Homemade pasta makes a superb summer meal
‘My wife found a pasta maker at a garage sale that was never used,” says Alex Austin, who teaches cooking classes at Spokane’s Kitchen Engine store. “She told me it was my job to figure out how to use it.”
Austin admitted that learning to make homemade pasta can be daunting, but it’s worth the effort.
For date night, toss fresh pasta with some edible flowers and you’ll be sure to impress your guest, he says. And it’s a great way to use fresh summer produce without heating up the oven.
Learning how to make the dough is a hands-on experience, says Austin: “You have to get in there and get flour all over to learn.”
Most beginners make the mistake of adding too much flour. The dough should be tacky, but not sticky.
“You want to be able to pinch the dough without it sticking to your hands,” Austin says.
Start by placing the flour on the counter and making a well in the center. Pour the beaten eggs (with salt) into the center.
Austin tells his students to imagine that the mound of flour is a volcano and the egg mixture is lava, and it’s their job to keep the flour “walls” intact and not let the “lava” spill out while incorporating the eggs into the flour.
After the flour and eggs have been mixed, knead the dough by hand for 10 minutes until it is smooth and silky. Wrap it in plastic and let it rest for 30 to 45 minutes.
Austin suggests using all-purpose flour the first time, then experimenting by substituting a cup of whole-wheat flour or semolina in the basic dough recipe.
“Semolina will give it more of a toothy bite,” he says.
Rolling it out
The next step is to roll the dough until it is very thin and then cut it into the desired shape.
While it is possible to roll the dough by hand using a rolling pin, the process has been described as “a ballet of the hands” and requires a fair amount of practice to master.
Most beginners will find a pasta machine faster and easier to master, and the initial results more satisfying.
Working with small amounts of dough at a time (keep the remaining dough wrapped), flatten the dough with your hands and run it through the pasta machine set on the widest setting. Fold the dough in half and feed it through again by the narrow end of the folded pasta.
Repeat the process two to three times, dusting the pasta sheet with flour each time before feeding it through the machine. Move the setting of the cylinders narrower and repeat the process so the dough strips become longer and thinner. Repeat with each remaining portion of dough.
Feed the dough sheets through the machine to cut them, or cut desired shapes with a knife or pastry wheel.
Buying a machine
Pasta machines start around $35, but you get what you pay for, says Austin, who recommends looking for an Italian-made machine. Make sure it has two parallel cylinders to roll and thin the dough and a double set of cutters for shaping.
Look for parts that are cast, not forged, to minimize the chance of residual metals contaminating the pasta. Also beware of heavily lubricated rollers; the oils could end up on your pasta.
Once you make the investment, treat your machine with care. Never submerge it in water and don’t use soap. Simply wipe it off with a cloth and store until the next use.
In Austin’s opinion, the whole point of making fresh pasta is to eat it fresh.
If you want to make an extra batch to share with friends, hang the shaped, uncooked pasta on drying rods until it is brittle enough to break easily, one to two days, depending on the humidity.
Make sure it is completely dry (or it will mold) and store in an air-tight container at room temperature.
Cooking the pasta
“Find the largest stockpot you have,” says Austin.
He explains that fresh pasta is heavily coated with flour to keep it from sticking together. The water will quickly become cloudy and gummy if too small of a pot is used.
Add the pasta when the water just starts to boil. While dried pasta packages often recommend bringing the water to a rolling boil, fresh pasta is more delicate and could fall apart if cooked too vigorously.
Austin adds salt to the water out of habit, but he says it’s a matter of personal preference.
Fresh pasta needs very little cooking time – one to two minutes. “Count to five and then check it,” advises Austin.
He drains the cooked pasta and sears it briefly for 10 to 15 seconds in a pan of hot oil that he has ready nearby. Fresh pasta is fairly soft, especially after boiling, and a quick sear in hot oil brings the texture back, he explains.
Top it off
“Sauces have to be super light,” Austin says. “If you’re going to do the labor, don’t drown it in Alfredo or marinara. Allow the flavor of the pasta to come through.”
Too much garlic can hide the flavor of the pasta too, he warns. And if you are serving the pasta with meat or fish, serve it to the side so the pasta can really shine.
Instead of coating fresh pasta with a lot of sauce, think about the ingredients or flavors that you like and add them in when you sear the pasta in oil. Think fresh and quick – most ingredients (even fresh vegetables) can be added when you sear the pasta.
Toss it a few times to distribute the ingredients and dinner is ready. It doesn’t get much simpler than that.
Fresh Pasta Dough
Courtesy of Alex Austin
3 ½ cups all-purpose flour
5 eggs, beaten
1 teaspoon salt (added to the eggs)
Mix ingredients and knead the dough for 10 minutes. Shape dough into a ball, wrap in plastic wrap and let rest for 30 to 45 minutes at room temperature.
Cut dough into several pieces. Working with one piece at a time (keep remaining dough wrapped), roll out and shape as desired with pasta machine. Coat finished pasta with flour so it doesn’t stick together.
Yield: About 1 pound of fresh pasta
Variation: Decrease flour to 3 cups, use 2 eggs instead of 5 and add 2 ounces of olive oil. Flavored oil such as chili or Meyer lemon can be used to flavor the pasta, or add very finely chopped herbs to the dough.
Alex’s Lemon Caper Pasta
Courtesy of Alex Austin, who likes to serve this zesty, lemony pasta with cedar plank cooked salmon.
4 ounces fresh pasta
1 tablespoon lemon-flavored olive oil (available at Rocket Market, Oil & Vinegar and the Kitchen Engine)
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 teaspoon fresh chopped dill
1 tablespoon capers
Add fresh pasta to gently boiling water and cook briefly, 1 to 2 minutes.
Heat lemon oil in large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add hot, freshly cooked pasta and remaining ingredients. Cook for 15 to 30 seconds, tossing quickly to allow all ingredients to coat pasta.
Yield: 1 serving
Courtesy of Moria Felber, Wild Thyme Kitchen
2 cups fresh basil, stems trimmed
2 medium cloves garlic
½ cup shredded Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons shredded Romano cheese
¼ cup raw pine nuts
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons flax oil
Sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
In a food processor, combine basil, garlic, cheeses and nuts. With the machine running, slowly add olive oil and flax oil. Season with salt and pepper.
Process until desired consistency is reached. Let stand 5 minutes before serving.
Yield: 1 cup
Kirsten Harrington is a Spokane freelance writer and can be reached at kharrington67@ earthlink.net.