Fresh Pasta

January 29, 2009 · 3 comments

My most vivid memory of my Italian grandmother – my mother’s mother – is watching her make pasta. She had a board and rolling pin she used to roll out paper-thin pasta dough, which she would then cut into different shapes. Once I saw her make cavatelli, little tightly-wound shells, by dragging her fingertips across the dough and flicking the pasta off to the side, all in one motion.

Mom used to cut her own lasagna and fettucine until someone gave her a “pasta machine,” a hand-cranked device with two adjustable-width rollers and a feed hopper. Push dough through one end while you cranked, and long thin sheets came out the other. Other rollers with cutters could be added to make thinner strands, all the way down to spaghetti. If you got tired of cranking, you could buy an electric motor to attach to the crankshaft. I have a similar setup that attaches to the end of my KitchenAid mixer.

If you want any kind of shaped or tubular pasta, you need a pasta maker, which, technically, is a pasta machine, but I’m not going to argue the nomenclature. Someone gave Mom a pasta maker, which she passed on to me, as she had no interest in making “fancy pasta.”

Since I had just made a batch of sauce last week, I thought I’d give the pasta maker a spin.  Usually I make pasta dough from semolina flour, which requires hours of resting before it can be used, and is very finicky to work with. This time I decided to consult with my expert, Albert Capone (yes, he’s Al Capone) of Capone Foods, just a short walk from my home.

Al recommended a 00 grade high protein flour that he imports from Naples. He told me that semolina should only be used in high-output pasta makers with brass dies, since the semolina grains will eventually abrade the teflon dies found in home machines. The only other component to the dough is eggs, about four large eggs per pound of flour.

I miked the floyur and eggs in the pasta maker, adjusted the consistency with a tablespoon or two of flour, then attached a die (Miles chose the conchiglie rigati, or small shells) and started extruding:

Extruding pasta

I cut the pasta as it extruded, taking about 20 minutes to go through the full pound of pasta dough. Here’s what I wound up with:

Pasta shells

I cooked half of the shells for 3 minutes, which produced perfect al dente pasta. After a quick toss in some sauce we were ready to eat:

Final plate

Just like Mom used to make.

I let the other half of the shells dry overnight so they could be stored without sticking together.

I’ve read that in this economy the pasta business is booming because it’s cheap. I have nothing against the stuff in the box, but I’ll be making a lot more homemade pasta this year. It’s cheaper than the boxes, and tastes better. Besides, how often do I get to play with the adult version of a Play-Doh Fun Factory?

3 comments

Melanie Campbell January 31, 2009 at 12:32 am

My Irish Mama very occasionally made pasta with one of the hand-cranked machines. When I was in the 1st grade, she brought it into my school so the class could have a go at making pasta.

The best pasta I’ve ever eaten was the hand-cut fettuchinni that a friend of my family’s, Henry, made every Christmas Eve for the Feast of Saint Peter. Heartbreakingly good stuff!

Bryan February 2, 2009 at 1:25 pm

I have one of the hand-cranked machines with the outboard motor. It’s not really that hard to crank, but the main advantage of the motor is that it leaves the hands free to feed the dough through the machine. However, it doesn’t really do fancy shapes; it works best for fetuccine-type pasta. I have a ravioli attachment I’ve never used. And yeah, tipo 00 flour is better for handmade pasta, and not hard to find in stores here these days.

Another thing I haven’t used in a while. Getting lazy!

David February 2, 2009 at 3:01 pm

The Kitchen Aid attachment works the same way. I can position the mixer at one end of the table and roll out pasta sheets that stretch the entire length – something I did when making dozens of agnilotti.

The ravioli attachments aren’t worth the bother. It’s hard to get the filling in evenly, and the ravioli – actually raviolini – are too small.

If I’m making more than one pan of lasagna I get the pasta from Capone’s. He’ll cut the sheets to fit the size of my baking pan.

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