Sunday, January 1, 2012

Fresh Pasta

The Basics of Fresh Pasta

It’s likely that noodles were first cooked in China, Italy, or both; at the end of the day it doesn’t matter much. A paste (English for “pasta”) made of flour and liquid— whether water, oil, eggs, or a combination—was a simple enough step in the development of cuisine, and cutting the paste into strands . . . well, we all know how much fun making clay ropes is. It’s a bit of work—at least the first time you do it—but you will be stunned at what a lovely thing you’ve produced. Making pasta elicits a sense of accomplishment, as if you’ve created something ter- rific. And you have.
Two basic doughs—one flour and water, the other flour and egg—form the backbone of all fresh noodles: pasta, ravioli, gnocchi, dumplings, even spaetzle. The dif- ferences among these boil down to the shape or use of dough and the filling, if any. This first section focuses on Italian-style pastas but includes variations to make fresh Asian-style noodles too, with recipes that range from rich and eggy to eggless to bright and herby; they’re all pretty much classic in both noodle-making traditions.

Basic Pasta-Making Techniques

You  can make fresh pasta by kneading it  to  a firm, smooth dough, but it’s far easier to start the dough in a food  processor, then  finish  it  with  a  pasta-rolling machine.
For literally handmade pasta, pile your flour on a smooth, clean work surface (for Fresh Egg Pasta) or in a large bowl (for Eggless Pasta) and create a hollow in the
To make  the  pasta by hand, first make  a well in the  mound of flour and break  the eggs into it.
To knead the  dough, use  the  heel  of your hand  to push  into the  middle of the  dough, fold  the  dough over,  rotate it 90 degrees, and push  into it again.

Put your eggs or liquids into this well, then use a fork or wooden spoon to incorporate the flour. Once a dough begins to form, use your hands to fully incorporate the remaining flour. It’ll  be messy at first but should start to come together within a couple of minutes. It’s at this point, when the dough is still shaggy, that you want to add more liquid (water or olive oil) or flour in small amounts. You’ll know which to add by the look and feel of the dough; if it’s mushy and sticking to your hands, you need more flour; if it’s not  coming together and  separated into  dried-out-looking pieces, you need more liquid.
From  this  point  it’s  a  matter  of  kneading, and although it takes some energy, it’s much faster and easier than kneading bread dough. Form the dough into a ball,then sprinkle it and your work surface with flour. Use the heel of your hand to push into the middle of the dough, fold the dough over, rotate it 90 degrees, and push into it again. Continue kneading until the dough is completely smooth, somewhat skinlike, with some elasticity (if you pull off a piece, it should stretch a bit before breaking; if it breaks off immediately, keep kneading). If the dough is sticking to your hands or the work surface, sprinkle it with flour; it doesn’t need to be drowning in flour—just enough to keep it from sticking.
The food processor is not for purists, but I like it, and the end result is the same—or nearly the same—as hand- made. Put the flour and salt in the processor’s container and pulse it a couple times; add the egg and a bit of the liquid you’re using and turn the machine on. Gradually add the rest of the liquid(s) until the dough forms a ball.
With either method, you must let the dough rest for at least 30 minutes before rolling it out. Then knead the dough by hand (see above) or sprinkle it with a good amount of flour and use the pasta-rolling machine to knead it. To knead using a pasta roller, set the rollers at the thickest setting and work the dough through several times, folding it over after each roll. Slowly work your way down to about the middle roller setting and then let the dough rest.

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