary comments. I think most people who go to food blogs for ideas generally appreciate photos with recipes. Photos give depth to the text.

Antonio ~ Indeed, adding fennel imparted a refreshing quality to the ragu, cutting through the acidity of the tomatoes and weight of the beef. I also adore the intensity of the licorice-like essence that is yielded as heat is applied to fennel.
Oh, good for you for conquering this milestone! Although Do and I don't own a pasta maker, my parents do. One of my favorite childhood vacation memories is of my father making pasta from scratch, and my Mom cooking it in a very simple sauce. It's such a warm, solid childhood memory, like playing ball or catching fireflies or something. This past winter, my family brought Do along to our vacation condo and introduced him to the pasta maker. It really was a memorable experience.
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