We didn’t all of a sudden start making pasta the moment we got back from our Italian vacation. We had done it before, for special occasions. We own one of those solid, hand-crank Atlas pasta machines, and we’ve done everything from angel hair to ravioli for Sunday dinners and big parties.
But when we got back from Italy, having feasted on the pici (long, thick, doughy strings) of southern Tuscany, we found we could not go back to the boxed stuff. My wife and I grew up on San Girogio; a steady stream of boxed Barilla and Mueller’s made its way through our house. It was good enough until a visit to the source opened our eyes and excited our taste buds.
No longer able to simply pull a box off the shelf, we find we eat pasta less often. But we enjoy it more when we do. Some pasta recipes require eggs or egg yolks; ours is simple and does not. Equal parts semolina and unbleached white flour (say, a cup each), a little water (half cup, more if the dough is too dry), pinch of salt, and off you go. Mix, knead, shape into a rough ball, wrap in plastic and let it rest on the counter for an hour.
When you return to it, the dough will elastically reclaim its shape if you pull it gently on either end. You can do the next part alone, but it’s more fun to have help. Our son often pitches in with one or the both of us. Cut the ball of dough into quarters; rewrap the three you’re not using. Flatten the quarter ball with a floured hand, and crank it through the flattening rollers of the pasta maker, set on 1. Do this again and again, narrowing down each time until you’ve cranked it through on 5. Lay the thin, wide ribbon of dough on a floured board and cut it with a knife or pizza cutter into half-inch-wide long noodles. Or, pass it through the fettucine cutter on the pasta machine for more uniform (but less rustic) pasta. Repeat for the other three quarters.
If you must store the pasta, lay it between wax paper sheets with plenty of extra semolina flour to prevent sticking. Put the layers onto a cookie sheet and shove the whole thing into the fridge.
When ready to cook, dunk the pasta into rapidly boiling water. Four minutes should be enough. Any extra semolina that sticks to it will come off in the pot. Drain, dish, and serve with your favorite sauce, or simply with olive oil and spices. Have lots of chunky Parmesan or Grana Padano cheese around for grating.
Does it sound like a lot of work? Perhaps so. We have a lot of freedom in our schedules, and just one child, not a small one. This kind of intense preparation ins’t for everyone. But if you can do it, the rewards in taste, texture, and satisfaction of a job well done are well worth it. And you have the comfort of knowing exactly what went into your food, and into your family.♦
© 2013 Adam Barr