Basic pasta (or fresh pasta 0.01)

6 Mar

Cooking, reading, thinking and writing about food is a very good procrastination tool. My fb page is now cluttered with recipes and tips & tricks from all the cooks and magazine I like, and I love it. Just last Saturday I have tried 3 new recipes. They looked appealing but they were, all considered, not very special.  Just explaining how I will consider a recipe as a good recipe or not will require a whole post (and it is arguably less interesting that what I want to say). However, just food (or talking about food) in itself is not going to get me out of unemployment, so I have to be more active in the unemployment front. To balance the thin food/work-seeking equilibrium I try to spend more or less the same amount of time I spend in looking around in cooking sites also looking for possible jobs. Today I sent in a couple of applications and therefore I thought it was just fair to write also something on my little blog. In some way I consider this post a bit of a treat, and I am going to make this treat about a short story on making the easiest `pasta all’uovo’.

Marleen and I love `pasta all’uovo’ (fresh pasta) and I wanted to write a post about it for a very long time. However, every time I was starting to write I stopped even before considering typing because myriads of thoughts and ideas cluttered my mind. I feared I would have written such a long a post that it would have become unreadable. In essence, I was not sure how to organize a post on fresh pasta when I had so much to talk about. But I had a (brilliant) idea.

I will write a series of posts, which will increase with the difficulty of the procedures involved. I will start with a post that explains how to make the simplest fresh pasta and then build upon that post. The thing is I love, absolutely love, making filled pasta (e.g., ravioli, cappelletti, cappellacci, tortelli, tortelloni, tortellini). However, a fresh-pasta-marker (fresh in the sense of newbie, but also in the sense of a maker of fresh pasta, I like the subtlety of that double meaning) should not start with pasta-making making filled pasta. In fact, filled pasta requires a bit of experience managing the dough, having previous experience will help in the process of making filled pasta because there are many little tricks one can use to fix the pasta. The reason I’m making this rather tedious and boring preamble is that many friends very enthusiastically bought a pasta machine, used it once, got upset and never used it again. That is NOT what should happen. Start easy and then go complex, that is true also for pasta making. If one’s desire is only the making of filled pasta, then their best option is to ask a friend, who already have experience, to help them out.

The easiest fresh pasta one can make is the pasta sheets for lasagna. Why? Because if anything goes wrong there is (usually) an easy to fix. But before getting into fixing let’s bother about getting something to fix!

Making lasagna sheets is easy. What you need is 100 g of flour and 1 large egg per person, more if your guests have a large appetite. Many cooking sites, books, magazine etc. says you should use flour `00 ‘ (double zero), but I do not. And I am Italian (OKOK, I live in the Netherlands and `farina 00’ can be bought at kidney’s prices here in comparison to Italy, and given that I have only two kidneys  selling them for a pack of flour seems a bit… paradoxical), but still, white wheat flour will do fine. Then you need to mix flour and egg(s).

Mixing can be done in 2 (that I can think of) ways: automated, manually. If you have a kitchen machine that’s easy, just put flour and eggs in proportion to the pasta eaters and let it mix (e.g., 1-2 minutes) until it forms a ball which should look like the photo – that dough is brown because it contains cocoa powder (Note: if the ball forms quicker you do not need to let the engine of your kitchen machine going). If the ball does not form within that interval and you have clues that it won’t form you have to consider whether the dough is too wet (too much fluid) or too dry (too much floor). All you have to do is add the opposite ingredient (water if dough is dry and flour if dough is wet) consider adding small quantities (e.g., table spoons as, for example, adding 1 spoon, let mix 10-20 seconds, so that you won’t get with three time the amount of pasta you wanted to work with in the first place).

The manual procedure, if you like to work with your hands, is more fun, more environmentally friendly, a bit more messy, requires less washing up (unless you throw everything in the dishwasher) than the ‘robotic’ one. All you need is to create a small pile of flour and dig a little hole in the middle (as a volcano) – NOTE that you should not reach the surface of the surface on which you are making your dough.  You break the egg(s) in the hole of the volcano and start mixing with a fork. When you see that mixing can be done with the hands then you start working the dough. This is usually done pushing and folding the pasta. Push the pasta with the palm(s) simultaneously stretching it with your (arched) fingers and then folding it again. You repeat this for 10-20 minutes or until you think the dough is elastic enough. I find that if the pasta dough is good, this pushing-stretching-folding activity is quite enjoyable. If the pasta dough is sticky or too dry you need to add water/flour little by little. What I do is just to spread a spoon of flour/water on the working surface and work the dough through it.

If you want to add salt to your dough you do it before mixing with the egg(s). And to make sure the salt is maximally distributed with the flour mix a bit before adding the egg(s). Personally I never add salt because I cook the pasta in salty water (the golden ration is 10:100:1000 for salt, pasta, water) and I think it’s enough. I do not add it also if the recipe says to do it, but that is my personal preference.

When you are done you leave your dough to rest for 30 min / 1 hour / 1 day if you plan to use it the day after. Getting the dough to rest is not a necessary step, you will be able to work it in any case, but it helps the elasticity of the dough. If you have the time let it rest, otherwise get to the pasta machine and roll it through it. If you do not have a pasta machine you can flatten the pasta with a rolling pin. Flattening the pasta with a rolling pin is a bit of work, the only suggestion I can give is that it is way easier if you roll little snakes (as for the gnocchi) out of your ball of pasta and then flatten those. The flattening of the piece of pasta is also a trick one can use to pass the pasta through the pasta machine. Flattening a short pasta `cylinder’ will (1) make the pasta sheet broader than if it wouldn’t be flat and (2) save time because there is no need to fold it several times before it acquires the desired thickness.

This post is getting long now, therefore the rest will come in a follow up. There is one last point to mention: one could argue that lasagna actually requires more work than, for example, tagliatelle or tagliolini (which are lasagne sheets which are cut when still fresh and eaten with a sauce, e.g. ragu alla bolognese / pesto alla genovese). I will not argue with that. I am saying that pasta sheets are the easiest to make, and not that the actual use of the lasagna sheet might be more than tagliatelle. All considered, tagliatelle requires to make a next step, whereas lasagna sheet just need to be passed through the rolls of the pasta machine. Moreover, sticky lasagna sheet are way easier to work with than sticky tagliatelle. In fact, sticky tagliatelle will glue together, whereas sticky lasagna sheets can be put in the lasagna nonetheless they are sticky. In any case, a good alternative could be to split work with your partner/neighbour , if you make a proper agreement s/he can make the rest of the lasagna and then you’ll both be happy. What about that for a suggestion?!?!?

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2 Responses to “Basic pasta (or fresh pasta 0.01)”

  1. dpums March 6, 2013 at 1:38 pm #

    Fresh pasta is the bee’s knees! lol Most people don’t realize how simple it is to make basic homemade pasta. They are missing out on the good stuff!

    • paol8tje March 6, 2013 at 5:00 pm #

      Very true! It is nonetheless a pity that it takes me so many words to get to explain even such an easy procedure as pasta making!

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