Happy 2011, everyone! Yes, yes, I’m well aware that January is half over, and even more so that I have been shockingly silent on these pages. The good news is that what I’ve been up to, in a big way, has been cooking and food adventuring, so there should be plenty of posts heading your way!
In part, I’ve been doing so much cooking because of the wonderful gifts I received for Christmas, from Mr. Menace, my parents, and many of my friends. Clearly they’ve caught on to my strong interest in cooking somehow, and responded with some really fabulous new toys. However, today I’m going to talk about something my parents gave me all the way back in the summer, for my birthday, that I finally took the time to play with and learn how to use. Honestly, I’m not sure what took me so long, because not only was it really easy, it let me finally cross off of the list one of my food goals: making my own pasta.
Yes, my parents gave me this sweet, VERY shiny pasta machine for my birthday, along with a book of recipes from America’s Test Kitchen:
(Oh, hey, there’s a Christmas gift in action, too! Yes, I finally have a cookbook holder, hooray! Thanks, Mr M!)
They also provided a lovely drying rack:
Now, my dad is the sort of person who does a lot of careful research when he gives you a gift, to make sure he’s getting the best version of whatever-it-is for the cost, which is really a sensible way to go about things, though I suspect that many folks don’t do it as often as they should. So that’s why, even though I own a Kitchen-Aid stand mixer and had originally thought I’d wanted the pasta attachment for that, he gave me a hand-cranked machine. He’d read that the Kitchen-Aid version wasn’t all one might wish, and that the hand machines were the way to go. As it turns out, the cookbook he gave me agrees with that assessment, so that worked out well, and the hand-machine is so ridiculously easy to use that I’m not sure having a motor involved could possibly add anything.
The first thing I needed to do was make the dough. I decided to make the most basic pasta to start out with – I can always get fancy later, and in fact after my positive experience hope to make ravioli soon! Traditional fresh pasta is simply eggs and flour – all-purpose, which was nice (dried requires semolina flour, which I didn’t have immediately to hand). These two ingredients whirred about in my food processor, making dry pebbles that I pressed into dough:
At this point I was nervous because the dough seemed VERY tough and dry, but since the next step was to let it sit for two hours to “relax,” I decided to trust Christopher Kimball and his crew and wrapped it up.
So glossy! So warm and yellow from the egg yolks! It’s like another dough entirely.
This slice and its five brethren were then fed into the pasta machine. The way it works is very simple – there are two little rollers inside of it, and these can be adjusted from very wide to very narrow. The slices of dough are passed through the widest settings several times, until the dough is smooth, then passed through again through each of the narrower settings until the dough is quite long and almost translucent:
Here’s the dough going through the machine:
(I know, it’s a lot of photos, but I LOVE that one! The pasta looks like a fat ribbon.)
You can see the towel right through it! You can also see it’s gotten very long – it can be cut in half if this is too much for the next step, which is cutting the pasta. This is rather nifty on the hand-cranked machine, because the cutter gets attached the front, and the handle that you used in the previous step, to flatten, just moves over to the cutter to crank the dough through that! I love that sort of economy – no need to take up space with extra handles! The cutter has two settings, a flat, wide fettuccine setting, and a thinner tagliatelle one. I went with the latter:
The strands are then hung on the rack to dry for a bit, so that they don’t become a sticky, mushy mass when you cook them:
I found that for this purpose keeping the pasta long was the way to go – short strands were a fiddly balancing act that was not really fun to attempt.
As with the pasta itself, I elected to keep it pretty simple with the sauce. Mr. Kimball et al. feel that fresh egg noodles of this sort are best for a cream or butter sauce since they absorb a bit of it and hold it well. Since I’m not a huge fan of cream sauces (and to be honest, didn’t feel like making one) I decided to go with the simplest recipe in the book – butter and Parmesan cheese in large quantities:
This turned out to be an awesome combination! The fresh pasta was perfect – tender, and slightly sweet in contrast to the salty sausage and the bitter, garlicky rabe. While the whole process took several hours, most of the time was in waiting, rather than active cooking, and the active parts were really fun! Using the pasta machine with the dough took me straight back to childhood and the Play-Doh Fun Factory!
My pasta machine trumps the Fun Factory, however, because when I’m done it I can eat the results; while one CAN eat Play-Doh, I don’t think one SHOULD.
I’m very excited for future projects with the pasta maker – in addition to the ravioli I want to try flavored pastas, and making my own tomato sauce. (Don’t look at me like that, I’m not Italian, okay? We always got sauce from jars!) What cooking adventures have you all been up to? Oh, and look out for a poll soon – I think it’s high time for another group adventure!