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DIY Pasta–no chic gadgets needed

 

handmade pasta, cut for ravioli

A few months ago I was surprised to read an interview with the British actress Emma Thompson–not about her acting, or producing, or screenwriting, or whatever, but about her having acquired a pasta machine so that she and her family could have fresh pasta at home.

What surprised me is that she called it a revelation, or revolutionary, can’t remember which. I think it came up in relation to a short dramatic interpretation of a poem called “Song of the Lunch” that she and Alan Rickman did for the BBC last year. It’s about 20 minutes long, posted on YouTube in sections but in its entirety, and it’s actually not bad, though not as funny about foodieism as “The Trip”. The main thing about it is that it takes place in an Italian restaurant in London. Hence the pasta issue.

Over the course of a misspent youth (which I’m still in, thank you very much) I have tried a number of times to make sheet pasta myself, with varying degrees of success.

  • Buckwheat noodles–grainy and dry. Try this soba recipe instead.
  • Jao tse dough made with flour, salt, and boiling water–a little thick but it worked well enough to boast about
  • Ravioli dough made with half egg, half water (this was a few weeks ago)–grainy, sticky, hard to roll evenly to the right thickness.
  • Yesterday’s classic pasta dough from Marcella Hazan, just flour and eggs–just right. In fact, the only right recipe there is, I’m now convinced.

So of course this post isn’t really revolutionary–I’m about 20 years behind the “Wow, you can make pasta at home” trend. And I refuse to call it “a revelation”, as fresh food that includes actual garlic always seems to be for the British. It’s just that it finally worked, came out pretty well, and wasn’t as hard or as time-consuming as I thought. Take it as read.

I should back up and say I never actually managed to pick up either a proper cranking pasta machine, even though you can sometimes find one at Ross for Less at under $20, or a proper long dowel-style rolling pin, which Hazan deems necessary for hand-rolling. This still worked very well.

Why no pasta crank for the crank? Why no artisan rolling pin? I’m not good about kitchen implements that are hard to store, particularly now that the drawers are out in the garage and the counter space is severely limited. I use an empty wine bottle, the tall hunch-shouldered kind with a long straight barrel and short neck. It stands up in a corner when not in use and doesn’t take up space. I also don’t roll any dough directly, but between two sheets of plastic wrap with a little flour or–my great new discovery, especially for this pasta dough–parchment paper. Works incredibly well, better than the plastic wrap, because it doesn’t wrinkle and stick.

In any case, the one kitchen gadget (other than the microwave, the toaster oven, or the coffee maker) that I’m always willing to give counter space to is my food processor (also not fancy–a $30 Hamilton Beach with a big work bowl, not a $200 Cuisinart).

Because although I’ve watched my share of “Make Your Own Pasta” cooking demos over the years where Mary Ann Esposito or the guest du jour on Julia Child cracks eggs into a well in a bowl of flour and “incorporates them” gradually, I know perfectly well from hard experience that kneading by hand is going to precede rolling out by hand, and that the food processor will make at least one of these ordeals a lot faster and less of a pain. It will also give me a better product. Pasta needs a lot of kneading–8-10 minutes!–to develop the gluten and get it to a smooth uniform texture that will hold when you roll and stretch it very thin.  I’m not that good or that patient. Or at least I wasn’t yesterday.

The rolling is the big thing–you have to get that dough thin enough to the point where you just begin to see through it. You don’t want it breaking, but it really Continue reading

Microwave tricks: Pasta You Don’t Have to Babysit

Mark Bittman’s post-Thanksgiving look into the brave new world of absorption pasta and Pete Wells’s “Cooking with Dexter” piece in the New York Times yesterday on the virtues of a pot of boiling water have me thinking hard about why neither of them has even tried the microwaves that must be sitting on their counters. Especially Wells, who has not one but two very young and active children to watch out for.

You can cook standard dried or frozen pasta very well in a microwave, with only a few minutes of actual cooking time and almost no need to stay close by. You can cook rice too–and we’re not talking Minute Rice, either. Basmati rice, the queen of difficult rices, cooks perfectly in a microwave.

The setup for microwaving tortelloni

The setup for microwaving tortelloni and other filled pasta

I started cooking pasta in a microwave when my daughter was a toddler. She was pretty active and I couldn’t leave a pot boiling away on the stove to go and chase her–either the pasta or I would have boiled over. By the same token, I had nightmares of her getting over the baby gate and into the kitchen as she got bigger and more impatient. My mother-in-law still has extensive scars from having a boiling pot tip over on her when she was a child, and it’s one of the reasons I decided to try microwaving pasta instead. Even though my daughter is now kitchen-savvy, it worked so well I’ve never been tempted to go back. Continue reading

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