Traverse City Record-Eagle

December 19, 2013

Fresh pasta easier, tastier than you might think

BY NANCY KRCEK ALLEN Special to the Record-Eagle
Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — MAPLE CITY — Nothing beats a box of Barilla boiled to a tooth-resisting al dente and kissed with tasty condiments for a quick and satisfying meal.

But dry pasta may not do when a celebration is in order. Homemade fresh pasta is perfect for a festive holiday meal. And preparing it is not as difficult as you might think.

Of all the culinary gifts other cultures have bestowed upon us, pasta must be among the most adored. Italian Marco Polo often gets the credit as the ambassador of pasta, but some food historians think that Greek chefs introduced Romans to the first pasta in the form of dried trahana, a mixture of semolina flour or bulgar wheat and soured milk or yogurt.

Southern Italians went on to develop dry pasta, and serve it with tomato- or olive oil-based sauces. Northern Italians, who cultivated fertile farmlands, created handmade pastas rich with egg and sauced with cream, butter, pork, beef and cheese.

Preparing fresh pasta doesn’t have to be a high-tech nightmare. Whether you make the dough with a fork or a food processor, roll and cut it with rolling pin and pasta cutter or with a pasta machine, the outcome will be the same: luscious.

Low-tech types can start with 23/4 cups all-purpose flour and a teaspoon of salt mounded on a work surface. Make a well in the center. Beat and pour in three large eggs. Stir the eggs with a fork, slowly bringing flour into them until a soft, non-sticky dough forms. Knead dough for five minutes until it’s smooth.

For those with a food processor and pasta machine, pour three cups of all-purpose flour and a teaspoon salt into the bowl of the processor. With the machine running, slowly and sparingly pulse in 1/2 to 7/8 cups slightly whisked eggs as necessary.

If you’re using spinach or other wet ingredients, add them before the egg and use less egg. The dough should not come together into a ball — it should be the texture of moist Playdough when pressed together. Knead the dough a minute until it’s smooth.

Wrap the prepared dough in plastic wrap or in a zipper bag to rest for 20 minutes to one hour at room temperature. This is the ideal time to prepare your pasta sauce.

Cut the food processor dough into four pieces using a pasta machine. Roll one out with a rolling pin. Set the machine on its widest setting and roll the dough through, fold it in half and roll through again. Repeat this rolling and folding eight to 10 times to knead the dough. Then set the machine on the next narrower setting; roll the piece through without folding.

Continue to narrow the settings and roll the pasta through until the dough has achieved the desired thickness. It’s ready for cutting through the pasta cutter. By hand, flatten half the dough out on a lightly floured surface. Begin rolling away from the center to the edge, turning the dough as you go. Roll and stretch the dough until as even as possible with the desired thickness. Cut and/or form shapes as desired.

Pastas can take hundreds of shapes. There are no rules but it’s best to cut pasta, by machine or hand, according to its intended sauce: shorter pastas like squares, triangles and bowties pair well with chunky sauces; longer pastas like fettuccine and ribbon-like paparadelle prefer smoother sauces with small chunks.

Shape isn’t your only creative choice. Fresh pastas take on new character with a parade of flours, flavorings, and purées. Substitute one-third of the flour for wholewheat, buckwheat, chickpea or chestnut flour.

A tablespoon or more of dry shiitake, porcini or morel mushrooms ground in a clean coffee grinder will add a smoky thrill. A half-teaspoon of saffron softened in a little water and added to the eggs will impart a pleasant glow.

Vegetable purées in place of part of the egg can produce sensational color: wilted, squeeze-drained and puréed fresh spinach, a bit of tomato paste, a little red wine or minced fresh herbs. Whatever your mood or the season, there is sure to be a pasta and a sauce that fits it.

Chestnut Pasta with Sage Butter

Pour the sauce over boiled pasta, or toss pasta directly into the sauce and simmer for a minute or two to infuse flavor deeper into the pasta.

The pasta should be made with two cups all-purpose flour, one cup Italian chestnut flour and beaten eggs as needed.

6 T. butter, diced small

18 to 24 fresh sage leaves

Prepare pasta according to directions above and let it rest. In a large deep skillet, heat butter over low heat and add the sage leaves. Simmer five minutes and remove skillet from heat.

Put on a six quart pot of cold water to boil for pasta. Roll dough and cut it into one-inch-wide ribbons. Boil pasta until it is al dente, about two minutes. Drain pasta and toss in with butter and sage. Season pasta with salt and freshly ground pepper. Serve immediately.

This recipe makes six servings.

Green and Red Fettuccine Alfredo

Northern Italian Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese will make this classic dish memorable.

Green Pasta

1-1/2 c. all-purpose flour,

2 T. steamed, chopped, squeeze-drained spinach

1/4 to 1/3 c. beaten eggs

Red Pasta

1-1/2 c. all-purpose flour

2 T. tomato paste

1/4 to 1/3 c. beaten eggs

Alfredo sauce

6 T. unsalted butter, diced small

2 c. whipping cream

2 c. freshly shredded imported Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Prepare pasta according to directions above and let it rest. Cut into fettuccine. Bring a six quart pot of cold water to a boil.

Melt butter over low heat in a large skillet. Add cream and bring it to a boil. Simmer for five minutes until cream thickens slightly. Remove pan from heat, and stir in cheese. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper.

Boil pasta until al dente, about two minutes, and drain. Immediately pour pasta into warm Alfredo sauce, and toss until well coated. Taste and season again. Serve immediately.

This recipe makes six servings.