Kitchen Staples: fresh pasta


Now that my chickens are laying and I have all these lovely fresh eggs around, I’m trotting out all my recipes that use up eggs. One of my very favorites is fresh pasta, and I can’t think of any kitchen skill more worth acquiring than pasta-making.
I used to make and roll pasta entirely by hand, and so I made it about twice a year. If you want to do it all by hand, you can get directions from any of several excellent cookbooks, and I particularly recommend The Splendid Table or Essentials of classic Italian cooking. My own current method is (surprise!) a lot more rough and ready, and relies on my Kitchenaid mixer. If you have one, get the pasta roller attachment (expensive but it works really well) and you’re all set. I use the Pro 600 mixer. I don’t know if the lighter ones will do the job. This is still a time-consuming undertaking, best suited to those relaxed weekend days that I think of as Domestic Goddess days, but it’s worth investing some time for a really delicious result.
The quality of the eggs is important. If you don’t have your own hens, make an effort to get real free-range eggs (not the supermarket kind.) Start with the bowl in place on the mixer and the regular mixing blade. I usually start with three cups of flour, which makes 4 main-course servings or at least 6 first-course servings. Have about six eggs handy. Put the flour in the bowl, crack one egg into the mixing bowl, and start running the mixer at the lowest speed. After the first egg is incorporated, about half a minute, crack in the next one. Keep adding eggs until you have yellow shreds of moist-looking dough and some dry “crumbs” in the bowl, as shown here. Usually I use five eggs, but a lot depends on the flour, the size of the eggs, and the weather. If the dough won’t come together smoothly when you switch to the dough hook, add another egg and try again.

Now switch to the dough hook. Run the mixer at the lowest possible speed until the dough comes together into a ball on the hook, and keep kneading for at least five minutes. This is where I don’t know if the light models will work. Even my pro model strains pretty hard. It’s a stiff dough, much harder to handle than bread dough.

When the dough is smooth and thoroughly kneaded, dust the ball lightly with flour, wrap it in plastic wrap, and put it in the refrigerator for at least an hour and up to eight hours. When ready to roll it out, attach the pasta roller attachment. Cut the ball of dough into pieces about the size of a lemon, and dust each lightly with flour. SEt the rollers as wide as they will go, start the mixer at lowest speed, and start feeding the balls of dough through. I like to do all the balls through the widest setting, then all through the next setting down, etc. Now this is where a trick comes in handy. You are going to need a lot of hanging room for the sheets of dough. Wooden racks are sold for this purpose, but I got a metal laundry-drying rack instead and took the nylon mesh “shelf” off the top. It’s easy to clean due to the smooth surface, HOlds a lot more than most wooden racks, and folds away neatly when not in use. The sheets of pasta look absurdly charming hanging from their rack.

When they are all as thin as you want them, let them hang until somewhat leathery. This may be 15 minutes or may be an hour, depending on humidity, breeze, etc. When they are leathery but can still be folded without cracking, you are ready to cut the sheets into noodles. The pasta roller has an attachment that will do it for you, but I greatly prefer to do this step by hand. I like the unevenness that results, and I can cut anything from thin linguine to very wide papardelle, depending on the meal that I have planned. Work on a lightly floured surface, roll the sheets around your hand to form cylinders, and cut across to make noodles, as wide or thin as you like. Unfold them and lay out on clean dishtowels spread on the counter for the purpose.

Cook soon for best quality, use plenty of salted water, and start testing for doneness as soon as the water returns to a boil. Sauce them simply to let their quality shine. In the near future I’ll post on my favorite mushroom sauce for fresh pasta, but for your first effort you might want to dress them with butter, cracked pepper, some chopped parsley, and the best Parmesan you can find. There is no simpler, or better, flavor.

One response to this post.

  1. Posted by Nona Hill on November 22, 2010 at 6:33 am

    What a wonderful set of photos–the drying pasta looked a lot like my Mother’s homemade noodles out on the kitchen table. You brought back a happy childhood memory…thank you.

    Reply

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