Homemade Pasta

Homemade Pasta

Making homemade pasta is more fun done with company. This week I had a cooking student named Barbara to cook with, so making the pasta was extra fun. We took breaks to dance, and she sang. Halfway through the rolling process, Barbara decided we were making “crazy lady pasta”…that was before I told her about cutting the strips in half so they wouldn’t wrap around her arms like Ace bandages. The pasta turned out wonderfully.

Roasted Winter Squash Lasagne

Homemade pasta transforms lasagne. It is delicate and light, and particularly well suited for this filling of roasted winter squash flavored with sage. If you can buy fresh pasta sheets, so much the better, but making your own pasta for this lasagne is well worth the effort.

Make the pasta dough using 2 cups all-purpose flour and 3 large, or 4 medium size eggs. Be sure the eggs are at room temperature before mixing the dough (see the “Pasta Night” blog entry for pasta making directions). You may need extra flour or a few sprinkles of water to make the dough come together for kneading. Roll out the lasagne noodles, boil 30 seconds in salted water, cool in ice water, and spread out on clean dishtowels.

Make the filling: Roast a 3-lb winter squash in a 400 degree F oven 45 minutes to one hour, until soft. Roast a head of garlic, wrapped in foil, about 30 minutes. Using a food processor or potato masher, make a puree with the cooked squash, roasted garlic, 2 cups ricotta cheese, 1/4 cup Pecorino Romano, and 6 to 8 finely chopped fresh sage leaves. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.

Make a béchamel sauce: Melt 1 1/2 Tbs butter in a saucepan. Add 4 or 5 fresh sage leaves, 1/4 tsp nutmeg or 1/4 tsp crushed fennel seeds and cook over low heat 2 to 3 minutes. Remove the sage leaves. Whisk in 1 Tbs all-purpose flour. Cook 2 minutes, stirring. Gradually add 1 1/2 cups warm whole milk, whisking until smooth. Cook until thickened, about 15 minutes. Season with salt.

Assemble the lasagne: Spread 1/2 cup of the béchamel over the bottom of a 9 x 13-inch baking dish. Cover the sauce with a layer of noodles. Spread 1/4 of the squash filling over the noodles. Cover with noodles. Repeat the layers for a total of 4 squash layers and 5 pasta layers. Spread the remaining béchamel over the top. Sprinkle with 1/4-cup dry breadcrumbs mixed with 1/4 cup Pecorino and 2 tsp chopped fresh thyme leaves.

Bake the lasagne: cover the pan with foil and bake in a preheated 350-degree oven for 30 to 40 minutes. Remove the foil and bake until the topping is browned, about 10 minutes.

We ate this lasagne with focaccia and bowls of Romesco sauce and salsa verde (recipes below).

Romesco Sauce

Romesco is a wonderful Spanish concoction of garlic, toasted almonds, tomato, and a mildly spicy pepper. I use re-hydrated ancho chile or my own roasted Anaheim chiles with roasted red bell peppers to make an approximation of the flavor.

Use a food processor or mortar and pestle to make a smooth puree. My Romesco was made with 2 large roasted red peppers, 2 roasted Anaheim chiles, 1 small roasted red onion, 1 head roasted garlic, 1 raw garlic clove, 1/2 tsp kosher salt, 1/4 cup toasted almonds, 2 or 3 tsp red wine vinegar, and 3 Tbs extra virgin olive oil.

Salsa Verde

Green Herb Sauce Italian-style herb sauce is endlessly variable and useful for perking up other foods. A little dab makes a great topping for roasted or grilled meats, fish or vegetables…a spread for bruschetta … stirred into soups, pasta, or beans, or rice dishes.

I like to use a mixture of whatever herbs are in my garden, so this time it was about a cup of parsley leaves, 1/2 cup sorrel leaves, and some chives and arugula. The herbs are chopped very fine with a sharp knife or food processor and mixed with a garlic clove mashed to a paste with 1/4 tsp kosher salt, 1 tsp lemon zest, 2 Tbs chopped walnuts (toasted), freshly ground black pepper, and 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil. Stir in 2 tsp fresh lemon juice or wine vinegar and salt to taste. One or two Tbs chopped capers are a delicious addition.

Another version: Mix one finely chopped shallot or garlic clove with 2 tsp fresh lemon juice or wine vinegar. Let it sit while your chop 1 cup flat-leaf parsley and 1 Tbs fresh thyme leaves very fine. Add 1 Tbs chopped capers. Mix the herbs and capers with the garlic or shallot and stir in 5 or 6 Tbs extra virgin olive oil. Season to taste with freshly ground black pepper and salt.

Note: In a taste test, the hand-chopped salsa verde won.

Lagane e Ceci

Pasta with Chick Peas

We had enough pasta sheets left over from the lasagne to make noodles. We cut the wide sheets into short strips about 1/4 inch wide, dusted them with semolina, and dried them on pizza pans. The next day we made Lagane e Ceci, a Southern Italian peasant dish.

You can use canned chickpeas, but I like the flavor of freshly cooked chickpeas better.

Soak 1 1/2 cups chickpeas for 12 hours (or do a short soak by pouring boiling water over the chick peas and letting them sit for 2 hours). Drain the chickpeas, put them in a pot with a sprig of rosemary, 2 garlic cloves, 2 bay leaves and a small hot chile with water to cover by one inch, and bring the water to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, loosely covered, for 1 to 1/2 hours, or until the chickpeas are tender. Add 2 tsp salt to the pot.

When the chickpeas are done, heat 3 Tbs extra virgin olive oil with 1 1/2 Tbs finely chopped garlic, 2 Tbs finely chopped fresh rosemary, and 1/2 tsp red chile flakes over low heat until the garlic begins to sizzle. Stir 30 seconds or so. Add 1 cup diced or crushed canned tomatoes and their juice and stir 1 minute. Add 2 1/2 cups cooked chick peas and about 1 1/2 cups chick pea cooking liquid; simmer 5 to 10 minutes.

While the chickpeas simmer, boil the pasta in well-salted water. Traditionally, this dish calls for flat pasta. Egg noodles, fettuccine, farfalle, or  fresh ribbon pasta would work fine. I used about 5 oz dried noodles. Add the cooked noodles to the chickpeas. Eat as a thick soup or add more broth, if you prefer.

Serve the pasta with chopped flat-leaf parsley or salsa verde. I stirred a few spoonfuls of Romesco sauce into the dish, and put a bowl of the sauce on the table for people to add at the table. Brilliant!





Pasta Night

Rolling Dough

If you think about it, pasta is brilliant. A transformation of wheat and water, pasta is an ingenious means of collecting and delivering flavor. Southern Italians must be among the world’s most inventive pasta-makers when it comes to shapes and texture. In a culinary world of few ingredients, the form of the pasta becomes a source of variety, trapping sauce and garnishes in ever changing nooks and crannies.

Traditionally, the pasta of Southern Italy was shaped by women’s hands…squeezed, rolled, pinched and pulled this way and that…each resulting form given a name, each shape capable of holding flavor in a unique manner. One afternoon at Serra Gambetta, Domenico’s 96-year-old grandmother joined us to demonstrate how to make homemade pasta and let us try our hands at the traditional pasta shapes of Puglia. We made orecchiette (little ears) by pressing a little lump of dough and turning it inside out over our thumbs, cavatelli (bean pods) by dragging the lump of dough with two fingers so that it curled into a pod, and fusilli by wrapping the dough around an umbrella strut to make a skinny tube. Very fun!

Taking My Turn At Rolling Pasta Dough

We guests were clumsy and slow, but Gina and Grandmother’s hands worked like well-oiled machines. Our misshaped contributions disappeared into their perfectly executed piles of pasta, and we ended up with enough for dinner. If you would like to learn more about rolling and shaping various pasta, look to Rosetta Constantino’s book, My Calabria, or Marcella Hazen’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking.

Homemade pasta is a revelation. It has a delicate and light consistency, while at the same time tasting like something of substance. The soft texture absorbs the flavors of sauces particularly well. Hand-rolled or shaped pasta is a craft that takes time to learn, but using a pasta machine takes no skill and turns out great pasta sheets for cutting into flat noodles like tagliatelle, or for ravioli or lasagne.

Italian PastaHere is how to make the dough: Pasta in Southern Italy is made with just flour and water. In the North, eggs replace the water. Domenico uses double zero pasta flour and warm water. Unbleached all-purpose flour is a suitable substitute. Put 2 cups of all-purpose flour in a large bowl and make a well in the center. (This amount will make about 14 oz fresh pasta–enough for 4 to 8 servings) Pour 1/2 cup warm water and mix with your fingers to make shaggy dough. Gradually add 1 more Tbs water as you shape the dough into a smooth ball. Now it is ready to knead. Marcella says that kneading is the secret to superior homemade pasta. Clean your hands and the work surface and lightly dust both with flour. Knead by pressing with your palms to flatten the dough, fold it in half, and turn 180 degrees. Repeat these steps for 8 to 10 minutes (you can sing or dance at the same time). Dust with flour sparingly, as needed. When the dough is smooth and elastic, cover it with a clean cloth and let it rest 30 minutes to one hour.

Note: if you want to make egg pasta, use 2 large eggs beaten with 1 tsp water for each cup all-purpose flour. The most important step is to distribute the egg evenly throughout the flour, as in making pastry. You can use a food processor for the initial mixing by pulsing briefly. Once the dough looks like a grainy meal, transfer it to a bowl, gather it into a ball, and follow the directions for kneading as above.

Using a pasta machine: After the dough has rested, it is ready to be stretched and rolled into thin sheets. Cover the work surface with clean dishtowels or a tablecloth–you need to be able to spread the pasta out without overlapping or stacking it. Cut the ball of dough made from 2 cups flour into 6 pieces and cover those you are not working with. Flatten the first piece into a rectangle so that it can be rolled through the machine on the largest setting. Fold it in half and roll it through again. Repeat 3 to 5 times. Place the flattened dough on a towel and prepare the remaining pieces the same way. When all the pieces are flattened, pass each unfolded strip through the next smaller setting on the pasta machine. Continue with this procedure, reducing the setting each time until the strips are as thin as you desire (1/16 inch for lasagne or ravioli, thicker for cut noodles). Cut the strips into 12-inch sections if they become too long to work with. Dust the strips lightly with flour if they start to get sticky.

Notes: Cut lasagne noodles to fit your pan. Parboil the strips 20 to 30 seconds in salted water, dip in ice water to cool, and drain before assembling the lasagne. For ravioli or tortellini, stuff each strip as soon as it passes through the final setting so that the dough will still be soft and sticky. For cut noodles, allow the dough to dry on the towels for 10 minutes so that it is pliant but not sticky. Noodles can be cut by the machine or by hand. Extra noodles may be dried and stored for later use.

Pasta Dough Rolling

What to do with your Homemade Pasta

Keep it simple! Fresh pasta cooks very quickly, so have your sauce ready before the pasta goes into the boiling water. Use plenty of water–4 to 5 quarts–and a generous Tbs salt. Keep an eye on the boiling pasta, and check it early and often so that it is cooked al dent, no more.

*Spring vegetables and lemon sauce: Heat 2 Tbs extra virgin olive oil and 2 Tbs butter with 1 Tbs finely chopped garlic and a couple of thinly sliced shallots over medium heat. Sauté 2 minutes. Add cooked, chopped asparagus and/or peas to the pan, stirring to coat the vegetables with oil. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Stir in 1 or more tsp fresh lemon juice to taste and 1 tsp lemon zest. Toss with cooked pasta, adding a couple of Tbs pasta water as needed. Serve with grated Parmesan.

*Fresh herbs and pine nuts with sun-dried tomatoes: Chop a mixture of fresh herbs–flat-leaf parsley, basil, chives, marjoram, chervil, arugula, mint…to make about 1/2 cup. Toast 1/4 cup pine nuts or walnut pieces. Heat 4 Tbs extra virgin olive oil over medium low heat with 1/4 cup chopped shallots or thinly sliced green onions. Cook a few minutes until the shallots are soft. Stir in 2 or 3 thinly sliced sun-dried tomatoes. Toss cooked pasta with the shallot/tomato oil and herbs. Sprinkle with nuts and serve with shaved Parmesan or Pecorino.

*Southern Italian Aglio, Olie, e Peperoncini (Garlic and Red Chile in Olive oil): Heat 4 or 5 Tbs extra virgin olive oil with 4 or 5 thinly sliced garlic cloves and 2 or 3 minced hot red peppers over low heat. Stir 2 or 3 minutes, so that the garlic softens but does not color. Add 1/4 cup pasta cooking water to the pan, and toss with cooked pasta. Sprinkle with chopped flat-leaf parsley. Need more? Add chopped olives, toasted nuts, capers, roasted red bell pepper or other roasted vegetables, marinated artichoke hearts…or even canned tuna or crumbled bacon.

*Caramelized onion with Gorgonzola and curly Endive: Cook 2 or 3 thinly sliced, large white onions in 3 Tbs extra virgin olive oil over low heat until very soft and turning golden brown–30 to 40 minutes, stirring occasionally. Toss cooked pasta with the caramelized onion and three or four cups chopped curly endive. Sprinkle with crumbled Gorgonzola.