Sunday, January 15, 2012

Fresh Pasta! The bestest kind of pasta ever!

To me, there's not much more satisfying than a simple - and ultra-flavourful - pasta dish made with your own fresh pasta. Making it is actually quite easy; it takes a bit of practice but anyone can do it. If you're not feeling adventurous to try it for the first time all by yourself, there are lots of videos on YouTube you can watch, or sign up for a pasta cooking class at a local cooking school. You don't have to make an investment in a pasta machine (either hand-crank, or a pasta attachment for a Kitchen Aid mixer); if you want to do it old school like the nonnas did, you can roll out your dough with a rolling pin. Plus, if you screw it up, it's inexpensive to make another batch of dough. So go on and try it! I promise the rewards are totally worth it.

Ingredients:
  • 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more as needed (for rolling out the dough)
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 4 large egg yolks
  • olive oil
Tools: Dough scraper, pasta drying rack, pasta machine (unless you're going old school with a rolling pin)

Directions:
  1. Start on a clean, large work surface (I use my counter top, but a table has been used before). Combine the flour and salt on the work surface into a mound. Using your fingers (oh, at this point, if you're wearing rings, take them off) to make a well in the middle of the flour large enough to hold the eggs. Crack the whole eggs into the well and add the yolks. Using a fork, start to scramble the eggs. As you do this, gradually incorporate some of the flour from the inner part of the well. The key is to make sure you never break the well, or you'll end up with a mess all over your counter. There will be some lumps in the flour/egg mixture, so try to break those up but don't stress over them - they'll sort themselves out in the kneading process. Keep bringing in the flour from the inner part of the well until the dough begins to form a runny dough ... but not so runny that it will run all over your counter!
  2. Once the dough is formed enough to work with your hands, put down the fork, and add a bit of olive oil onto your hands - this helps prevent the dough from sticking to your hands too much. Start to knead the dough with your hands, incorporating it into the flour as you work. Work by pushing the dough away from you with the heel of your hand, folding it over, giving it a quarter turn and pushing it away from you again. Continue kneading. If your flour starts to have lots of hardened bits in it, scrape it away and flour the work surface with new, fresh flour. Knead the dough until it's no longer sticky and it feels soft and supple - like an earlobe. It should take 5-8 minutes. Once done, sprinkle the dough with a little flour, wrap in plastic, and let it rest for 30 minutes before rolling it out. If you make it far ahead, put it in the fridge.
  3. Set your pasta machine to its widest setting. Cut the dough in quarters and wrap the part you're not using so it doesn't dry out. Roll the 1/4 piece you'll be working with in a bit of flour and flatten it into a rectangle just about the width of the pasta machine. Run the dough through the first setting. Add a bit of flour to both sides of the dough if it's sticky. Set the machine to the next thinnest setting and run the dough through. Continue running the dough through so it gets progressively thinner each time. Remember to add flour if it's sticky at all.
  4. Once you have a thin, flat piece of dough, you can add the pasta cutter attachment to your machine, or just cut by hand (which is what I usually do). If you choose to cut it yourself, a pizza cutter works very well. Cut it as wide or thin as you like, though I suggest only do fettuccine or pappardelle if you're cutting it by hand. Any thinner and an attachment will do better.
  5. As you cut the pasta, hang it on a pasta drying rack (or lay it flat on a lightly floured surface). Don't worry if the pasta gets dry / hardens, as it will be just fine once you cook it.
  6. Work in batches like this until all of your dough has been rolled out and cut! Add the pasta to a large pot of salted boiling water. You can add a tablespoon of olive oil to the pot to make sure the pasta doesn't stick. If you need to, cook in batches. Fresh pasta likes a lot of water and room, whereas dry pasta can cook in a very crowded pot no problem.
  7. Drain and add your favourite sauce - enjoy!
Oh, pasta dough will freeze just fine for up to 3 months. If you want to freeze cut pasta, flour and roll into a series of small nests, freeze on a baking sheet, and then place into Ziploc baggies once frozen.
Pasta hanging out on the rack as I make the rest.

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