Monday, March 28, 2011

Basic Pasta

My aversion to carbs is unfortunate considering my new obsession.  Fresh Pasta!  That little thingie up there is my new pasta machine, and I am deeply and utterly in love with it.  It's like a Play-Doh machine for grown ups!!  Last night I got it in my head I wanted to make a lasagna and I wanted to do it with fresh noodles.  So I proceeded to crank out a batch just then.  Tonight I think I'm going to make a batch of Parpadelle to freeze (and give to my guinea pigs) and maybe a bit of pork shoulder ragu to go with... but that's a separate post.

For now, let's learn to make a basic pasta dough.  I'm going to put it out there right now that this dough can be made vegan easily enough - read thru the basics then just omit the eggs for a vegan version.

Stuff you'll need
4 large/jumbo eggs
2 cups of flour (plus a little extra for dusting and adjusting)
1/2 cup of semolia flour
1/4 tsp salt
Water - for the non-vegan set, a couple table spoons would do it if you need it at all - for the vegan version you'll be using water in place of eggs, so be prepared to use more water a cup or more - either way add slowly as you won't necessarily need all of it

Most recipes will tell you to pile your dry ingredients on a counter, make a well in the middle, crack the eggs in the center and slowly incorporate the two little by little from the center taking care not to break the walls of the 'bowl' until the dough has formed.  Most chefs apparently don't have to contend with a New York apartment sized kitchen (zero counter space).  Bunch of show offs.  This is how you do when you have the kind of counter space that can be monopolized by a coffee mug.

Get a bowl, a big one.  Put your dry ingredients in the bowl, make a hollow in the center, and crack the eggs in the hollow, stir (I use a large metal spoon for this) to incorporate the flours and the egg - until a dough starts to form.  Then, with clean hands, grab it and start squeezing and kneading it - you want to get to a ball of dough that requires some effort to manipulate, but is reasonably pliable, and not sticky.  If it's sticky add flour/semolina.  If it seems dry/crumbly/flakey add water one tablespoon at a time.

Depending on who you ask the measurements will either be crucial or (in my opinion) something you can freehand for the most part.  I personally like my pasta flours to be in the 4:1 range (2cups of flour = 4 half cups, plus 1 half cup of semolina) - I find it gives me a texture as well as taste I really like.  Sometimes  go heavier on the semolina, sometimes I skip eggs... you get the idea.  The point is, you want a dough.

Once the dough is fully incorporated, it's going to need to rest (regardless of how you decided to blend) - I usually put mine in a ziplock and suck the air out of it but plastic wrap would do the trick too.  You want to make sure as little as possible is exposed to air.  Now let it rest for 20 to 30 min - it gives the glutens a chance to relax and the dough will be significantly easier to work with.

Once the dough is rested, it's ON!!!  If you have a pasta machine (what I like to refer to as the grown up play-doh fun factory) have at it - run the pasta through it, make sheets, made ribbons go crazy!  If you don't, you can easily carve out simple versions of pasta with a rolling pin - roll flat even sheets then use a knife to cut the sheets into ribbons of any width, you can cut squares of pasta, and fold the centers like an accordion to make farfalle (bows) or roll the pasta into coils and using your thumbs make orrechiette shapes (there are some great videos on YouTube.

To cook the fresh pasta, bring a pot of well salted water to a rolling boil, drop the pasta in, and let it cook for about 3 minutes (al dente).  The pasta tends to float to the top when it's ready but don't over cook it - it's fresh pasta and won't need as much cooking time!

Fresh pasta can be used in a number of ways - here are a couple varieties I've cranked out;

De-constructed Lasagna - dressed with olive oil, diced tomatoes and capers which I toss in a pan over medium heat briefly, deep fried garlic chips, with basil ribbons, Parmesan and mozzarella (skip the cheese and make the pasta without eggs, you've got a vegan version!)

Oozy egg raviolio - put a pillow of ricotta cheese mixed with a bit of sage or thyme,  on a square of pasta, make a well in the center, and carefully put an egg yolk right in the middle.  Top with a second sheet of pasta and carefully seal pushing out as much air as possible.  Boil the ravioli for just a couple of minutes (3-4) so that the yolk is still runny - top with a sprinkle of salt and pepper (I've got diced prosciutto on this but here) for an oozy eggy treat!

 Add a little food color to a batch of pasta, and create striped pasta (this one has the egg in it too - it's DELICIOUS!)

More ravioli this time with a mix of butternut squash, diced bacon and white beans - g'head try to resist snarfing this down...

This one from the top of the post, I made giant Farfalle (bows) once just for fun, each one was about the size of a playing card.  Topped with a tomato based pork ragu and flakes of Parmesan cheese.

Have fun and be creative with this one!