Fun Fact: Pasta is the Italian word for dough. In Italian, what we know of as pasta is always described by the name of the shape into which the dough is formed. Farfalle are butterflies. Penne means pens, (think quill tip), and spaghetti translates to little strings. When Italians say the word pasta, they mean dough. Which is why on my first day at the bakery this summer I was so confused when they called the dough pasta. And since I have been enlightened (and it’s possible I’m the only one who didn’t realize this), I have been meaning to make the pasta myself. And it turns out to be really simple, as the pasta (dough) is made up of only flour and eggs.
I used Marcella Hazan’s book, Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, which I love not only because it is incredibly informative, but also because Marcella (yes, we’re on first name basis) writes with a tone that is both helpful but also strict–it makes you feel like this old Italian woman is standing with you in the kitchen telling you what to do. For example, she says you must make lasagna with homemade pasta otherwise it just won’t be any good. (Though I admit, I made the recipe with store-bought noodles and it still rocked). So in her book, she describes both the pasta machine and rolling pin method. The latter sounded quite intense and intimidating for a first-timer so I excavated my mother’s pasta machine from the basement and got to work. The first step is to put the eggs in a well of flour. This is harder than it looks, for I had multiple wall breaches and things got messy. Then again, they usually do.
But I was able to secure most of the egg in the middle and proceeded to beat it together, slowly pushing a little more flour into the middle until it became more solid. Eventually the fork became useless and I had to use my hands. Luckily, I think the best part about making any dough, from pie to bread to pasta, is using your hands.
Once it is one mass, Marcella says to knead it for 8 minutes, until it “is as soft as baby skin”. At first I thought this description was pretty weird, but after a while of kneading I knew exactly what she was talking about.
Is it just me or does that look like a lemon? Huh.
Once the dough is baby-skin-like, (ok, still weird), you cut it into pieces and send it through the pasta machine at its widest setting. After all the pieces go through a couple times, you decrease the width between the two rollers of the machine and feed them all through until you reach your desired thin-ness of dough.
While the dough is waiting to be rolled, it sits on a towel, and you can tell as it begins to dry. When it stops sticking to itself yet is still soft enough not to crack, you can feed it through the slicer or cut it yourself.
Then it just hangs out on a towel until it dries.
Marcella says at any point now you can cook the pasta, and that whether it is soft or dry will have no impact on the flavor or feel of the it. Well by this time, I was so proud of what I was making, I had to taste it right away. So I reheated some sauce I made yesterday while I boiled the water. Marcella also says that when cooking fresh pasta you need lots of water, at full boil, and salt too. I had no idea how long the pasta (well, I guess in this case it was fettuccine) would take in the water, so I checked it often and was scalded with boiling water more often than I would’ve liked.
But then it was done, and I threw the drained pasta in the sauce, with more olive oil and a splash of the pasta water. I tossed it all together (a step that is essential according to Marcella) and topped with some cheese. Then I tasted it.
Wow. For someone who has eaten more than her fair share of pasta, I have to say this was incredibly enjoyable. I was so impressed. And even though the sauce was just a basic tomato and garlic sauce, the dish was still fabulous, so I can only imagine what this pasta would taste like with a truly exceptional sauce, which I am planning on making soon.
I didn’t think there could be something as satisfying to make as bread, but I have to say, I loved doing this just as much. There’s just something about the feel of the dough, and the way you can watch the progression from separate ingredients to a messy blob to its more familiar form. It’s so fascinating. And I will luckily get to make both bread and pasta at the bakery soon!