Saturday, January 15, 2011

2011: The year of pasta, lesson 1

Early this past year, I decided I might like a pasta roller for my Kitchenaid for a Christmas present. I had a few reasons: I really love learning how different foods are made; I figure that homemade almost always tastes better; I like to know all of the ingredients in foods that I feed my family. Also, my mother-in-law makes chicken and noodles for us every time she visits. I tried following her recipe once, but I really struggled with the homemade egg noodles; she rolls and cuts them by hand and I had a difficult time getting them thin enough . . . and doing it quickly enough so that the meal could be done in a reasonable time.

Anyway, chatting with Kayte and Natashya on Twitter, I learned that they were also requesting pasta attachments for Christmas, so Kayte suggested that if 2010 was the year of bread for many of us, maybe 2011 could be the year of pasta!

Happily, under the tree I found the pasta attachment (roller, spaghetti cutter, and fettuccine cutter), a pasta drying rack, and a ravioli press from my awesome hubby.

Being someone who loves doing research and gathering information, I tried to find some books on pasta-making, hoping for the same love I feel for books on bread-making. I found many cookbooks specializing in pasta dishes, but none specializing in making pasta. I began to fear that there wasn't enough to learn about pasta.

I was wrong! While I couldn't find a book on making fresh pasta, almost every pasta/Italian cooking book I looked in had a variation of "basic fresh egg pasta" ~ and they're all different!

I tried two to start: one from America's Test Kitchen's Family Cookbook and one from Lidia's Italy. I mixed up both in my food processor and then finished kneading by hand.

Check out how different the two recipes are:
ATK (1 pound fresh egg pasta for fettuccine)
2 cups all-purpose flour
3 eggs

Lidia (1 1/2 pounds fresh egg pasta for fettuccine)
3 cups all-purpose flour
3 eggs
3 egg yolks
3 tbsp olive oil
1/4 cup water

Both mixed up fine. I put Lidia's into the fridge for the following day and decided to use the ATK one to make ravioli. I mixed up a simple filling (also from their Family Cookbook) of ricotta, mozzarella, fresh basil. I used my new roller to roll the dough into strips and then used my new ravioli press. It took a while to figure out how to get my strips wide enough, but ATK has several helpful hints on their pasta pages about using a pasta roller. I also realized after my first (difficult!) attempts with the ravioli maker that it had to be floured extremely well to get the ravioli to release from the maker. But I ended up with three dozen ravioli, bagged in the freezer and ready for a busy weeknight's dinner! (And it was used that way, on a night when hubby was out and a friend was over, it was dinner time and there were three hungry little ones . . . frozen ravioli and frozen leftover bolognese: yum!)

The next afternoon, I pulled out the dough made with Lidia's recipe. I rolled out the sheets of dough, which went even easier than the previous night, and stored them between layers of a damp kitchen towel, as I'd done with the ATK recipe.

Disaster struck when I went to cut the dough. I was planning to make spaghetti but when I tried to put the first strip into the cutter, it just blobbed up. Nothing went through. So I switched to the fettuccine cutter. Got a couple of usable pieces, but mostly just giant blobs. It was so frustrating! And then I went to pull the next strip off of the damp towel. Totally stuck.

We ended up cooking a couple of boxes of packaged rigatoni for dinner, along with about ten strands of fettuccine that made it through the cutter. I was too discouraged to even scrape the rest of the dough off of the damp towel, so I made my hubby do it. I did stop him when he went to throw it away, though, and had him put it in the fridge instead.

One of our dinner guests said that when he used to work at a restaurant that used a similar roller for pizza dough, they had to use a TON of flour. Which is when I realized: duh! ATK has you store the rolled sheets under a damp towel because their recipe includes no moisture and the dough would dry out. But Lidia's includes more eggs and water and oil; of course it needed to be stored between layers of flour and not a damp cloth!

Sure enough, when I was alone later in the evening, I pulled out the dough, rerolled it (using a lot of flour) and then ran it through the cutter. Beautiful, perfect fettuccine! Here is another batch, made tonight, served with Cook's Country's Sunday gravy: an incredibly flavorful spaghetti sauce made with leftover pot roast (from their newest issue).

So lesson #1: use a lot of flour! This is where my bread-baking may get in the way of my pasta-making. I'm so used to using as little flour as possible to roll out dough and never adding any extra; I'm going to have to change that behavior to become successful with pasta!


  1. I really admire your dedication to learn how to make things from scratch. Pasta seems way too difficult for me right now, but it sure looks good! Looking forward to reading more about making pasta from you.

  2. Your ravioli looks amazing! I love making fresh pasta, and I have a ravioli press but for some reason, I've never used it. I usually just make homemade lasagna sheets or fettucini. I'll be interested to watch you experiment, maybe I'll finally get some use out of my ravioli press too. It's great that you're so determined. Can't wait to hear how you enjoy the ravioli. : )

  3. Wow, you really did a nice job on the pasta and the post! Thanks for showing it all and sharing the tips you have for flouring it really well. I am going to start this week, probably on the weekend as we have no swim meet for once and it seems like something I am going to need a lot of concentration for in the beginning. I was going to try to make pappardelle first so I will let you know how that goes. I really want to make ravioli now that I have seen yours!

  4. I'm impressed you're making your own pasta. I'm not going to join this adventure - not enough time. Every once in a while I make homemade pelmeni (similar to ravioli), but I've never made spaghetti or fettuccine. Kudos to you!