Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Fresh Pasta

I've been buying fresh pasta in plastic boxes in the supermarket untill one day I looked at the list of ingredients, and I couldn't read most of it. I don't read Latin. So I went on eBay, and instead of buying a couple of books - a chemistry textbook and a Latin dictionary - I bought a pasta machine. Same money, less reading to do. Now there are two or three ingredients in my pasta: eggs, semolina flour, and optional bread flour.

I love dried pasta too, but fresh pasta has a completely different taste (it's made with eggs while dried is made with water) and texture. Mine looks very different too - I don't know how to make complex shapes, especially the ones with a hole in the center, so mine is all flat. Also you have all the fun kneading and shaping your own pasta dough. And if there are guests, it's a show for them.

The dough recipe comes from Jamie Oliver's The Naked Chef. You just mix together a little over 3 cups of flour and 8 egg yolks + 2 eggs and knead, knead, knead. Since the dough is very dry, this part is a workout. It's OK to add a teaspoon of too of water to make it a little more manageable, but it has to stay firm and dry, otherwise you'll have a problem of the dough sticking inside the machine later. Then you leave the dough to rest covered in the refrigerator while you relax with a glass of wine and think about the sauce for your pasta, about 30 minutes.

I used this time to clean and salt a pound of fresh anchovies, as described in my favorite Zuni Cafe Cookbook (I should write about this book later, it's not just any cookbook that you get for pretty photographs. I not only enjoy reading it, but actually follow recommendations and even the recipes, and learn something fun and useful every time).

Actually, it's OK to refrigerate the dough for much longer, up to a couple of days (it's just eggs, right?), and it only gets better, if it is covered tightly with plastic and doesn't dry. So if you have anchovies to clean, you can still have a glass of wine afterwards.
OK, the wine is gone, the dough is ready to roll out. For this amount of the dough, do it in 3 or 4 portions. You flatten it first with your hand, then start running it through the machine at the widest setting ( 7 on mine), folding it after each time. This will knead your dough some more, and shape the sheet. When you are satisfied with the shape, you decrease the width setting (6, 5 4, 3, 2, I don't use 1, it's paper-thin and only used for filled pasta) and run the dough through the machine ones or twice on each setting, dusting with semolina if it gets sticky.

The sheet will become too long to handle at some point, cut it in half with scissors. It feels and handles more or less like fabric!

My machine has an attachment that cuts the pasta sheet into either fettuccine or spagetti. My favorite format, pappardelle, is cut by hand. And I don't cut off the rough edges, so that the pasta looks obviously homemade.

I cannot give any recommendations on how much pasta to make per person, it's very personal. Jamie Oliver's huge portions definetely don't work for me. I get time and a half as many servings from his recipes. So I just cook as much as I need, dust the rest with a lot of semolina, fold it carefully, and freeze it in plastic boxes for the future. Right now the future looks good - there are a few containers with different pasta shapes in the freezer.

And yes, the fresh pasta cookes in about 1 minute, frozen - in 2-3 minutes. So by the time you put it in the boiling water, the sauce must be ready, the plates warm, and the diners at table.

No comments: