Monday, June 7, 2010

Mission: Homemade Pasta, Status: Complete



For years I was intimidated by homemade pasta. Sticky dough, stringy noodles, gross textures... all of these potential pasta-making hiccups truly terrified me. But I finally told myself to just pluck up the courage and try it - the worst that could happen was that my family would politely smile through the first few bites and then order a pizza.

Knowing that even though the recipe sounded simple, I would need lots of time (being the novice cook that I am), so I started my pasta at 4, hoping to have it on the table by 6:30.


So... I'm not gonna lie - I was really, REALLY excited to get to mix the pasta dough by hand. When I first heard that this was how pasta dough was made, I was skeptical, but after several confirmations on this fact, I started getting giddy. Playing with my food? Awesome! Starting the process by making a flour-well with eggs inside, I felt confident, because this is how it was supposed to look (no mess-ups yet - go me!).


Swirl, swirl, swirl; mix, mix mix. Gooey hands, messy counter top. So messy, in fact, that I had to ask my mom to take some of my photos for me, because as you can see...


...my tripod wasn't going to work for this situation.



After much mixing, my dough finally started to come together into one, sticky lump. I kept adding flour and kneading the dough, and with some tender-loving care, my dough turned into a ball. I had a lot of the original flour left over, so I strained it in a mesh sieve to get out all the little egg-crumbs and put it in a bowl (you can see it in the above picture) to use for the rest of the pasta process. Yay for being economical!

So far so good, right? Well, technically yes. However, when I rolled out the first quarter of the dough and tried to cut it up, my noodles kept sticking together. Uh oh. It was now past 5:00, and with three more portions to do, I started panicking that there wouldn't be enough time. The result? No pictures of my rolling/cutting process. Sorry guys :(

However, I found a solution: use lots and lots and LOTS of flour. Like, when you think you've used enough flour, use more. Seriously. I figured this out after the first two batches of sticky noodles, and the last two batches went much more smoothly because of it.

Then the moment of truth arrived: boiling the pasta and testing it. My heart was pounding, and my worry-brow was forming (you know that crease you get in your forehead when you're stressed?), but after a few minutes, I tested a noodle and....

It tasted like pasta. Wow! I felt a little silly, because for some reason I didn't think that homemade pasta would taste like normal noodles. They did, in case you're wondering. But they tasted good! Something about the homemadiness made the noodles taste extra delicious, even more so than boxed pasta (a favorite of mine to begin with).

The only bad part of this whole experience was that dinner was late. Because of my battle with the two sticky batches of dough, dinner didn't get on the table until 6:50. Whoops. But I feel like this is the type of dish that can potentially go really quickly once you get the hang of it, so next time I make it I won't have to wrestle with sticky noodles for half an hour.

My family seemed to enjoy dinner, despite it's tardiness, and there was one final surprise for all of us: homemade pasta fills you up really, really quickly. After one moderate portion for all of us, we felt incredibly full. So full, in fact, that despite the pasta's deliciousness, we couldn't make room for seconds or else we'd burst. This meant that even though the noodles were feeding 5 people, we had enough leftovers to feed us all for a second dinner. Homemade pasta leftovers? I definitely didn't complain :)


Recipe:
Adapted from the Joy of Cooking

3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
5 large eggs
1 teaspoon salt (optional)
1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil (optional)

1. Mound flour onto a clean counter, make a well in the center. Add eggs and optional ingredients to well. Using your hands, beat eggs, drawing in some flour as you go. Gradually incorporate the flour into the eggs and blend everything into a smooth, not too stiff dough. If the dough feels too dry and crumbly, add water as needed. Knead the dough until satiny and very elastic, about 10 minutes. Cover in plastic wrap and let dough rest for 30 minutes.
2. Generously flour a large surface. Cut dough into 4 pieces. Using only one piece at a time, roll out dough until 1/32 inch thick (you should be able to see magazine words though the dough, but not necessary make out what they say). Cut dough as desired. If making fettuccine, spaghetti, or some other thin noodle, cut strips narrower than you want them to be, as the dough will expand when boiled.
3. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Depending on noodle type, pasta can be done as soon as 2 minutes, so keep testing until noodles are al dente and no longer taste like raw flour.

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