When I was somewhere between 8 and 10 years old, I figured out how to use our family’s VCR (today, that sounds way behind today’s youth!), and the first things that I wanted to tape (after Power Rangers) were cooking shows.
Mom sometimes watched cooking shows on TV (almost as often as The Young and The Restless!), especially Yan Can Cook. The first TV recipe that stood out in my mind, though, and threw the doors of knowledge wide open was on a show called Yvonne’s Kitchen. She was making some artisanal shaped pasta from scratch, with a little pile of flour on her board, with a well in the middle, and some eggs.
“Oh my GAD!“ I thought. “You can make pasta at home??? Aaaaaaah!!”
People who know me very well recognize that to this day, food is what most often turns me into a giddy, jumping, very tall child. And they’re cool with it.
Until seeing this on TV, I had always thought that pasta came from a box, and for the rest of my life (to this day!), envied all of the little children in Italy who learned to hand-make and roll perfect pasta, and cook everything fresh and from scratch with their mias and nonnas. I know it’s just flour, eggs, and a pinch of salt, but you can make cakes, breads, pastas, crepes, cookies, so many things from these base ingredients, (the possibilities are endless!) and pasta is by far one of my top favourites.
After numerous failed attempts (pasta disasters), all I can say is, grazie dio for the internet, reputable cookbooks, and culinary teachers. I used to pick up freshly laminated (rolled-out) pasta now and then as a treat at the Granville Island Public Market, until one day someone came along and ruined it forever by letting me play with their pasta-rolling machine. It changed my life!
The noodles were thinner, the texture was tender, and learning how easy, fun, and bleeping inexpensive they were to make, meant that I could never buy plain laminated pasta again! Every time we whipped out the pasta rollers in culinary school, I felt like two different version of myself, a gleeful kid on Christmas and a grown woman on fire with love…for food!
My brother (Tarek) and sister (Mia) are amazing and gave me a pasta-roller (with fettucine and spaghetti settings!) for my birthday. I’m so happy with it and whenever friends want to get together and cook, I offer to bring it along and share the love.
A coworker from the store (I am back with the team, as a sort of on-call helper!), Angel Cake, celebrated her birthday recently. Her younger sister, Sally Dear (these are not their real names!), loves to bake and their family is like an adorable Kari fan club! A and S’s dad is visiting family abroad, so I came over to make dinner and introduce them to freshly laminated pasta. Yum!
There was a recipe that we were taught in school that uses superfine flour (“00”), another that uses semolina flour, and one that could be substituted with pastry flour, but I did a little math and figured out how an average person who doesn’t have access to pastry flour or Italian specialty ingredients can try it now! After getting their hands on a pasta maker, of course. After this recipe, though, you’ll want to cook it so often that the machine will pay itself off. Delish!
I have to give a special nod to Chef Tony at Northwest Culinary Academy, first, whose care and pride for Italian food helped him develop the original recipe that this was taken from, which is versatile and perfect for lasagna sheets, ravioli, tortellini, cut pasta, and so much more. He has kindly shared it with many students and foodies alike, who hopefully will treat this like the gold that it is! Fingers crossed that this adaptation doesn’t make him cringe.
“Bend It To Your Will!” Pasta Dough
Serves about 5 hungry people
2 tbsp corn starch
1/2 cup plus 6 tbsp all-purpose flour (all together, not separated)*
2 large, whole eggs
1 pinch salt
*Note: You may need a bit more flour, depending on how moist the dough is.
1. Use a fork to whisk all of the dry ingredients together in a bowl, and create a well in the middle.
2. Crack the eggs into a small bowl, one by one, and pour into the well. Quarantining each of them first means this doesn’t become egg-shell pasta!
3. Use the fork to puncture the egg yolks, then begin gently stirring near the edges, where the eggs meet the flour, to begin incorporating it, until it’s all mixed together and looks dry and raggedy, with no obvious moisture.
4. Pick up the dough, even all the little bits of dried-up crustiness that sit at the bottom of the bowl, and knead it all together on the counter top. I knead the dough for about 5 minutes, adding flour if needed, to make a dough that is smooth, dense, and a little bit dry.
5. Wrap it in plastic and rest it in the fridge for at least 45 minutes, preferably an hour, which is the perfect time to make pasta sauce if it’s needed.
6. Unwrap and poke the dough. I usually find that the entire lump is softer and moister (the eggs hydrate everything!), and needs more flour afterward, anywhere around another tablespoon or so. If this is the case, sprinkle a little flour on your hands and the dough, and get to work, gradually kneading it in, folding repeatedly, until it feels about like it did before going in the fridge. Dough that is too moist will catch and tear in your machine, coming out with giant, shreddy holes. It might be advisable to rest the dough again after this, but every time, I’ve taken it straight to the roller machine and had success. I roll out chunks of dough (usually half), rather than the whole thing, because it’s easier than having a big sheet of pasta that is too long to handle, or having to crank out multiple, smaller sheets, and worry about keeping them from drying out. If you want to eat some pasta right away, put a pot of salted water on the stove, now!
7. Cut off a piece of the dough, shape it with your hands into a oval, and give it a lip that is thinner on one side than the other. The thinner end will be fed through the pasta roller, on the loosest setting, usually #1. To make sure that the pasta gets stretched out enough, instead of running it through each number setting once, which can result in pasta that is too thick and chewy, I run it through at least twice. Sometimes as much as three or four times with the earlier numbers, just to get it going.
8. After running it through the #1 setting, fold it in half, smoosh the double end to make a thinner lip again, and roll it through. You want the dough to trap a little air in there at the end when rolling, so that it pops loudly. At this point, the dough is nice and elastic, and can be moved to the #2 setting.
9. Continue rolling out the pasta and pass it through the machine a few more times. When the dough is thinned out a bit more and becomes long enough to do so, I sometimes take the ends of it (while it’s still in the machine) and press them together tightly. This makes a cylinder of dough that will repeatedly pass through the machine while running and stretching over my hands, to make it more uniform, make the ends uniform and usable, and save time from not having to keep bringing it back and running it through. It also means that you get to make pasta with a friend, unless you want to cut multiple sheets and create cylinders with them yourself.
10. Gently support the pasta with your hands as it stretches out, while you move through to the thinnest setting. Keep in mind that pasta swells up when you cook it, so unless you want thick, chewy noodles, the goal is to get it thin enough to see your hand, the wood grain, or the marble speckles of the counter/work top through it. The dough’s durability will surprise you!
11. When the pasta is rolled out thin enough, you have a ton of choices of what to do next. You can start cutting out rounds or squares for stuffed pasta, or do what I’m about to show and cut it into multiple sheets that are the length you want to fit in a pan, or twirl around a fork when cut into noodles, about a foot long or so. We went for noodles!
12. Either run the sheets through the machine’s cutter, or stack them and fold twice, then cut as wide as you want them to be. To keep layers from sticking to each other, sprinkle them first with semolina flour if you have it, or a light dusting of all-purpose will do. Don’t overload on the AP, though, or the pasta might absorb it and lose its fabulous texture.
12. Separate the noodles, and give them a light dusting of flour and a gentle scrunching.
13. If the pot of water is boiling, gently lower the pasta in and lower the heat to a simmer. It’s so delicate that you don’t want the giant, rapid bubbles to wreck your hard work!
14. Normally when cooking fresh pasta, it’s a good idea to have a little test scrap to check for doneness. Because we used everything from this half-batch, we just used the noodles in the pot. And if making pasta that has 2 layers glued together, like ravioli, make sure your testers also have 2 layers! One of the best things about thin, freshly laminated pasta is that it cooks so quickly, in about 5 minutes or less!
15. When the pasta feels like it’s almost ready, take it out of the water and let it finish cooking in the sauce and absorb the flavours. Be careful while stirring. Putting the sauce on top and folding it around the pasta works all right. Reserve about 1/2 a cup of the pasta water, and use it to thin out the sauce a little if needed, the starch will add creaminess to it.
That’s it! This all sounds like a lot of work, but we were able to split some of it and were all having loads of fun. Isn’t that what enjoying good food is all about? After helping to de-seed tomatoes for the sauce (way easier than when working alone!), roll out pasta dough, and cut noodles, the looks on the girls’ faces after the first bite were of pure amazement. We agreed that it was worth all of the effort!
A jar of Classico tomato sauce runs about $5 at Safeway. Comparably, the two giant cans of Italissima tomatoes we used were $4 together, plus a few cents for an onion, some garlic, and olive oil, ending up making at least 2 bottles’ worth of sauce. The eggs for the pasta were about 40 cents, same for the flour, the corn starch and salt were pretty much a writeoff, $1 for spinach, $1 for kale, and the sausages were probably about $4. A healthy, delicious dinner for three, with double the leftovers, so dinner for 6, for less than $2.00 per head. I am dead serious!
Here are a few tips for cooking pasta that the girls asked about while cooking:
* always have a lot of water, so that the pasta has room to move and won’t stick.
* start with cold water, and salt it enough so that it tastes like the sea, or the pasta will be bland.
* don’t put oil in the water, or the sauce won’t stick to the pasta! Unless you’re cooking it aglio e olio (with garlic and oil) afterward, in which case it probably won’t kill it.
Pasta is something very different in North America than in Italy. In Italy, yes, people eat a lot, just like over here, but pasta is usually served in smaller portions. It’s true! I had no idea how people got through seven-course meals without exploding. The logic behind it is that there’s room for a little something special later. If you have an Italian grandma, or a friend with a food blog (there are a lot of us out there!), you can expect to be ambushed with treats on a regular basis. It’s just how we share the love.