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:
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:
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:
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?