Sunday, April 26, 2009

Hasta la Pasta

My beloved hand-cranked pasta machine

Pasta is a great runner's food and so versatile - it comes in noodles of all size, can be stuffed (ravioli, cannelloni, tortellini), baked in a casserole, put cold into salad, or as sheets for lasagne. It can be partnered with many sauces (usually tomato or cream based) for endless flavor variations. I love it, but more than that, I love fresh pasta. And there's no pasta fresher than that I make myself. This does come at a price though, because once you've tasted fresh pasta you won't want to go back to the dried stuff.

Fortunately, fresh pasta is quick, easy and fun to make providing you have the right tools. And right at the top of the list is a good pasta machine. While technically you could make your own pasta by rolling it out by hand and cutting with a knife, these little beauties make it so easy. Along with my Kitchenaid mixer, it is the most-used tool in my kitchen. As well as pasta I also use it for rolling out naan bread, pitas and empenadas/cornish pasties/calzones.

Pasta machines come in various different guises (including attachments for your KitchenAid), but I like my manual hand-cranked version because I get more of a feel for the dough and have complete control over it. A couple of recommendations:

- First, get a machine that is made in Italy - it's usually a much better quality. The best two out there are the Villaware Imperia 150 (not to be confused with the Al Dente, which is an inferior product) and the Atlas. I own the Imperia but it's not so easy to find it these days

- Second - never use water to clean it (water + dough = sticky mess). If you flour your dough well it should not be a problem, but if you do get some sticky dough the best way is to wait until it dries out and simply brush it off.

What follows is my basic dough recipe - note that I like making wholewheat noodles because I like the texture, so I use some wholewheat flour in my dough. If you don't, just use all-purpose. I have made variations of this recipe with great success, including colored pasta (using fresh spinach and tomato paste for green and red respectively), herbed pasta (fresh herbs between two sheets and pressed out), garlic and sage pasta and even hot pepper pasta.

Mark's Basic Wholewheat Pasta Dough
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups wholewheat flour
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 Tsp salt
3/4 to 1 cup water

Combine the flour, eggs, olive oil and salt in your mixer's bowl. Mix with the paddle while adding in the water. When it starts to come together, substitute the hook and continue to knead. Finish it off by kneading by hand for a good 5 minutes.

If you don't have a mixer, combine all the dry ingredients in a large bowl and create a well in the center. Pour in the eggs and olive oil, and add the water gradually, incorporating the flour until it is all mixed in. Then knead by hand for at least 10 minutes.

Divide the dough at this point. If you split it into 2, each piece will feed 3 people (or 2 hungry runners, or 2 for supper plus leftovers for lunch). Sometimes I'll do this, and sometimes I'll split into 4. Roll each piece into a ball and cover with plastic wrap. The pieces that you aren't using can be refrigerated for 2-3 days or frozen (thaw in the fridge overnight before using).

Leave the dough for 30 minutes to relax (makes it easier to work with), then remove the wrap and cut into 4 pieces (keep the pieces you aren't using covered). Flatten out by hand and roll it through the widest setting on the pasta machine. Fold the dough in thirds lengthways and put it through again. Fold the dough in half and put it through again. Keep doing this until you get a consistent width then narrow the setting. Send the dough through just once (no more folding) and continue narrowing until you get to your desired thickness (setting 5 works best for me). If the dough gets sticky, rub some all purpose flour into it and continue.

Once the sheet is ready, flour it really well and send it through the cutter. Store the cut pasta in a loose nest until ready for cooking. Note that fresh pasta takes only 2-3 minutes, so keep an eye on it. I make sure to add some olive oil and salt when boiling, and I'll stir it up to ensure they don't stick.

Once you've made your pasta, try this for an easy and yummy spaghetti and meatballs recipe.

Pasta sheet well floured and ready for cutting

A gaggle of fettucine pasta nests

Batman - an excellent noodle tree :-)

1 comment:

The un-Zen Runner said...

I think Mr. Batman just sold me on getting a pasta maker. Arm curls with fettuccine...very impressive. :)