Monday, October 18, 2010

How To Make Pasta

I have now successfully made pasta a number of times, a few different ways. It doesn't take long to make and can be enjoyed right away, put into the refrigerator for a few days, or stored in the freezer for a few months.

With the same basic recipe you can make pretty much any length/width of noodle, some shaped short pastas, and filled pastas such as ravioli, agnolotti, or tortelloni. I have even made lasagna.

I am still learning little tricks here and there, but I think I have reached a level of consistency that allows me to share my newly-found knowledge with you in the following tutorial. I hope after you see how easy it is that you will get started on making your own.

A word or two about hand-rolled versus machine-rolled. I always thought that I needed a pasta machine if I ever wanted to make decent pasta. But in the class I took the instructor used both methods so we could compare the two. I found the hand-rolled pasta to be the winner hands down, both in flavor and texture. The machine rolls the pasta out smoothly, so it has a slightly slick texture in the mouth, and does not hold the salt or the sauce as well. The slightly rougher surface of the hand-rolled pasta both feels and tastes noticeably better, and it also holds the sauce more easily. So now I don't even want a pasta machine. A pasta extruder is a different story however, but I am not ready to go there yet.
BASIC PASTA RECIPE (half batch):

1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 eggs
pinch of salt

According to my instructor, the best flour to use for pasta is your basic all-purpose. So far that is all I have used, although some day soon I will start to incorporate semolina flour to see what that adds. But for now I am using the all-purpose.

NOTE: You can make pasta by hand or with a food processor. If I am making a half batch, I will make it by hand using the method illustrated here. If I am making a full batch I use the food processor, which I will demonstrate in a future post.

The recipe calls for 1-1/2 cups of flour, but I have found that I need to have more than that to keep the walls of the well supported while I am mixing the dough. So I start with 2-1/2 to 3 cups of flour mounded on the board, and then I make a well deep enough to hold the 2 eggs.

Crack the eggs directly into the well you made with the flour. Add a pinch of salt. Note that the well wall rises higher than the eggs, so that when you start mixing it together the eggs won't spill out over the flour.

With a fork, break the yolks and beat the eggs, moving in a consistent direction. You want to get the eggs mixed fairly well. Some flour will start falling into the mixture and you will see some lumps. That is fine - once you start incorporating the flour into the mixture the lumps should start smoothing away.

Once the eggs have been thoroughly mixed, start scooping a little bit of flour with the fork as you are stirring and incorporate them into the mixture. Grab the flour from the bottom of the well rather than the top, so you can maintain the integrity of the well wall.

Keep stirring the mixture together, moving in the same direction and incorporating more and more flour, until you have a substantial dough formed. It will still be very loose and wet, but it will be a discernible ball of dough and it will hold its shape enough for you to pick it up. Set the dough aside on a part of the well-floured board.

This next step is not one I have found in any recipes through which I have looked, but our instructor strongly suggested it and I have taken her suggestion and found that it does make for a smooth, easy to roll dough, so I would suggest that you follow it as well.

Put all of the leftover flour into a sieve, using your fork to scrape up any eggy bits that are stuck to the board as well.

Shake out the excess flour, leaving all of the leftover clumps of eggy flour that didn't incorporate into your dough in the sieve. Do not try to incorporate these into the dough, they will make it rough and cause it to break when you are rolling it out. Discard them and continue with the clean flour and your soft ball of pasta dough.

I was lucky this time and did not have too many clumps of eggy dough that needed to be tossed. Sometimes I have a lot more than that, so don't be worried if you have a bigger amount that needs to be tossed. It all works out in the end.

Start gently kneading your dough, adding generous amounts of flour at first, until it gets to the point where you no longer need to add any flour to keep it from sticking to your hands.

Continue to knead it until it is smooth, shiny and elastic. You will not use all of the flour. Shape the dough into a disk and wrap it in plastic. I usually strain out the remaining flour and store it in a small container for future pasta making.

Let the dough sit for at least half an hour to let it relax.

Unwrap the plastic and set the dough on a lightly-floured counter. Lightly flour your rolling pin and start by rolling back and forth in short quick steps to get the disk flat. Once it is about 1/2 to 3/4-inch thick, start rolling from the center out, turning the circle by a quarter after each roll.

When the disk is about 1/8-inch thick, stretch it out by rolling one edge of it over the rolling pin, then grab the bottom part and gently stretch it out. Turn the dough a quarter and stretch it again. Do this at least 4 times so you go all the way around the dough.

Continue to roll the dough from the center out until it is about 1/16-inch thick. Now you need to stretch it again by rolling the dough about a third of the way over the rolling pin and grabbing the rolled part on the ends and stretching it out sideways, continuing to stretch it as you roll the rest of the dough over the pin. Unroll the dough, turn it a quarter, and repeat. Do this also at least 4 times, and then continue to roll the disc from the center out.

Here it is all rolled out. If you click on the image, you will notice that you can see the marbling on the linoleum through the pasta. I have actually gotten even better at getting it thin since I made this batch, but it doesn't matter that much. It still tastes good, no matter how thick it is.

Let the dough sit for 5 minutes on one side, then turn it and let it sit for 5 minutes on the other side. With a sharp knife, cut the circle in half and roll each half lengthwise into a log.

Cut each log into the width that you want your finished noodles to be. I have done as thin as 1/8-inch and as thick as 1-1/2 inches (for lasagna). Try to be as consistent as you can so the noodles will cook at the same time.

After the noodles are cut, unroll each one and place it on a floured cookie sheet. I usually stretch each noodle out a little by holding the ends and gently swinging it before I put it on the sheet. Put the noodles in one layer, then sprinkle that layer with flour before starting the next layer.

Once the noodles have been unrolled and well floured, you can gather them back up again. This batch is ready to be cooked. Once the water has come to the boil, add plenty of salt and cook them for about 3 minutes.

If you don't want to cook them right away, you can put them in a plastic bag and keep them in the refrigerator for up to 3 days, or you can store them in the freezer for a few months.

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