I was chatting with someone the other day about eggs and pasta – and how to best turn one into the other. Though a committed food-enthusiast, she’d never tried to make pasta at home. One thing led to another, and that led to today’s Columbia Tribune column (and the first-ever use of “erupting pasta volcano of death!” in a recipe).
As a device for conveying food from plate to mouth, mankind has yet to improve upon the noodle. The fork is handy, sure, but carbonara would still be carbonara without it. Rice, ground corn and sliced bread have their place as well, but it can be argued that each might be better served as a noodle in the first place. No matter its origin or makeup, whether Chinese, Italian or otherwise, noodles are a nearly perfect food.
Consider for a moment the sheer variety of Italian pasta, with its hundreds of shapes and virtually limitless combinations. In the spring, you can toss fettuccini with cream, fresh peas and mint. Summer calls for spicy arrabiata; fall and winter call for cured pork preparations and slow-cooked ragus.
Still, for most of us, making pasta starts with opening a box or bag. Good dried pasta is a thing of beauty and should occupy choice real estate in every home cook’s pantry. But maybe it’s the precision of dried macaroni or spiraling fusilli that gives us pause when it comes to making fresh pasta at home. It seems hard, best left to experts and machines. And while the home pasta-maker would benefit from a little gadgetry, it’s far from necessary. Italian grandmas — and Chinese before them — were rolling out sheets of pasta thousands of years before KitchenAid was a twinkle in someone’s eye.
While it is within everyone’s reach to make excellent pasta at home — even on your first attempt — technique and practice do come into play. First, there is no recipe that can tell you precisely when that lump of egg and flour is the right consistency to become fettuccine. It’s a tactile experience. You’re looking for something gummy enough to hold together but pliable and soft enough to stretch. You have to find that point for yourself. After that, it’s riding a bike.
500 grams semolina or all-purpose flour (about 3-1/2 cups)
5 good farm eggs, at room temperature
All-purpose flour, as needed
Pour flour onto a clean counter or large cutting board and form a well (or “erupting pasta volcano of death!” if kids are helping) in the center.
Crack eggs into center and beat lightly with a fork, scraping flour into the eggs little by little.
When the mixture begins to clump onto the fork, begin working the dough with your hands, folding the dough over onto itself and kneading, about 10 minutes. You may need to add a little flour or a dash of water, but do so sparingly. The dough should gradually come together and form a smooth, pliable ball.
Once it has a soft, elastic texture, wrap the dough in plastic wrap and set on counter to rest while you make a sauce or mow the lawn, about one hour.
Cut off one-fourth of the dough and gently flatten with your hands.
Roll into thin sheets with either a rolling pin or pasta roller, starting with the thick setting and gradually thinning out the dough.
Cut into desired shapes, either with a pasta-cutter or knife, then hang pasta to dry slightly and proceed with remaining dough (or wrap tightly and freeze).
Cut into desired shapes and boil quickly — as little as one minute and no more than two. Drain, toss with a sauce — the simpler the better — and serve. Keep the gloating to a minimum.