Wednesday, July 8, 2009

So Simple - Fresh Pasta

Several months ago, thanks to Claudine's facebook status, I was craving pierogi. If you've never had pierogi (a.k.a. varenyky) they are little dumplings filled with - well, whatever you like. Now, if you've never had them before, do yourself a favor and head to the East Village and find a Polish, Russian, or Ukrainian diner. If you haven't tried them, you won't have a good idea of what they should look and taste like.

Pierogi are similar to ravioli. Potato, cheese, cabbage, and meat are all traditional fillings. If you're like me, you make a filling from whatever happens to be in your refrigerator and pantry. So I looked up a really simple pierogi recipe and started making pierogi.

Actually, this post is not about pierogi, though you should feel free to follow the link above and try making them. Making pierogi made me realize how easy it is to make a pasta dough! The pictures I'm posting are of a whole wheat dough, which I'll warn you, is much harder to work with than a dough made with all purpose flour.

Here's a basic pasta recipe:
  • 3 cups of flour
  • 3 eggs, lightly scrambled
  • that's it... really!

Put your flour in a mound on a large, clean, flat work surface. Make a hole in the middle and pour your eggs into it.

Use a fork to incorporate flour into the eggs little by little.

Now if you're really careful, you might be able to get all the egg and flour combined. What usually happens to me is that the egg finds it's way out of it's little well and starts to run all over the table. At that point, just use your hands to finish combining the egg and flour.

Knead the dough for 5 minutes or so. It should get nice and smooth and springy to the touch. (By the way, this is a good ab workout!) If it's sticky, dust it with a little more flour.

Wrap the dough in plastic wrap or put it in an oiled or floured bowl and cover it with a damp towel. Let it rest there for 20 or 30 minutes.

After the dough has rested, dust your (clean) rolling surface with a little more flour, grab a handful of dough and roll it out.

If you have a pasta machine you don't have to do much rolling. Just roll it thin enough for the first setting. Feed it through the rollers, each time making it a little thinner (turning the dial one number up). If the dough starts to get too long to work with, just cut it in a half and keep going. When you get the dough as thin as you want it, feed it through your cutting blades to make linguine or spaghetti or whatever you like.

If you don't have a pasta machine, this is where the hard part begins. You want to roll your dough really, really thin to about 1/16 of an inch. If it starts to spring back too much as you roll it, give that piece a rest (under a damp towel) and come back to it later. After you've rolled your dough out, you can flour your dough, roll it into a cylinder and slice it. Shake out each noodle soon after cutting so they don't get stuck. Or your can use a straight edge to cut your noodles. Or you can freehand it for some really interesting, rustic-looking noodles :)

I recommend cooking your pasta right after you make it. Boil a pot of water with a fair amount of salt (your water should taste a little salty). Drop your noodles in a boil until they float. Stir them a little to make sure they don't stick to the bottom of the pot. This should take no longer than 2-3 minutes!

If you want to dry your noodles, you can hang them on a dowel. You can lay them flat on a floured surface, or on a towel.

I'll post some simple sauce recipes soon... Enjoy your pasta!

  • You can try substituting some whole wheat flour, but I wouldn't go over a cup. Using whole wheat flour increases the fiber and makes for a nice flavor, but it's very hard to work with if you're rolling it out entirely by hand. If you're using a pasta machine, it's not hard to roll out, but it's more brittle.
  • Try adding some finely chopped herbs. This looks really pretty in a wide noodle.
  • Try adding some egg yolks for richness.
  • Try adding a bit of carrot puree, beet puree, or spinach puree for color.

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