Friday Night has become Pasta Night at bread&cup. Every Thursday we mix a batch of pasta dough that gets sheeted on Friday and formed into the various shapes of fettuccine, linguini fini, lasagna, tortellini, ravioli and such.
In some ways, pasta is just another form of bread, only cooked in boiling water instead of hot air. It contains flour, water, eggs and salt. The missing element is leavening.
We make our pasta with unbleached bread flour and whole wheat flour instead of semolina that is often called for in recipes. I like the tenderness it yields, plus its easier to find access than semolina.
I’ve been asked, “Why pasta? It seems like a lot of work?” Well if ease of preparation were the guiding standard, we should just open a box of cereal for you in the morning instead of baking the granola from scratch. If extra work was negotiable, we would just buy flimsy bread from a distributor and call it good.
Why handroll our own pasta? For its texture. Hand made, fresh pasta has a soft, tender quality that gets lost with mass produced, dried pasta. It only takes about a minute and a half to cook in a rolling boil, and the difference is obvious.
My favorite way to eat it is with a little roasted garlic, olive oil, shaved Parmigianino Reggiano and a little salt and cracked pepper. The simplest of foods can yield a profundity of pleasures.
Fresh pasta is one of those items that can be easily made at home. While it is possible to make it with a rolling pin, a pasta roller is a very useful tool. The handcrank models are not very costly and add a sense of cooperation in the kitchen. My daughter and I used to make pasta together at home, and it was her job to press it through the rollers. It is a very good way to get kids involved in learning the joys of making food.
Take a couple of eggs and a couple tablespoons of water and whisk together in a bowl. Put two cups of flour in a mound on a counter or work surface and sprinkle on a teaspoon of salt. Create a little crater in the center of the flour mound, large enough to hold the water/egg liquid. With two fingers, begin to stir the liquid into the flour, and a dough will begin to form.
The idea here is to incorporate the right amount of flour into the liquid. Much of baking and cooking is learning how something feels. You could do this in a bread mixer, which we do on a large scale, but it is helpful as you are learning to do things by hand, so you can actually feel what is happening as the ingredients come together.
Once you have created a dough ball, it should feel fairly stiff without being dry. It will look shaggy at this point. Instead of kneading it smooth, you can observe the transformation by allowing the dough ball to rest for an hour. The gluten in the flour begins to relax and you will notice how much easier it is to roll out by being patient. We let ours rest overnight.
This is the most crucial step. If you have good, pliable dough, you can easily roll it and cut it as you wish. Remember it only takes a minute or so to cook, so don’t over boil it. Like everything, a little practice goes a long way.