Fresh pasta!August 22, 2006
As you can tell from this blog, I eat well. For this, I can thank my husband, who seems to love, love cooking. (It’s now become a running joke for him to shout, spontaneously, “I love cooking!” with a slightly maniacal look in his eye.) Occasionally, though the man needs encouragement — and even more tools.
Now, although my husband is a devoted acolyte of one Alton Brown, Food Network star, he doesn’t always live by Alton’s creed of disavowing all tools “unitasker.” In other words, he kind of has a thing for kitchen gadgetry. Not useless kitchen gadgetry, but things like garlic presses, waffle irons, double-headed silicon spatulas, panini grills, etc. We hardly have enough room for it all in our quite nice-sized kitchen. Actually, since we have most of these things and I eat their output regularly — they do seem like essentials after all. Well, done, husband: I’ve been duly brain washed.
For his birthday, Kendle hinted — no, constantly reminded me — that he wanted a pasta press. Who can deny a man who cooks so well a much-beloved gadget? Plus, I could already almost taste the fresh pasta. Well, now he has said pasta press — and I’m not sure how we lived without it before. It’s amazingly easy and quite rewarding. Now we only need one more gadget: A pasta rack so we don’t have to hang the pasta over our dining room chairs.
Below, my husband takes you on his journey of exploration of his new toy, with more posts to follow on how to make fresh pasta!
When you read many cooking magazines or watch some cooking shows, they may tell you about all the trial runs in their “test kitchen.” Well, we here at MHC, we also have a test kitchen: Our own kitchen.
Most of the recipes posted so far I have prepared on a number of occasions — you’re getting the results of my experience (and decision to write them down.) Other recipes are in the process of refinement. Then there’s an even lower status… these are recipes from our test kitchen! So, periodically, we plan to let you have a peek behind the curtain and see what successes, disasters or fad is being embraced.
Currently, we are in exploratory phase of fresh pasta. It started at the beginning of the summer when Bill Bufford’s book Heat came out. My wife brought the book home for me as a surprise. (See, I buy her exotic fruits like Dragon Fruit, she buys me interesting books. She is clearly the superior spouse.) Author Bill Bufford goes on with glowing praise of Mario Batali and Italian cuisine while discussing a wild world he travels through to learn about cooking.
After reading his discussions on the glories of handmade pastas, I immediately decided, “OK. I can do that.” I broke out a bowl, some flour and eggs, did a tad bit of research on dough recipes, and made my own pasta by hand. I gained a new respect for the old Italian pastina as I tried to hand roll out enough for four servings of ravioli. But, I was very pleased with the results (left) — especially considering it was too thick, the flavor wasn’t quite right, and I had no idea what I was doing.
I reasoned that my pasta wasn’t good enough because I didn’t have the right equipment or recipe. Usually, I would have threatened to go out and buy a pasta maker. But since my birthday was around the bend, I waited and reminded my wife often. So for my birthday, amongst a pile of very cool gifts, was my new pasta maker. I broke it out for a party we had the next day.
The “test kitchen” was now in full motion for a party of six, including my father-in-law. In this next pasta incarnation, I switched it up and tried to make a whole wheat pasta using my press. Now, the results after fussing with the dough for a while were better. The ravioli, to be kind to myself, were extremely rustic. Even the precision hands of Tessie could not save them from being less than attractive. For the dish, I made a tomato cream sauce that was also a bit less then perfect.
Saved by Parker House Rolls, everyone apparently loved the meal. Once again, I found the pasta too doughy, the sauce too thick, and the aesthetic too rustic for even a non-perfectionist such as myself. My father-in-law wanted seconds though, so at least the most important man in the room enjoyed himself.
Seeing there were still weaknesses, I went back to the test kitchen later that week and turned on the recipe again. I adjusted. I used just egg yolks, water and traditional flour. Employing my wife as my pasta maker, she rolled the dough through the press again and again. This time, I gave up on actual ravioli. Instead, I turned to a more basic pasta, one that didn’t require me to seal them and make them pretty. We used the nice little cutter attachment and made fettuccine.
This was the first recipe that I felt had legs. And quite frankly, it turned into a minor comedy show for the whole family. Three adults, Husband, Wife and Tessie, were all working to make sure the dough didn’t get caught on things and that it came out right. And after the dough was made into fettuccine, we realized we had no home for it to wait until we were ready to cook it. So our dining room chairs were now pasta hangers. It was fantastic. Flour everywhere… but this is what we do to benefit the MHC reader.
For the fettuccine, I made a sauce with artichokes, tomatoes, vodka and a tiny bit of cream. This was the first real winner as far as sauces went. It had the right amount of kick, but not too much, so that the pasta was lost under it. Unfortunately, I felt the pasta was once again too doughy and may have been to dry when we rolled it out. As a result, the test kitchen is working on it.
So there is your brief peek behind the curtain. If you want to add your comments, questions, insights, please do. I think we should have something for you very soon.