Monday, September 13, 2010

Urban Myth: Fresh Pasta without a Pasta Machine


I have an extremely Italian maiden name, Minino, along with a large Italian family in Omaha, Nebraska to boot. It’s only natural that I would like to “represent” my homeland by making a homemade pasta dish. Since I’m new to my Self-Taught Culinary endeavor, I wanted to attempt to make the pasta, without a pasta machine. There are two reasons I didn’t make the pasta with a pasta machine 1) I don’t currently own a pasta machine 2) I’m cheap and didn’t want to buy one.

I decided to attempt the pasta while my husband was at work. From the research I did online, homemade pasta is quite the messy endeavor. My husband is the “clean” one in the family, and I just pictured his eyes widening as the flour from the pasta started flailing and forming a fog in room. Quick decision, I’ll make the pasta while he’s at work so the anticipated desecration of our kitchen would take place without his knowing (and I’ll have multiple hours to clean the scene of the crime).

I consulted many You-tube videos and online resources to formulate my plan of attack. I decided to have a clean surface on my counter with:

2 ¼ Cup Unbleached Flour
3 eggs
1 dash of Kosher Salt

I dished the flour on the counter, and formed a little hole in the middle of the flour. I then cracked the three eggs into the hole in the flour, and created a swimming pool where three egg yolks were having fun. Immediately one of the egg yolks decided to play games and leap over the side of the flour/egg yolk pool. Bastard. I had to chase that little guy back to safety into the swimming pool.

After washing my hands I grabbed a pinch on Kosher salt and splashed it into the yolky swimming pool. I grabbed a fork and started to break apart the yolks and swirl the flour into the egg. I quickly decided the fork wasn’t very useful, so I decided to dive into the pool with my bare hands. And that’s where the fun begins.

There’s something about playing with food in your hands. It seems dangerous, and naughty - - we’ve all been taught to not play with food in our hands, and the idea of ‘breaking the law’ had me smiling from ear to ear. I would describe playing with pasta dough as pure nirvana - gooey at first in-between my fingers, then success as it turns into the desired firm pasta dough. Part of the pasta making process is to knead and play with the dough for 7-ish minutes until it forms a nice ball that isn’t sticky. If it gets sticky, you add more flour.

After my main dough ball was formed, I split the big ball into three balls (that sounds weird), and let the three dough balls rest for 20 minutes.

When I came back to my dough I broke out the rolling pin and decided I was going to roll each dough-ball out as thin as humanly possible. Once a piece was rolled out, I gently rolled up the flat dough into a circle, kind of like a ‘Fruit Roll-Up” and cut my fettuccini looking pasta slices.

You would typically ‘hang’ the pasta to dry on the special dowel rod contraption. I used the laundry clothes drying rack – it worked just fine!

The pasta dried for most of the afternoon. When my husband came home, I made the pasta for dinner that night - - with high hopes. I boiled the water with salt and went directly from drying rack to boiling water. About ¼ of the pasta noodles broke in the transfer from drying rack to boiling water. They’re pretty brittle when they dry, and my husband just cracked himself up in the background as I let out a little squeal every time a noodle broke and landed on the kitchen floor. He later regretted not video taping that debacle.

With the noodles finally making it to the boiling water, I became concerned after about 10 minutes because the noodles hadn’t become flaccid. After about 15 minutes of boiling, I decided the noodles needed to come out and we were to enjoy. I didn’t want to overcook the noodles, as many online tools said they only needed 3-5 minutes in the boiling water - - -right then I knew something was wrong.

I poured some fresh tomato sauce and grated parmesan cheese over the pasta. My first impression of the pasta was that it was “meaty” and “robust”. I have to say, a grain shouldn’t hold a texture of meat – I think that’s when you know you have problem. My sweet husband said he liked the pasta - -I would say he was lying, but he ate his entire plate-full. I think he was just really hungry – he’ll pretty much eat anything when his blood sugar is low. The words “chewy” and “thick” also come to mind when describing my homemade pasta – uh oh, not good. I also think it was a little salty - - and I’ll probably avoid the salt next time.

What did I learn about making homemade pasta?
1) I really want a pasta machine for Christmas
2) It is an urban myth that you can make 'good' pasta without a pasta machine

PS On a side-note, I went to a pasta cooking demo the next night at The Viking Store. I went up to the instructor, and almost bragged that I had attempted to make pasta, without a pasta machine. The instructor got a really weird look on her face and said, “Even I’ve never made pasta without a pasta machine”. Ha! I felt like such a dummy. Even the pros won’t try it. As I tasted the Viking Instructors pasta, I immediately understood. Her pasta was thin and perfectly cooked. Nothing “chewy” or “meaty” about it. This was a great lesson, and I will attempt pasta once again when I have a pasta machine.

I think it’s fair to say I have a new found respect for the makers of Angel Hair Pasta – how do they do it?

Mandy Lea Turchin

mandylea@selftrainedchef.com

www.selftrainedchef.com

6 comments:

  1. haha I love this post! If you want pasta without a pasta machine, try gnocchi (potato dumplings). I have a recipe somewhere for them on my blog. It seems like it's just too hard to get regular pasta thin enough. I admire you for trying though - that's what cooking is all about!

    So great to meet you this weekend by the way. I love your joy and smile :)

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  2. Megan! It was wonderful meeting you too. I relly love the idea of Gnocchi, thickness isn't shunned in the world of Gnocchi. Please send over that recipe. Here is my email: mandylea@selftrainedchef.com

    Cooking is ALL about trial and error - - everytime I make a mistake, I always learn something valuable.

    Keep in touch my friend.

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  3. Megan, Just found your Gnocchi recipe in your blog - http://www.whatmegansmaking.com/2009/09/gnocchi.html

    Thanks!

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  4. Mandy-
    This post seriously had me giggling! I too have made some dishes that I proudly present to my husband only to take a bite and go "WTH IS IN MY MOUTH?!" :D
    I gotta say though-I have had some success in making pasta like this. I don't dry it though. Maybe you could give that a try?

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  5. Funny! A pasta machine is the way to go, don't get an expensive one either, I found one at my local discount store for $19.
    -Gina-

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  6. Knead just until smooth. The dough should feel supple and just a little bit elastic. When kneading, sprinkle with as little flour as possible if the dough is sticking.

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