Happy New Year, everyone! Sorry for being such a blog bum lately. Thanks to everyone who checked up on me to make sure everything was ok. The reason for lack of writing was that we were gone for two weeks during the holidays to visit family, and during our trip both Jason and I got sick. We are finally doing better, and yesterday I even cooked something :) The something was ravioli. I have this tendency to not get my act together with recipes until "Ta-da! Nick of time." During the drive back from Baltimore, I realized that I am teaching a pasta class this Sunday and I don't have my pasta dough recipe written up -- aaaaah, start panicking! The worst part was that I was barely well enough to make a soup, let alone pasta from scratch. I told myself not to panic, eat lots of chicken soup (I am never sick enough to make that ;), drink lots of tea, and rest. Luckily, by Friday, I was feeling well enough to spend a few hours in the kitchen testing the dough recipes. My dough experiments turned into some very yummy ravioli. Since I had some left over cannellini beans, I mashed them up in a food processor with a little cream cheese, then added some finely chopped prosciutto and sauteed onions for a killer filling. The first day I served them with a creamy wild mushroom sauce,
and the second day with Marcella Hazan's tomato, onion, butter sauce. Both were fabulous.
So, here we go -- how to make pasta dough...
When it comes to any dish made out of dough, people like to have some mystique around the ingredients -- New York bagels are so good because of New York water, good baguette can only be found in France because of their flour, etc. I think it's all a bunch of BS, including the claim that you need Italian "OO" (double zero) flour to make good pasta. Yesterday, I made a batch of dough with OO flour and another one with all-purpose flour and there wasn't any difference as far as I could tell. And unlike Jamie Oliver, I used basic large eggs from Whole Foods instead of "the freshest organic ones straight from the farm." Really guys, don't fret about your ingredients -- it's all in the wrist! The only ingredient you might not already have in the house is semolina flour. I find it useful for sprinkling the surface that will fold the finished pasta, but all-purpose flour will work too.
For 4 main-course servings of pasta, you'll need:
9 oz all-purpose flour (2 cups spooned and leveled)
2 tsp kosher salt (or 1-1/2 tsp table salt)
2 large eggs
1-3 Tbsp cold water
1 tsp olive oil
Semolina flour for sprinkling finished pasta
This is important and trickier than you think. Flour and eggs are very difficult to measure. The only real way to measure flour is by weighing it (which, unfortunately, is not a popular method in the US). Measuring it with a cup can give you as much as 25% difference between cooks. If you must use a cup, see the tart dough technique on how to measure flour. Eggs are not very consistent either. Even the ones in the same box can be a little different. To deal with these irregularities, I suggest you break the eggs into a glass measuring cup and add enough water to give you 1/2 cup of wet ingredients. Eventually, you don't have to obsess about measurements. You'll be able to judge based on the feel of the dough, but if this is your first time making fresh pasta, accurate measurement is the easiest way to get the right consistency.
Theoretically, you can make pasta with nothing more than a fork and a rolling pin. I just don't think it's such a good idea. It's a labor intensive process, and there is a lot of technique to worry about, so I suggest you employ the following equipment:
- a food processor
- a pasta machine (I use Imperia hand crank one)
Stage 1: Integrating wet and dry ingredients
- Put flour and salt into a food processor bowl and process for 10 seconds.
- Put eggs into a glass measuring cup. Add enough cold water to make 1/2 cup (about 1 Tbsp water). Add the wet ingredients and 1 tsp oil to the flour in the food processor.
- Turn on the processor and mix until ingredients are evenly distributed. Mixture will be sandy and crumbly.
- With the processor running, add another 1 Tbsp cold water through a feed tube. At this stage the mixture should start coming together into a ball. If you are not getting a ball after 30 seconds of mixing, open the processor and squeeze a chunk of dough with your fingers. If it comes together and feels like play dough, it's done. If not, restart the processor and drizzle in a little more water, 1 tsp at a time.
Turn the dough out onto a work surface and gather into a ball. Knead for 8 minutes. The dough should be soft, pliable, and slightly tacky, but not sticky. It should not stick to the work surface or your hands. If it sticks, add a little flour and continue kneading. Don't short cut this step. Kneading is what develops gluten and makes your dough elastic and workable later.
Stage 3: Resting
Wrap the dough tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1-8 hours.
Stage 4: Rolling
- Cut the dough into thirds. If you doubled the recipe, cut it into sixths. Work with one piece of dough, while keeping the others tightly wrapped in plastic -- dough dries out quickly.
- Set the pasta roller to the thickest setting. Flatten out a piece of dough. Sprinkle it with flour and shake of excess. Put it through the pasta roller. Fold it into thirds like a letter, flatten it with your hands, and put it through the roller again. Sprinkle with a little flour as necessary so that dough doesn't stick. Repeat the folding and rolling process 4 times.
- Set the pasta roller to the next thinner setting. Feed the dough through. Keep reducing the setting and feeding through the dough making it thinner and thinner each time. I roll mine out to the thinnest setting on my machine. As you thin out the dough, it will get longer and longer. When you crank it through, don't stop in the middle or it will stretch and tear. Feed it with one hand and turn the crank with the other. As soon as you see the dough show out the other end, you can let go of the dough from the top and use that hand to pull it out the bottom. This does take some practice to master, especially that each pasta machine is a little different. Experiment to see what works for you.
The dough sticks to the machine
Try sprinkling the dough with flour before rolling it with the machine. If it still sticks, your dough might be too wet. Try using less water next time.
The dough tears when it goes through the machine
Collect the torn up dough. Knead it into a ball, flatten it out and try again. Sometimes this happens with perfectly good dough. If this happens with every piece of dough that you try, you might need to adjust the proportions of liquid to dry ingredients next time.
Once you master the basic recipe, feel free to experiment. You can make a Piedmont pasta by using only egg yolks for your liquid. You'll need a ton of them. There is a reason this is called a 40 yolk pasta. I find that even substituting 1 egg with all yolks gives the pasta a nice rich silkiness. Or you can make a leaner pasta by using only 1 egg and more water. Start with 1/2 cup of liquid ingredients for 2 cups of flour and then add water as necessary to get the right consistency.
I haven't taken any pictures of shaping ravioli and it's so much easier to show than to explain. I'll try to do it again and write a post about it.