Mamma Mia! DIY Fresh Pasta

Mamma Mia! DIY Fresh Pasta

From the first meal I ever cooked to today, there is one important lesson I have learned in the kitchen: you must be patient. From overcooking eggs to under-roasting chicken, it is a lesson I have learned over and over again. Whenever I start to get antsy with a recipe, I occasionally hear the sweet crooning of Axel Rose in my head, telling me all I need is just a little patience.

This past week proved to be another valuable lesson in patience, for I made pasta from scratch.

True, I have made pasta in the past but it has always been ravioli. I mixed the dough and rolled it by hand. It never tasted like the ravioli my grandma makes, but things rarely do taste like grandma’s cooking. This time around, I wanted to try to create fresh linguine and, because I was lacking in the patience department from the get-go, I wanted to get my hands on a pasta roller.

First, a disclaimer: it is not absolutely necessary to own a pasta roller. My 84-year-old grandmother who has been making pasta for 60 years doesn’t have one, she has a rolling pin. You don’t even need a pasta cutter; you probably already own a knife. Do these tools simplify things? Of course. However, if you have the same luck I had, you may find yourself scouring six local thrift stores and Craigslist before finally giving in and buying a brand new one from a kitchen store. You can purchase the exact same one I did online for under $30. Patience tested, I waltzed home with my new pasta maker, ready to get my hands dirty.

Patience lesson number two: be prepared to sweat for your dough.

A few years ago a friend gave me a copy of Alice Waters’ Chez Panisse Pizza, Pasta, and Calzone cookbook. Beginning with a quick tutorial on dough, the book is organized by seasons, offering mouth-watering yet simple recipes throughout. The dough recipe stresses the importance of kneading. “It will take several minutes to produce a very firm, smooth, and strong dough,” she writes. “Several minutes” is an understatement. To truly achieve smooth, elastic dough you must work it for at least 10 minutes, and I can’t stress “at least” enough. You will thank me for this in the end. This article from The Kitchn agrees with me.

What goes into this perfect dough is up to you. Check out this tutorial on flours before you begin. I used organic, unbleached white flour for my dough because it was what I had on hand. I also used semolina flour to toss my cut ribbons of pasta in, to prevent them from sticking together.

Basic Pasta Dough
From Chez Panisse Pizza, Pasta, and Calzone
1 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 egg
a little water, if necessary

Mix together the flour and salt, either in a bowl or in a mound on your countertop. Make a well in the middle, crack the egg, and place in the well.

With a fork or your fingers, start beating and incorporating the egg into the sides of the flour, widening your circle slowly — making sure not to work the dough. It will first look like you are making scrambled eggs. Then, slowly the bits of flour will start to combine and once it becomes too tough to beat with the fork, just start rolling the dough together with your hands, to form a ball. If the dough is too dry, add a little water.

Once the dough has formed, the kneading begins. Really work the dough, stretching and rolling on your countertop until all the flour has been incorporated. The dough should be smooth and slightly elastic.

Good dough looks like the one on the left, not the dry mess on the right.

Once you are done kneading, cover your dough ball with a kitchen towel and let rest for 45 minutes. After resting, cut the dough into smaller pieces. I made a double batch of the recipe and cut mine into six smaller balls. Cover the rest of the balls when working with one. If you’ve properly kneaded your dough, you won’t need any additional flour when rolling.
If using a pasta roller, start on the widest setting and keep rolling through until it is thin enough for your preference. I stopped at the “3” setting. I also cut my dough in half once it had reached the “5” setting, just to be more manageable.

After rolling, cut the pasta and immediately separate the strands. Shake with a little semolina and rest on a flat surface to dry slightly before cooking. Once I finished rolling, cutting, and flouring all my pasta, I set the tray in the refrigerator until I was ready to cook.

Once you are ready to cook your pasta, grab a big pot and fill with water, generously salt the water and make sure it comes to a rolling boil before putting in the fresh pasta. It cooks much faster than dried pasta, about three to five minutes.I tossed my fresh pasta with a mushroom, pine nut, and goat cheese sauce, similar to this.

All told, my project took under two hours, resting time included. The end result was amazing. In fact, my dinner guest proclaimed it was the best pasta she had ever eaten. Gather your patience, and roll out your own pasta this weekend.

The Chaser:

Thinking of purchasing a pasta maker? Find out what to look for when choosing.

Are you vegan? Make eggless pasta from scratch.

Is anyone else going through Downton Abbey withdrawals? Keep the spirit alive with this wonderful blog Downton Abbey Cooks — it’s Downton, plus food.