Friday, July 24, 2009
Not just for old Italians - Pasta Making
At first, I thought it was something old Italian grandmas had time to do. The problem was that I was doing it wrong as is usually the case.
Pasta making is as old as the trees, but tastier. There are many myths in the pasta origins world. Noodles were made in China in 2000 BC out of millet whereas what we eat today is mostly Italian style noodles, called pasta and made of durum wheat semolina. So, no, the Chinese did not invent pasta and it was not brought over by Marco Polo. It was the Arabs who brought it from Sicily...smart little traders.
But I digress, I was going to talk about my pasta making struggles and got side-tracked, as I do. The first recipe that I tried came right with the pasta making machine, they said to mix it in your kitchenaid. The dough was so tough it nearly burnt out the mixer. The pasta tasted fine in the end but I think it took me 2 hours. I was like, "Why do Italians do this?! I chalked it up to the 'fact' that Italians like torture, and put my mixer away for a few months. Then, I came across this magnificent book, Ratio by Michael Ruhlman. It defines the science behind basic doughs, stock, sausage making etc. so that you understand what is important in each recipe. It's great for people that love to improvise in their baking. The basic ratio for pasta dough is 3:2 flour:egg and also instructs that the dough should be soft, but not sticky as you knead it. Done. I make pasta twice a week now with any flour I have on hand.
My favourite pasta dish so far has been browned mushrooms, olive oil and a good Parmesan. Toss the pasta and enjoy with a nice crisp salad. The simplicity of the dish lets you really taste all your labours in the pasta itself . Takes me about 1/2 hour to make.
Slice mushrooms (I like shitake, oyster, chantrelle or portabello) and toss them in olive oil and soy sauce. Drain the excess liquid off and then place on a baking sheet. Throw in the oven at 400F on broil. Watch them carefully so that they brown and don't burn. 15 min approx.
Ratio is 3:2 flour:eggs
9 ounces flour(around 1 1/2cups): 6 ounces eggs(3 eggs)
Put flour(semolina or pastry flour are good) in bowl, make a hole for eggs in the center of the mound. If you use only egg yolks it makes for a very rich and colourful pasta. Crack eggs in and then slowly mix with floured hands until you have a soft dough, if it's sticky just keep adding a little bit of flour as you knead the dough(for 10 minutes). This is the fun part, the dough feels really nice, it's like you're in preschool again. After kneading, let the dough rest for 10 minutes wrapped in plastic. You can refrigerate the dough for a maximum 24 hours before rolling.
Now separate the dough into 4 parts, wrap all but one in plastic. Start rolling one piece through your pasta machine, if you find the dough is breaking just refold the pasta and roll through again until the gluten starts stretching. If you don't have a pasta machine you can just roll the dough out by hand and cut to the desired shapes. Make sure your surfaces are well floured and dust your rolled pasta with flour after you have the desired thickness. Repeat for all 4 pieces of dough. I usually let the pasta dry a bit before I cook it so that it's a bit more al dente in texture once cooked. Dry it floured, separated and hanging so that it doesn't clump. You can now dry it completely, bag it and throw it in the fridge if you like or cook it straight away.
You can make lasagna(that's the easiest), fettuccine, ravioli or just make up a new shape if you like. It's really fun, take some time and play with it, it'll make you look like a pro.