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Finally crossing off a food “bucket list” item: Homemade pasta

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You may remember that for a few consecutive years, I made a list of 3-5 goals that I called “Foodie Resolutions.” It seemed like a fun idea at the time, but I tried and for the most part failed to complete them all within the course of the year.

I guess getting laid off and looking for a job while completing an MBA, then finding a job, then going back to my old job may have had something to do with it. (That, of course, is just a brief recap. Yikes. Reflecting on that time makes me think, “what a long, strange trip it’s been,” to quote Jerry Garcia.)

The overachiever perfectionist living inside of me was heartbroken. As much as I like setting goals and making lists—with color-coding and symbols for emphasis, Post-Its on the page added for extra notes about the lists, and all—I love crossing things off my lists more.

That’s why writing this recap…

My final foodie goals verdict for 2016 was 2 for 5, and the two that I knocked off my list were making homemade kombucha and aioli. Pasta was a big ol’ fail, though—I didn’t get to it in time.

…which I updated just over three years ago, August 2017, kind of sucked. At the time, I also set a few goals for the remainder of 2017 that I wanted to try to accomplish. With four months left in the year at that point, that was also a big “F” for me. Womp, womp.

Today, I’m happy to say that, although I’m several years late, a quarantine task that Dave and I completed this year was to finally make homemade pasta!

It’s true—it finally happened! And we made it again recently, too—with photos and video to prove it!

It all started with the KitchenAid pasta roller set, an attachment for the stand mixer that had been on my wish list for a while. In addition to the pasta roller, the K-A mixer itself was invaluable to make the dough. This took the manual effort out of the process and made it more enjoyable for us for these couple of times that we’ve been learning the basics.

We’ll revisit making the dough by hand at some point just to say we tried it that way—lumping the flour on a cutting board, making the “well” in the center… all of these steps are easy and familiar. They were practically etched in my memory, watching Mario Batali and others on cooking programs growing up. (I watched a lot of Molto Mario when I wasn’t watching Essence of Emeril…)

In my excitement, I also bought Flour + Water: Pasta [A Cookbook] by Thomas McNaughton, which has lovely recipes in it. I’m excited to dive into it for some different pasta variations as well as recipes, but for our first couple of times, we started simply, using recipes from both David Lebovitz and Eataly.

Both recipes are similar and foolproof. Lebovitz uses 200 g (about 1/2 cup) each of semolina and 00 flour in his recipe but also suggests using all flour. Eataly suggests using all flour but still a total of 400 g. Both suggest four large, whole eggs. The first time we made pasta, we used Lebovitz’s approach of 00 flour and semolina. The second time, it was with all 00 flour.

Instead of following the instructions after measuring out the ingredients, we put them in a bowl instead of a cutting board, still made the “well” in the center to add eggs, and turned on the K-A mixer fitted with a dough hook.

I also added about a tablespoon of olive oil as well as a large pinch of salt to the doughs each time, which both recipes omit. I couldn’t see why you wouldn’t make pasta without at least a little olive oil, to add some more moisture and richness, and salt, being mindful though of just reducing by that much when it comes to make the sauce for the pasta. We also intended to skip the step of cooking in salted water, since we were making lasagna. The second time, I also added some dried basil to the dough, making pretty dark green flecks in the final pasta sheets.

Semolina is ideal to use if you intend to make extruded pasta: it makes the dough denser, which helps to structure and keep the shape of the final formed pasta. K-A does have a pasta extruder attachment, and Phillips makes a free-standing, tabletop pastamaker machine—which seems cool, but excessive, and of course also expensive.

We weren’t making extruded pasta, just sheets, but the pasta sheets with the semolina just seemed sturdier for the chunkier sauce that we made the first time. When rolling them out to a four or five setting on the pasta machine, then layering them in the dish, they felt easier to work with. Using all flour, by contrast, made for an exceptionally tender pasta and silky, smooth dough. While forming the lasagna, we used a double layer of pasta for added security. If we used a chunky sauce for the second lasagna, I think we may have even kept the sheets thicker, since the dough started to feel more fragile the thinner it got.

We made pasta for the first time during the “quarantine baking frenzy of 2020” earlier this year. As people we stuck inside and craving the comfort of baked goods, or just bored and looking for something new to try, flour was extremely hard to find for a few weeks. Fortunately, I managed to find 00 flour as well as semolini to order online through Eataly.

In either case, benefit of letting the dough get properly hydrated, kneaded and rested cannot be understated.

Yes, much like our bodies, pasta dough needs to be hydrated and to get its proper rest for optimal results. 😉

We let the dough knead in the mixer for what must have been 10-15 minutes, stopping periodically if the dough seemed like it was going to fly out of the side of the mixing bowl to push it back in. When it seemed like it was fully kneaded, we kneaded some more before gathering the dough in a ball, smoothing it out, wrapping in plastic, and chilling.

The dough was not coming together as well the second time and benefitted from the addition of a few tablespoons of warm water, which did the trick to bring it back together into a very nice mass. I thought this may have been because of the eggs: we may have used large or extra-large eggs the first time around and large or medium the second time around because they were what we had on-hand.

Chilling the dough the first time, we let it hang out for maybe two or three hours in the fridge before coming back to it to make pasta. The second time, it hung out for more like seven hours. After this longer rest, it had the most wonderful, smooth, pliable texture when we worked with it.

The pasta machine was very easy to work with through the process of repeated folding and rolling, first on the widest setting (#1) and gradually decreasing. I folded my dough each time although Dave later read that it isn’t necessarily required once you reach setting #4.

In both cases, the recipe was good for making enough sheets of pasta for our lasagna, plus the first time we also experimented with the linguini cutter attachment. All the kudos goes to Dave for the few nice nests of linguini that we made, which we tossed with semolina and dried.

The lasagna was different each time, making it hard to do a total “apples to apples” comparison of the pasta. We’ll have to just try the pasta on its own the next time, with a simple pan sauce, where the Flour + Water book may come in handy for some new ideas to try.

The sauce for the lasagna the first time was a simple vegetarian bolognese made by sauteeing onion, celery, carrots, and garlic until tender and fragrant, then adding a half can of tomato paste and a can of hand-crushed San Marzano tomatoes, soy meat crumbles and red wine. After it simmered for what seemed like hours, I finished the sauce with a little cream. Unfortunately, I also put too much cheese in the first lasagna, which I blame totally on my excitement over making pasta.

We made a few little “nests” of linguini with some extra dough we had from the first batch, which we dried.

The second time, I opted for more restraint on my use of cheese as well as a classic marinara—much less frills and effort. After I sauteed the onion and garlic, I added a whole can of tomato paste, letting it fry in the olive oil and caramelize a little bit before deglazing with red wine (pinot noir was what I had open.) I added a can of hand-crushed San Marzano tomatoes, fresh basil, oregano as well as a little sugar, and let it cook. I pureed the final sauce with an immersion blender until smooth, too.

Each sauce would’ve been great by itself on any pasta, but the homemade pasta made it really special. In both cases, after the pasta and sauce were made, we moved on to layering the pasta sheets with sauce, ricotta, and cheese, repeating layers until we ran out of pasta. We put the dish in the pre-heated oven (on a rimmed baking tray to catch any sauce that may have bubbled up and spilled over) and baked for about 45 min. at 350° F.

So there we have another good thing coming out of the disaster that has been 2020… fresh pasta, checked off the bucket list!

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