Monday, February 11, 2008

Fresh Pasta

Fresh pasta is awesome. Some may argue that high quality dried pasta is just as good, but those people are foolish and wrong. If you ever meet one of these people, just smile, nod, and back away slowly while you plan on having them over for a batch of the good stuff.

Most basic pasta recipes call for nothing more than eggs and all-purpose flour. I like to use a healthy amount of semolina flour as well, since it gives the pasta a bit more heft as well as adding some grit that makes the sauce really stick to it. My father prefers to use 100% semolina, but I like how the combination makes for a softer pasta, so that's what I stick with. As with anything, you should try it yourself and see what you like. I buy my semolina flour, along with other Italian staples like parmigiano reggiano, up at Arthur Ave in the Bronx. You can order a lot of stuff from there online, but if you're in the city and like Italian food, you really owe it to yourself to make the trip. It's the real Little Italy in New York, and the prices for this kind of stuff are amazing. Parmigiano reggiano aged 36 months is only $8 a pound, for instance.

Semolina Pasta


2 cups semolina flour
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
4 eggs
1 tblsp extra virgin olive oil


I like to use a stand mixer with a dough hook to get the mixture started, but you can just as easily begin by forming a well in a pile of flour and dropping the eggs in. If you do this, just get it started with your hands until it's a loose, crumbly mixture. If you're using a mixer, let it run on low for about thirty seconds to get to this point.

Start kneading the dough and you'll feel it begin to change. From a loose mixture to a sticky mass to something resembling coherent dough. You can't over-knead it, so just keep going. I knead it for about 10-15 minutes, and you'll feel it stop changing sometime before that. The dough should be smooth and look something like this:

Wrap the dough ball up in plastic wrap and let it sit for at least half an hour to settle. I try to make the dough early and let it sit until I'm ready to roll, cut, and cook it.

You don't need to use an automatic pasta roller and/or cutter, but I do just because it's a lot easier. My grandmother used nothing more than a knife and rolling pin. Since I was making spaghetti, I used an automatic cutter, but you can leave the pasta in sheets for lasagna or make ravioli or hand cut linguini - whatever you like.

For an automatic roller like I used, first cut the dough into managable pieces.

Next, roll each piece into a sheet. The roller has easy settings for different thicknesses, and it's important not to go to thin. With each piece, start the roller as wide as it will go and then decrease the thickness one step at a time, rolling the pasta through at each step. This makes for a nice, even sheet.

Send the sheets through the cutter and you're about done. Add to a pot of salted, boiling water and cook for 1-2 minutes. Fresh pasta cooks much, much faster than dried pasta, so be careful not to cook it too long.

I made a batch of sauce to go along with the pasta, which is one of my favorite things to cook on a Sunday. Get it started around noon and let it simmer all day. Your house will smell fantastic and it will be perfect by the time you eat. This is my basic sauce recipe, but you can easily change it up and do whatever you like - add meat, vegetables, whatever. I like using the porcini and pancetta along with a lot of spices.

Brian's Tomato Sauce


2 28oz cans of whole peeled tomatoes - you can of course use fresh tomatoes, but I rarely take that extra step. In NY it's easy to find good importated Italian tomatoes, so that's what I use. When I made this out in Las Vegas once, it was difficult to find anything but Dole, but in NYC every little bodega has good ones.
1 6 oz can tomato paste - I use the Italian stuff, but I don't think it matters too much
1 thick slice of pancetta, diced
1/2 cup dried porcini mushrooms
1 medium-large onion, diced
4-6 garlic cloves, minced
4 tblsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tblsp butter
1 tsp sugar
Spices to taste - here's what I use:
4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp salt
2 tsp oregano - fresh if available
2 tsp basil - fresh if available
1 tsp majoram
1 tsp sage - fresh if available, but a little fresh sage goes a really long way
2 tsp cayenne pepper
2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
4-6 bay leaves


Soak the porcini in a small cup of warm water and set aside for about half an hour.

In a large pot, add the olive oil and butter over medium heat. When hot, add the onion and garlic. Stir until everything is well-coated and sautee until the onion is translucent.

Push the onion and garlic to one side of the pot and add the pancetta. Cook until lightly browned and stir everythign together. Create a hot spot in the pot and add the tomato paste and cook for a minute or two. Stir everything together.

Lower the heat to very low and add the tomatoes and stir everything together. Add your spices, though save any fresh spices until 10-15 minutes before you're done.

That's pretty much it. Let this simmer all day, stirring occasionally to make sure nothing sticks to the pot. I like to let it cook for at least 4 or 5 hours so the tomatoes break up on their own, but if you only have an hour or two you can break them up yourself with the back of the spoon. The longer you cook, the more water will steam off and the thicker the sauce will be. As with anything like this, it's even better the next day after sitting covered in the fridge.

I added some hot Italian sausage last night, which I love and is a bit easier than making meatballs. After I drain the pasta, I put it back in the pot and add a tablespoon of butter along with a tablespoon or two of sauce. Mixing that with the pasta gets the sauce to really stick to it when you add it on top. Throw on some pepper and freshly grated parmigiano reggiano and you're done.

I put an Italian batard I picked up at the Park Slope Key Food in the oven to warm it up, and that was that.


Jenny Lee Lark said...

wow! thanks for posting your pasta recipe, I plan to try it out soon. I recently moved from the south and am excited to be in a dry enough climate to make home made pasta.

Brian said...

Please let me know it works out for you :) The semolina makes a big difference I've found and it's worth tracking down, either at a good Italian grocery or one of the many upper-end grocers around. I know Garden of Eden has some, although it's a bit overpriced. The best bet is to go up to Arthur Ave in the Bronx where you can buy it super cheap.

Danelle said...

Going to try this tomorrow...just picked up a pasta roller for $1 so this will be my first attempt to make fresh pasta. Thanks!