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Past time for pasta

November 11, 2008 - Eric Paddock
Now that the election has been over for about a week, and my appetite has returned, it's time to start thinking about all the great gastronomic opportunities that arrive when the leaves fall, although what I am about to type has nothing to do with seasonal cooking.

Frankly, I'm past due for pasta. I don't mean that hard, lifeless stuff you buy in a box. I'm talking about pasta you make yourself. A warning here: If you are on a low-carb or no-carb diet, stop reading here. Go no further. STOP!

Turn off your computer and quickly eat a piece of bologna, chase it down with a hard-boiled egg, and turn on your television to whatever channel happens to be airing an old CSI-(fill in the city). That should take care of your hunger, and you won't be tempted to try fresh pasta.

However, for those of you who believe that there must be something more to life than boiling the b'jabbers out of sticks of plastic-like material over which to pour that kick-butt sauce you've been nurturing all day, read on.

There are few things gastronomic that are easier to make and harder to screw up than pasta.

If you have some flour and a couple eggs and a bit of salt, you have all the ingredients you'll need for the basic dough. Don't be fooled by the word basic – this is delightful stuff. After you start making it on a fairly regular basis, however, you'll want to experiment with all sorts of neat herbs and flavors, like basil, sun-dried tomatoes, spinach, even some hard cheeses.

It goes like this:

Take a cup and a half of flower and dump it on your really clean counter top into a little mountain. Use your fingers to make a hollow in the middle. Into the hollow break two eggs, plus a third yolk. Give it about four shakes from a salt-shaker.

Now, get in there with your fingers, break the yolks and begin slowing blending the eggs into the flour in a circular motion, adding a little more of the sides of the mountain with each trip. Before long you'll have a mess on your hands, but keep working it until a firm dough gathers. Continue to kneed it by folding it in half and pressing down several times until the dough is smooth. The dough should be very firm. If it is simply too dry to work (that is, it crumbles under stress) add just a few drops of water (NOT VERY MUCH).

Continue the kneeding until the dough is no longer sticky.

Form it into a ball and let it rest for 15 minutes in the fridge.

Pour yourself a glass of chianti and think Italian thoughts.

When the chianti is gone, pull the ball of dough out of the fridge and powder the counter top with some flour. Rub some flour on a rolling pin and start rolling out the dough fairly thin. Fold it in half and repeat a couple times. Finally, the dough will be sturdy enough that you can roll it really thin. At that point, start cutting it in strips or screwing shapes with a sharp knife.

Remember that fresh pasta cooks much more quickly than the boxed stuff – generally in about a third of the time. Hence, standard spaghetti that would take about 6 minutes dried, will be more than adequately done in two minutes, etc.

While all of that sounds like a lot of work, it's really not. Plus, pasta machines are great gifts to give and receive. The machine simply makes the rolling and cutting part much quicker and easier.

You won't believe the difference between fresh and commercial dried pasta. And, don't forget, pasta is much more than just the various grades of ribbons. There are ravioli to consider, and lasagna and tortellini.


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