Presto – pasta!

I’m convinced I must have been Italian in a previous life. I fell immediately in love with Rome during a whirlwind high school tour eons ago; one of my fondest memories of that trip was celebrating my 16th birthday in the Eternal City. I was so enamored with Italy, I proceeded to take two years of Italian in college. It wasn’t until last year that I finally got to return to this beautiful country, tagging along with hubby on a business trip through Milan and a little slice of the countryside around Parma and Bologna. We’ve since been back to Milan twice more within the past eight months for quick stays, but I haven’t yet revisited Rome, Florence and Tuscany; or made it to Venice for the first time.

Italian food is probably my favorite cuisine to cook. Pasta, tomatoes, fresh herbs, roasted meats, cheeses, breads, wines — what’s not to like? When you start out with ingredients this fabulous, you really can’t go wrong. Plus, the preparations are usually fairly simple, often requiring little more than a drizzle of olive oil and a few grinds of salt and pepper.

Hubby gave me a pasta machine for Christmas. As in, one of those stainless steel thingys legit chefs use to roll out pasta dough to paper-thin thicknesses. This is the kind of contraption I often find intriguing, but would never in a million years think to buy for myself. Like the waffle iron my brother gave me two years ago, which I’m ashamed to say only saw use for the first time back in October.

One of my New Year’s resolutions is to be more fearless when it comes to cooking and stretch my culinary boundaries. No time like the present to dive right in.

A chef acquaintance recently sent me an email that said making your own pasta at home is one of the easiest things in the world to do. I didn’t quite believe him. I can recall making homemade noodles from scratch on precisely one occasion, and they weren’t great. My last attempt at gnocchi was pretty good, but wow, what a lot of work.

The pasta machine looked a little intimidating when I opened it up, consisting of several heavy parts that linked together and a c-clamp to attach the whole thing onto the edge of a counter or table. All the pieces arrived slickly oiled, and the directions for cleaning warned against washing with water, instead instructing to dust the whole apparatus with flour and then feed dough through every orifice to de-oil.

At hubby’s suggestion, YouTube came to my rescue. A quick “how to make pasta” search uncovered a very helpful tutorial that bolstered my confidence. Mentally telling myself that Italian grandmas and Top Chefs do this all the time without batting an eye, I rolled up my sleeves and got to work.

I say this in all sincerity — making pasta at home is not that hard. It’s true. It just takes a little time and some elbow grease. Flour, eggs and salt are the only ingredients you need. No joke. It literally costs pennies per serving.

The first thing you do is dump a good amount of flour onto your (it goes without saying, VERY clean) surface. Mound it up into a pile and create a well in the middle, into which you crack a couple of eggs. Sprinkle on enough salt to lightly cover each yolk. Then, very carefully so as not to collapse the walls of your flour fortress, you blend the eggs with a fork, slowly incorporating flour all the while until it becomes an oozy, sticky blob.

Once the dough is fairly together, you can start kneading it, adding more flour until it becomes smooth and dense. This part takes some muscle, I was surprised to find. You keep folding the dough in half and pressing it out again and again. It takes about five minutes until the texture becomes smooth and pliable, then you form the whole thing into a ball and let it rest for about 10 minutes.

I felt like a mechanic getting the machine c-clamped onto the counter and cranking a test batch of dough through all the openings. If there’s an adult equivalent of playing with Play-Doh, this must be it. Hubby even got into the picture. Maybe I’m easily amused, but it was so much fun to see the delicate sheets of pasta becoming impossibly thinner and thinner, finally emerging from the cutter as threads of spaghetti and thick linguine. When all was said and done, the entire kitchen was coated with a fine dusting of flour, but we had two cookie sheets full of pasta drying for dinner.

The pasta looked gorgeous, but I was secretly terrified it would turn into a gloopy, floury mess once I dropped it in to cook. I whipped together the simplest of tomato sauces as I waited for my pot of water to boil. Holding my breath, I eased in the first batch of noodles. It held together and after a few seconds, floated to the top of the water, looking like actual fettuccine!

I boiled the pasta for about four minutes as per the instruction booklet, then cautiously fished out one of the noodles and slurped it into my mouth. Joy of joys – it was fantastic!!!

from-scratch fettuccine

I quickly drained the fettuccine and tried my hand at the angel hair. It only took about two minutes to cook, and was terrific as well! Mamma mia, what a revelation. Hubby complained only once to say that the kitchen smelled like boiled eggs when I started cooking the pasta, but he shut right up after I stuffed a noodle in his mouth.

The texture of the homemade pasta was perfect, so unbelievably tender and worlds better than store-bought dried brands. With a light coating of the tomato sauce and a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese, it was a delicious meal, if I do say so myself. I couldn’t have been prouder. Even my picky-eater son and stepson scarfed down their entire servings.

pasta perfetto!

I can’t wait to experiment with different shapes and creative add-ins for the dough. Next up, cannelloni. Or perhaps ravioli. Maybe a fettuccine alfredo. The possibilities are endless… buon appetito!

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