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As I am sure you all know by now, Italian cuisine is one of my most favorites, not only to prepare but also to eat. Its comforting and vibrant flavors bring such a wonderful feeling to your tummy and your soul. The warmth of sauces combined with fresh herbs, the richness of the cheeses, and the wines that accompany each meal make for an amazing eating experience. And let’s not forget the freshly baked Italian breads dipped in olive oil.
When I started cooking, I only used dried pasta. I didn’t know any better. Then I met one of my mentors, who was from Italy. He taught me what an art there was to making fresh pastas. How you would use your hands to knead the dough, roll it out so thin that it would almost break. Then, using pasta cutters, he taught me all the different shapes and methods required to prepare each pasta.
Raviolis and tortellini definitely took the longest to learn, but it’s quite easy to make fresh spaghetti and linguini. So put on an apron because it gets messy, bring the kids in to help, and let’s start making some fresh pasta!
1. Sift the flour onto your work surface and make a well in the center, almost like a bird’s nest.
2. Break your eggs into the well and add the oil and a pinch of salt to the well.
3. Gradually mix the egg mixture into the flour using the fingers until you have a firm dough. If the dough feels too dry, add a few drops of water; if it’s too wet, add a little more flour.
4. Knead the pasta until smooth; do not overwork the dough, so just a few minutes. Lightly massage it with a hint of olive oil, cover the dough in plastic wrap, and allow it to rest at room temperature for at least 30 minutes.
Passing the dough through the pasta machine:
5. Start by breaking off sections of your dough to make it easier to feed the pasta dough through the widest setting of a pasta machine. As the sheet of dough comes out of the machine, fold it into thirds and then feed it through the rollers again, still on the widest setting. Pass the dough through this setting a total of 4 or 5 times. This effectively kneads the dough, ensuring the resulting pasta is silky smooth.
6. Pass the pasta through the machine again, starting at the widest setting and gradually reducing the settings, one pass at a time, until the pasta achieves the required thickness. Generally the second-from-last setting is best for spaghetti.
7. After the pasta has reached the thickness you desire, hang it over a broom handle or the back of a chair to dry a little. Remember, if you live in dry air areas, this won’t take very long, and if you live in humid areas it will require longer drying times.
8. Pass the pasta through the chosen cutters (spaghetti, fettuccini, etc.) and then drape the cut pasta over the broom handle or chair back again to dry just a little, until ready to cook. You can, of course, again toss the cut pasta lightly in flour and lay out in loose bundles. Use as soon as possible before it sticks together.
Cook the pasta:
Note: Cooking times for fresh and dried pasta vary according to the size and quality of the pasta. The only way to check is to taste it. However, the basic method of cooking remains the same.
9. Throw the pasta into a large saucepan of boiling, salted water. It is the large volume of water that will prevent the pasta from sticking together. I also add a touch of olive oil to help prevent it from sticking.
10. Stir the pasta.
11. DO NOT COVER the pot or the water will boil over. Quickly bring the pasta back to a rolling boil, stir, and boil until al dente, or firm to the bite, about 2 minutes.
12. Drain the pasta. You may need to add a touch more olive oil to the drained pasta to ensure it does not stick together.
Traditionally, you would then put the pasta back in the pot and mix your sauce with it and then serve.
Until next time…Samantha Bann