Oh, pasta, is there anything better than you for comfort food? I know you can buy just about any kind these days, all over the place. But years ago, I was at the Macy’s in Herald Square, the original Macy’s store, and their kitchen area, which used to be called “The Cellar” was having a huge sale. I saw a shiny silver pasta roller there, and it was all of $25. Now that I think of it, that was a little pricey, but I still have it and use it, as I did the weekend of Valentine’s Day. I promised you no mystery, easy to make pasta and this is it.
First, lets talk through how you make pasta and what goes into it. There is a basic ratio, 3/4 cups flour to each large egg. And please note, I said large egg, not extra large, jumbo or regular. It really does make a difference! The extra large or jumbo have more white, and therefore more liquid in them, which causes you to have to second guess how much more flour you’ll need, and the regular size eggs have less liquid. You can make pasta with no eggs, but that’s not what I am displaying here, I’ll do that another time.
The kind of flour you use also makes a difference. There are pastas made from all purpose white, wheat, buckwheat, semolina, etc. For our purposes, I used half semolina and half all purpose. I try to avoid the bleached flour, since it’s just more processed than regular, but it really doesn’t make a great deal of difference in texture, only color. Semolina makes a stronger pasta, and it’s great if you’re trying to make a dough that has to stand up, like for ravioli or lasagne sheets. What I am doing here is the basic spaghetti, or linguini. Now, if you don’t have a pasta roller, you can very easily use a rolling pin and a knife to cut the strands. My only advice then would be to roll the sheets as thin as possible, let them rest, then roll them out again.
Here’s the recipe, which makes about 1 1/2 lbs of pasta:
- 3 cups all-purpose flour (or part semolina/part plain flour or part whole wheat)
- 4 whole large eggs (or, 3 large eggs, 2 yolks, depending upon how yellow you want it)
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt, fine grained (optional)
There are two methods for mixing the dough, the traditional way is to put the flour in a mound on your board (mix the salt into the flour well before you do this.) In the middle of the mound make a well with your fingers and drop the eggs into it. With a fork, begin to beat the eggs, and as you do, start to incorporate the flour from the sides of the well into them. Keep the walls of the mound as you go, but eventually the whole mixture will leak out. Honestly, using a fork to start and then continuing with your fingers is easier. The modern method is to use a stand mixer, beat the eggs well before you mix them into the flour on medium. As it begins to cohere, switch to a dough hook and allow it to mix all the flour in. With any method, you’ll end up with a sticky shaggy dough, which you will turn out onto a board and knead with your hands. There isn’t any method, other than using your hands, that will do this better. As you knead, it will spring into into life, and you’ll have a smooth, yellow dough.
Now we come to a critical point, which I can not stress enough. You must allow this dough to rest and rest for a good long time. I wrap it in plastic wrap and forget about it for about an hour. You can let it sit for 30 minutes if you’re impatient, but in order to roll it out, it has to be completely relaxed. If you don’t rest it enough, the sheets will be bumpy and rough when you roll it out. So, 60 minutes, go get a glass of wine, take a walk, call someone. Then come back.
After the rest, cut the ball of dough in half, and each of those halves into 3. Place one of the pieces on your board, and rewrap the remaining dough. If you’re using a pasta machine, set the rollers to their widest setting. Use your hands to press and knead your dough into a rectangular bar. It should be thin, but chunky. Roll the rectangle through the largest setting. You’ll end up with a much thinner version of what you started with. Fold the dough in on itself in thirds, so take one end and fold it into the middle of the dough, then take the other end and fold it over the piece you just folded. Run this through the machine again on the widest setting. Then, progressively, roll the dough through increasingly thinner settings. until you end up with a long thin sheet, set this piece aside to dry a bit on a floured surface. Process the remaining 5 pieces the same way.
If you’re using a rolling pin, process in the same way, using the fold technique too. You should end up with a piece similar to the piece above. After all the pieces are rolled out, let them sit and dry for at least 20 minutes. If you’re using the pasta machine, start with the first piece you rolled out and process it though the cutting end, either the linguine or spaghetti setting, and immediately toss the threads with flour so they are all coated, then put them into a heap, and keep watching them and tossing so they don’t stick together. At this point, you can let them dry a bit more, or just cook them in boiling salted water, for about 2 minutes, then drain well and dress.
If you’re using the rolling pin method, let the strips dry, again for about 20 minutes or so. Then roll the strips from the short side up into a roll, and use a knife to cut the pasta shapes, thin for spaghetti and thicker for linguine. Make sure when you’ve cut them, starting with the first sheet you rolled out, toss the completed pasta in flour, and allow them to dry more.
At this point, you can either cook the pasta as you would normally, or you can make them into bird nests and freeze them. They will last for quite some time in the frozen state.
Please, try this, at a time when you can be leisurely about your prep of this. It’s not hard, and you’ll wonder why you hadn’t done it long ago!
Enjoy the upcoming week, and Happy March!