Pasta Pasta Pasta! - may 22, 2010

My preschool daughter recently spent an afternoon with some classmates making homemade pasta - fettuccine, spaghetti, a few ravioli. Her instructor said they made pasta for about an hour, then went off to play. Around five o'clock all the children's parents and siblings gathered to eat dinner. Dining together with other families from her preschool was really wonderful, especially since the kids had made our meal.  We vowed to do it again and all went home to sleep.

This week her grandparents came to visit, all three of them.  They arrived thursday afternoon, and that evening we made some more pasta. Many years ago my husband and I received a pasta maker for a wedding gift, one of those classy, shiny stainless steel do-hickeys of questionable Italian design. With the new machine we made pasta exactly once, probably nine years ago. Even back then, when we were so much younger and child free, with infinite time to fritter in the evenings, I remember pasta making as a chore. 

For one thing, the clamp that is supposed to hold the pasta maker still just wouldn't clamp on to any of our table surfaces. Now in a different home with infinitely more tables and counter tops, I figured something would work this time. But no, yet again, the clamp was able to secure the pasta machine to none of our tabletops - not the kitchen table, not the kitchen counter, not the dining room table, not the butcher block. 

So after a multitude of minutes of twitting about, sputtering and cursing, my husband and his father came up with a system.  Grandpa used the clamp to secure the pasta machine to a cutting board, then held the board down on the butcher block table. My husband fed the pasta dough into the machine, and the three year old turned the crank. By then our highly skilled pasta maiden had disappeared into the living room, declining to help for the rest of the evening. 

About four hours after beginning the process we ate dinner - fresh fettuccine with herb pesto and an arugula salad. The food was delicious. But the process, probably not one I'm going to repeat for another nine years.

We took our pasta making instructions from Canal House Cooking #3, the spring issue. Canal House has just updated their website with all sorts of nice details, including additional recipes, equipment recommendations and best of all, a blog.  I can't wait to read more about what they are up to day to day. Now if only Nigel Slater would write a daily blog. 

I was hoping the Canal House folks would include their pasta lesson in the on line excerpt of #3, but they did not, so I'll have to explain what we did myself. Their pasta instructions are beautifully illustrated, so if you have any desire to start making fresh pasta, you should really buy the book.

Arugula Salad:

1 bunch arugula

1/2 lemon

2 Tablespoons olive oil (or so)

3 Tablespoons pine nuts

a bit of parmesan cheese, shaved

salt and pepper

Wash the arugula and cut off all the long stems with no leaves.  Spin it dry and put it in a salad bowl.  In a small skillet, toast the pine nuts on medium heat.  They will burn very quickly, so you should devote all your attention to the skillet while they toast.  When they are brown and smell good, remove them from the heat and into a bowl. Right before you serve the salad, squeeze the lemon and toss it with the greens.  pour the olive oil into the bowl, salt and pepper and toss. Sprinkle the pine nuts and cheese over the top of the salad.

Herb Pesto: (adapted from Deborah Madison's Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone)

2 garlic cloves

1/2 teaspoon salt

3 Tablespoons pine nuts

3 cups loosely packed basil leaves (stems removed, leaves washed and dried), marjoram and tarragon 

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

You can make this with a mortar and pestle, but I choose to use a food processor instead.  Add the garlic, salt and pine nuts and process until fairly finely chopped. Then add the herbs and olive oil and process. Taste for salt and add more if you like.

Fresh Fettuccine with Herb Pesto:

All you need to make fresh pasta is flour, eggs, and a pasta machine.  Each pasta machine comes with instructions.  I really think its easier for you (and me) to just follow those, and not my unillustrated interpretation.  I will say, however, that letting the dough rest for an hour or two before rolling it through the machine seems to be key. Don't skip that part!

Hang the noodles to dry a bit before you cook them, while you make the rest of the pasta. A pasta drying rack is really helpful, but as you can see, we like to improvise at my house. Once you've noodled up all the dough, made the pesto and have the salad ready to be tossed with the dressing, then drop the fettuccine into a pot of boiling water.  It only needs a few minutes to cook - really, like two to three.  Taste for doneness (you want it too feel firm but immediately give when you bite it) and remember that its better to err on the side of undercooked than over. Most fresh pasta is made with egg, and has a different texture than dried pasta, which is not made with egg. My husband describes it by saying "fresh pasta is more supple than dried". 

Once the fettuccine is done, drain it in a colander in the sink, and quickly dump the colander contents back into the pot.  Then add some pesto, mix it up, and serve. 


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