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Homemade Pasta, or The Messiest Cooking Project Ever

January 16, 2007

Fresh Fettuccini

Last night we decided to embark on the messiest cooking project I believe I’ve ever undertaken: making fresh homemade pasta. Of course, we couldn’t be satisfied with just one big batch of fettuccini or spagetti, oh no. We decided to make three kinds of pasta, fettuccini, and two kinds of ravioli. Yes, two. We were going to go all the way.

Mr. X was doubtful about making pasta without a food processor, but I refused to let lack of machinery stand in my way. After all, people made pasta without a food processor for hundreds of years. If their hands were good enough, then dammit, so were mine! As it turned out, the dough ended up just the right texture for rolling, and wasn’t very difficult at all. It was, however, very messy, and anyone who knows me knows that I’m not always so good with messy. I soldiered through the gloppy flour-covered hands and squishy liquidy ravioli fillings, though, and we ended up with a pretty awesome dinner.

We decided last night that we would go a little simple: fettuccini with a basic marinara, which I’d never actually made before. We did construct all the lovely little raviolis, but I’ll have to save those for when we actually eat them. Just so you all have something to look forward to. Here, though, is our “recipe” for dough and for what ended up being a damned tasty marinara, and another excuse to use my food mill.

I say “recipe” for the dough because there wasn’t so much an actual recipe. We started with the basics: three cups of flour and three eggs. We added a little bit of water, a little bit of olive oil, some yolks, a few more eggs, whenever needed to bring the dough to the right texture and wetness, and alas, it was not very easy to keep track of what we were adding–I’ll do my best to recreate it, though.

Fresh Pasta Dough

Start by mounding 3 cups of flour onto a wood or plastic surface. Create a well in the top of the flour mountain with your knuckles, and break 3 large eggs into the well. (To make more or less pasta, just keep the basic ratio of 1 cup of flour to 1 egg, and you should be ok to start.) Using a fork, whisk the eggs in the well. You’ll need to use your free hand to shore up the sides of the flour mountain, and keep the egg from escaping, but it sounds way more difficult than it is.

Flour mountain egg beating

Gradually incorporate the flour into the egg mixture. Eventually you’ll have to get your hands in there to really bring all the flour in, and start kneading the dough. It should be pretty–a bit drier than pie crust, and more crumbly. We needed extra moisture to really incorporate the flour in correctly, and ended up adding about 1 tablespoon of olive oil, 1 or 2 teaspoons of water, an egg yolk, and 2-3 extra eggs. I know this makes the whole ratio I mentioned earlier seem sort of pointless, but I think it’s good to start with the basic ratio and add as necessary. If your eggs are bigger, or fresher, or from a farmers’ market, you might not need as much. I think the kind of flour you use can make a difference, too.

We used plain, all-purpose flour. All of the articles I read about pasta making (and I read many) say that semolina should be used for pasta that will be dried, and cake flour, or Italian 00 flour, or another kind of finely-milled flour, should be used for fresh. We used all-purpose because that is what we had, and it worked fine.

Back to the pasta: Once the flour is incorporated, it will start forming a ball. Turn it over on itself, and use the heel of your palm to knead the dough. You have to use a bit of force here, and this is where Mr. X stepped in. I think his height helped him get behind the dough more forcefully–I am pretty short and the counter just felt too high for me to really knead with any power. Knead the dough until it’s silky and elastic, and slightly tacky to the touch. Then form it into a log, wrap it in plastic wrap, and let it rest in the refrigerator half an hour or so.

The dough can rest for up to a week, and if you’re feeling ambitious, you could simply take a chunk off daily and roll out some pasta. We were not feeling that ambitious.

The rolling part was handled by Mr. X and his handy dandy pasta-making machine, the classic handcranked Imperia. He has much experience with this, and me not so much. An essential: cornmeal, to spread over the surface and keep the pasta from sticking together. Basically, what Mr. X did was cut about 1/2 inch pieces from the log, and roll them through on a wide setting once. He’d take about four or five of these pieces and sort of smoosh them together to make a bigger piece, and then run that piece through the machine, each time decreasing the size of the roller, rolling them thinner and thinner, and longer and longer. Then he did this impressive maneuver, putting the end of the pasta back into the machine to create a pasta loop. Oooh. My man knows all the tricks.

Pasta loop

Once you’ve reached peak thinness, you’re ready to cut the pasta into the shapes you want. Peak thinness is pretty thin, maybe 1/8th of an inch. We used the top of a wine glass to cut out little circles for the ravioli. We had lots and lots of little circles, and lots and lots of ravioli.

Then, we put the fettuccini die (cutter? thing? what is it called?) on to the machine, and ran the last few sheets through to make lovely, perfect fresh fettuccini.

fettuccini machini

This only took about 3 minutes to cook in a big ol’ pot of salted, boiling water. And it was lovely.

The marinara, meanwhile, was cooking the whole time the pasta-making was happening, just simmering away on the stove for about three hours. Here’s what was in it:

  • 1 small yellow onion
  • 3 carrots, diced
  • 3 celery stalks, sliced thinly
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • 2 T. olive oil
  • 2 cans of whole, peeled tomatoes, chopped (I figured canned would just be better in the winter, but if tomatoes were in season, I’d probably use about a pound, and blanch and de-skin them)
  • about 2 T. balsamic vinegar
  • about 2 T. red wine
  • dried oregano, thyme, basil, tarragon, and a small bit of crushed red pepper flakes
  • about 2 tsp. sugar

Heat the olive oil in a bit heavy pot, and add the onions, garlic, carrots, and celery. Cook, stirring, until the onions start getting translucent-like. Add the tomatoes, with their juices, and break them up with the back of a wooden spoon a bit. Add all the other spices and flavorings, and bring the mixture to a boil. Then, reduce it to a simmer and let it sit for a few hours or so. When you’re ready to finish it off, add a little salt and pepper to taste. Then, set up a food mill over a big bowl. Add the sauce, one ladleful at a time, and puree. The stuff that’s left in the top of the mill should be mixed back in, because it’s good. Once you’ve pureed all the sauce, you can dump it back in the pot to heat it up again, and voila, you’ve got a very lovely marinara.

Later this week: balsamic portabello and brie ravioli, and artichoke parmesan ravioli. Mmm pasta.

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