Saturday, April 27, 2013

Pasta From Scratch, Garden Style

Have you ever tasted fresh, homemade pasta noodles? They are so good, you really don't need much of a sauce. A little butter and salt is enough, and a fresh basil pesto can be like noodle heaven.

This bowl of pasta is what I like - fresh peas and basil and baby broccoli from the garden in a light cream sauce. I picked and shelled the peas right before lightly steaming them, so they still had that garden-fresh green taste. Nothing compares to things picked right before eating.

 I haven't been able to find semolina flour locally in the grocery store, so I ordered a pound of it and had it shipped to me. It arrived this week, so I had to take it for a test run. It really doesn't take all that long to make homemade noodles from scratch, and there aren't many ingredients.

This is my pasta-making setup. I use a large bowl and my pasta machine to make homemade fettucini. It's not a fancy pasta machine, I got it on sale, and it does everything I need for pasta making. You can use a rolling pin if you don't have a pasta machine, it's just a bit tricky to get the thinnest dough. You'll need a large area and a long, skinny rolling pin. Here are the simple ingredients:

Fresh Semolina and Egg Pasta Ingredients 
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups semolina flour
1 pinch salt
6 large eggs
2 tablespoons olive oil
(use the good stuff if you have some)

Thoroughly sift together the all-purpose flour, semolina flour, and pinch of salt. I've made it many times without the semolina, and I wondered if having both types of flour would make a difference. It really does! The dough is stiffer and the noodles roll out better. The texture of the noodles is better, too. So if you don't have the semolina, make the effort to find some. It really is worth it.

In a deep bowl, make a mountain out of the sifted flour mixture then make a deep well in the center. Break the eggs into the well and add the olive oil. 
Just think, if I get hens in the backyard someday, I might be using my own eggs for this! But that's a while down the road. For now, these will have to do. 

Whisk egg and oil mixture very gently with a fork, gradually incorporating flour from the sides of the well.
Here I was using a whisk, and really a fork works much better. So ignore the whisk in the picture and just use a regular sized fork.
Or if you're really in a hurry you can put everything in the food processor and whizz it up almost to the point it's ready, and finish it by hand. But doing it by hand doesn't really take very long, and you can get the feel of the dough as it gets silky and ready to use. So try it with your hands, like this.

When the mixture is too thick to mix with a fork, begin kneading with your hands. Knead dough for 8 to 12 minutes, until it is smooth and supple. Dust dough and work surface with semolina as needed to keep dough from becoming sticky. If dough seems too dry, moisten your hands and continue to knead with wet hands rather than adding liquid to the dough. Your moistened hands will get the water into the dough much more easily.
I set a timer and really give the at least 10 full minutes of kneading. That way I know it is well-kneaded and I don't have to guess if it's ready or not.

Wrap the dough tightly in plastic and allow it to rest at room temperature for 30 minutes. This is a good time to prepare your sauce, get your pot of boiling water set up, and get your pasta machine assembled and ready, if you haven't done that yet.

After the dough has rested for 30 minutes, cut off 1/4 or 1/3 of the ball, and re-wrap the test in plastic wrap. Flatten the cut off piece with your hands so it's a ribbon shape. Then roll out the ribbon of dough with a pasta machine to the desired thickness and cut into your favorite style of noodle. I start at the largest opening, number one on my pasta machine, and roll through a couple of times. If the dough is silky and not sticky, I start going through smaller and smaller roller settings, down to number 6. I usually cut the ribbon into two pieces before I cut it with the pasta machine into fettucini noodles, so they aren't too long.

These noodles are a little too long, so I had to hang them over the edge of the counter off the drying rack.

To eat immediately, bring water to a boil in a large pot, then add 4 teaspoons salt. Cook noodles until tender but not mushy, 1 to 5 minutes depending on thickness. Fresh pasta doesn't take very long to cook, so don't overcook it. The noodles will swell up and get nice and thick.

I don't drain and rinse the noodles when they're done, I take them right out of the water and put into the saucepan with the sauce, to let them get lots of flavor. Just toss well with your favorite sauce right in the pan the sauce is simmering in. That means you have to prepare the sauce while the pasta is resting, and let it simmer so it's ready when the fresh pasta is cooked. To dry and store for later, hang noodles on a drying rack and leave overnight.

The noodles will be brittle when dry, so store in a tall spaghetti jar with a hermetic seal, or in a large bag sealed with a twist-tie. This is my homemade pasta storage jar.

I'm so glad my semolina flour came, it was well worth it to make these great, tasty homemade noodles. You'll have to try for yourself to see how easy it really is - and how great they taste.

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