Homemade Pasta – A Photo Tutorial

As you can probably tell from my lack of a Sunday Project Food Blog post, I’m out of the competition. I can’t lie and say that I wasn’t bummed, but making it to round three was absolutely amazing. And I couldn’t have done it without your help, so thank you for all your kind comments and of course for your votes. Make sure to check out all the round four entries, there are some very talented bloggers still in the competition!

We had no choice but to do this challenge in advance of the results for round three (which I’m convinced is the reason I didn’t make it through — I jinxed myself!), so all the cooking was done and the pictures taken. Therefore, I decided to post anyway, whether it be for my reassurance, my benefit (or maybe even yours!) or just in support of all the other PFB challengers out there. So…here it is, my would-be post for round four of Project Food Blog.

Before I get into the details though, a few notes on making fresh pasta. Marcella Hazan is the Italian God. We turn to her for any and everything Italian that I don’t know from my family. According to her pasta-making tips, regular old all-purpose flour works perfectly fine for fresh, homemade pasta. In fact, she says it’s best for home cooks. Traditional pasta is made with 00 or doppio zero flour, which is apparently near-impossible to find. It’s the finest of flours, perfect for traditional Italian cooking. Then there’s semolina flour, which is what’s traditionally used in dried pastas. Marcella actually suggests not using this type of flour as it’s frustrating to work with. Well, we read this after buying semolina flour specifically for this challenge. So, we used it anyway. The semolina flour reminded me more of cornmeal than flour, and it was a little more difficult to work with than regular all-purpose flour, but in the end everything turned out just fine. We actually liked the taste and texture of the cooked pasta better than any pasta we’ve made using all-purpose flour. Anyway, enough blabbing. Basically, it’s up to you what flour you use, but all-purpose is probably the safest bet.

Homemade Pasta

{Print this Recipe}
Here’s what you’ll need:
Makes: about 1 pound
– 1 cup flour
– 2 eggs

Instructions:
Pour the flour out onto a large counter or flat workspace in one large mound (in other words, don’t spread it out). Using your hand or the bottom of a measuring cup, form a hole in the center. Make sure the “walls” of the mound are secure since you’ll be mixing the eggs in the center. Crack the eggs into the center of the mound and gently beat them with a fork. As you’re beating the eggs, begin to draw some of the flour over onto the eggs, mixing with the fork, until the eggs are no longer runny.

Because you may not need to use all of the flour, push some to the side before mixing completely. Draw the sides of the mound together with your hands and begin to work the eggs and flour together using your fingers and the palms of your hand. The dough will still be pretty sticky at this point. Continue to work the eggs and flour together until you have a smooth mixture. Test the dough by pressing your finger into the center — if your finger comes out clean and the dough doesn’t feel sticky, no more flour is needed. If the dough is still too moist, add some of the flour you set aside. Clean your work surface and begin kneading the dough.

According to Marcella, there’s a “proper way” to knead the dough: “Push forward against the dough using the heel of your palm, keeping your fingers bent. Fold the mass in half, give it a half turn, press hard against it with the heel of your palm again, and repeat the operation. Make sure that you keep turning the ball of dough always in the same direction. When you have kneaded it thus for eight full minutes and the dough is as smoother as baby skin, it is ready for the machine.”

After kneading for eight full minutes, prepare the dough for the pasta machine. Set up an area near your machine with clean, dry cloths to allow the pasta to dry. Cut the dough into three equal parts and wrap two of the separated balls in plastic wrap so they don’t dry out. Working with one piece of the dough, flatten it with the palm of your hand. Using the widest opening of the thinning rollers on your machine, feed the flattened piece of dough through the machine. Next, fold the dough twice into a third of it’s length and feed it by the narrow end through the machine again. Repeat this process two or three times on the widest setting, then close down the opening to the very next setting. Run the dough strip through the lower setting one time, then close down the opening by one notch again. Continue this process, lowering the setting by one notch each time, until you reach the desired thickness (you don’t necessarily have to go to the smallest setting on your pasta machine). Place the flattened dough on the towel and repeat the whole process again with the other two pieces of dough. Once all the strips have been flattened to the desired thickness, let them dry for at least 10 minutes before cutting. The strips are ready to be cut when they’re still moist enough so they won’t crack, but dry enough so they won’t stick together.

Once all the pasta is cut it’s ready to be cooked (or dried for storage). Place it all in one cloth and carefully slide it into a large pot of salted, boiling water. Begin stirring the pasta immediately to keep it from sticking together as it cooks. Fresh pasta will cook in five minutes or less, so make sure to keep a close eye on it. I also like to keep my fresh pasta moving as it cooks.

I’m reading over this blog and it sort of sounds really difficult and a little confusing, but I promise it’s not. It’s just a lot to explain, but it really is an easy thing to do — and the results are worth the little effort it takes. The dough comes together easily, and once you get in a routine of flattening and cutting the pasta, you’ll find that it’s ready to cook in no time.

Fresh pasta is so much different than dried. It’s…fresher (obviously), and that’s evident in the cooking process and (of course) the taste and texture. It cooks so quickly, and it plumps up as it cooks. The end result is thick, pillowy strands of pasta that can never be compared to the dried variety. A simple, light sauce is perfect for homemade pasta — you don’t want something that’s heavy and overpowering for the delicate work you’ve done!

Homemade pasta doesn’t have to be scary. It’s definitely not something you’ll do all the time, but it’s great for a special treat. Plus, it’s pretty dang awesome to enjoy a homemade dinner from start to finish! A special thanks to Billy for doing all the hard work while I snapped a million photos. 🙂

Spring Green Risotto

As I’ve probably mentioned before (and if not, it might be apparent from this post, or this one), we love risotto. It’s a great “work for your food” kind of meal. It’s not difficult to make, per se, it just requires a lot of attention and love. But in the end, it’s more than worth it. Possibly one of my favorite things about risotto (besides the creamy deliciousness) is that it can take on so many different variations. It’s easy to create different flavors and add different meats or veggies to make it different every time.

That’s exactly what we did with this spring green risotto that came across on my Google Reader from Annie’s Eats. Risotto is typically a pretty heavy dish, but this spring version made it seem light as a feather.

Spring Green Risotto

{Print this Recipe}
Here’s what you’ll need:
Serves: 4
– about 5 cups chicken broth/stock
– 2 tbsp butter
– 1 tbsp olive oil
– 2 shallots, minced
– 2 leeks, chopped
– 1 1/2 cups Arborio rice
– 2/3 cup white wine
– 1 lb asparagus, cut into 1-inch pieces
– 10 oz. frozen peas, thawed
– 1 tbsp lemon zest
– salt and pepper
– 2 tbsp lemon juice
– 1/3 cup mascarpone cheese
– 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese

Instructions:
Like all risotto, you want to start by heating the broth — bring it to a boil, then reduce to simmer and let it hang out while you’re cooking. This will ensure that all liquid additions during the cooking process are already hot so the rice cooks correctly.

In a pot large enough to cook all the rice (remember, it’s going to grow as you cook it), heat the butter and olive oil over medium heat. Saute the shallots and leeks with a little salt and pepper until tender, about five minutes. Add the rice to the pan and stir to coat all the grains with butter, cook for about one minute. Next, begin adding liquid, starting with the wine. Stirring constantly, let the wine simmer until it has evaporated almost completely, about three minutes. After the wine has evaporated, begin adding the broth, a half cup at a time, letting it evaporate almost completely before each addition (this should take three to five minutes per addition). Make sure to stir constantly throughout the cooking process.

After the third liquid addition, add the asparagus and continue cooking like normal. Once the rice has been cooking for 15 minutes, stir in the peas, lemon zest and more salt and pepper. Continue adding liquid and stirring until the rice is tender and creamy, 20 to 25 minutes after the first liquid addition.

Once the rice is cooked, turn the heat off and stir in the lemon juice, mascarpone and Parmesan. Season with salt and pepper, if necessary, and serve.

This was really a great variation of one of our favorite dishes. It was light and fresh and reminded me of spring with each bite (I guess that’s why it’s called spring green risotto, huh?). There were a ton of vegetables, so each bite was full of something green — which I loved. The lemon zest really came through throughout, which added another element of fresh, light flavor. And finally, the mascarpone. It really added a whole other level of creamyess to this already creamy dish, which we both really liked. Come to think of it, I don’t think there was anything about this risotto that we didn’t like.

I found out after the fact that the original recipe also called for fennel, which is an ingredient that I’ve become very fond of recently. Next time we make this, I’ll definitely try it with the fennel and see how that changes it up. If you’re a risotto fan, I strongly recommend that you give this one a try…it’s something totally different and really tasty. I guarantee you’ll love it. 🙂

Daring Bakers’ Challenge: Cannoli

I’m late, I’m late…for a very important date! With all the Thanksgiving shenanigans, I completely spaced what day it was and didn’t have time to post about every Italian’s nightmare — horrible cannoli.

The November 2009 Daring Bakers Challenge was chosen and hosted by Lisa Michele of Parsley, Sage, Desserts and Line Drives. She chose the Italian Pastry, Cannolo (Cannoli is plural), using the cookbooks Lidia’s Italian-American Kitchen by Lidia Matticchio Bastianich and The Sopranos Family Cookbook by Allen Rucker; recipes by Michelle Scicolone, as ingredient/direction guides. She added her own modifications/changes, so the recipe is not 100 percent verbatim from either book.

Despite the fact that I’m Italian, I have never made cannoli. I’ve eaten plenty of them, though, so I know exactly what they’re supposed to be like. Mine definitely did not turn out like “true” cannoli.

The dough, though easy enough to make, was so difficult to work with. In order to get perfect cannoli shells, the dough was to be rolled paper thin. No matter how hard I tried or how long I worked at it, I could not get that stuff to roll out! I’m not sure if it was something I did wrong (added too much liquid, maybe not enough?) or if it’s just a difficult dough. Either way, I decided to try frying them anyway and they just didn’t turn out right. They were too fat and didn’t blister at all. From what I could tell, the taste was right on, but the texture definitely wasn’t (too fat, not crunchy enough, etc.).

I made a traditional ricotta filling (with a little mascarpone to help the texture) and mini chocolate chips. The filling was awesome. So good, in fact, that I was eating it with a spoon in between filling the shells. I guess that made up for the shells being not-so-perfect, but it still wasn’t goon enough for me.

I fully intend to give the cannoli another try, but I think I’ll use a pasta roller to try and get the dough extra thin. Any tips from other Daring Bakers or cannoli makers would be greatly appreciated!

Recipe Link: Cannoli

Butternut Squash and Vanilla Risotto

We love risotto. It’s a lot of work for a typical meal, but the results are always well worth it. One of the great things about risotto is that there are so many flavor options and Giada de Laurentiis’ variation is a perfect example. The natural sweetness of the squash combined with the vanilla gives the risotto a whole new flavor base that you wouldn’t expect for a normally (very) savory dish.

Here’s what you’ll need:
– 3 to 4 cups vegetable broth
– 1 large vanilla bean
– 3 cups butternut squash, peeled and cubed
– 3 tablespoons butter
– 1 medium onion, chopped
– 1 cup Arborio rice
– 1/2 cup white wine
– 1/2 Parmesan cheese
– salt and pepper

This recipe is ultra easy because there’s no extra pots for cooking meat or anything else that you add to the actual rice. Like all risotto, you want to start by heating the broth — bring it to a boil, then reduce to simmer and let it hang out while you’re cooking.

You’ll want to add the vanilla bean to the broth right away. Cut it in half, scrape out the seeds and put everything in the broth. The big difference here is that you’ll cook the squash in the broth, so once it comes to a boil add the squash and reduce the heat to low. Cook until the squash is tender, about 5 minutes. Remove the squash from the liquid and set aside. Leave the heat on the broth in order to keep it at a warm temperature.

Meanwhile, in a pot (or pan) large enough to cook all the rice in, heat two tablespoons of the butter over medium heat. Saute the onion with salt and pepper until tender and see-through, about three minutes. Add the rice to the pan and stir to coat all the grains with butter. Next, add the first batch of liquid — the wine. Stirring constantly, let the wine simmer until it has evaporated almost completely, about three minutes. After the liquid has evaporated, begin adding the broth, 1/2 cup at a time, letting it evaporate almost completely before each addition. Make sure to continue stirring throughout the cooking process. Continue adding liquid and letting it evaporate until the rice is tender, but still a little firm, and creamy, about 20 minutes after adding the wine.

Once the rice is cooked, turn the heat off and stir in the Parmesan cheese, cubed squash and the remaining tablespoon of butter. Season with salt and pepper, if necessary.

I absolutely loved this variation on risotto. Billy…not so much. The sweetness of the squash and vanilla added a hint of sweet to this normally savory dish, but Billy seemed to think it was overpowering. I thought it was perfect. It was a great meal for a fall day — not to mention that it made the house smell delicious. The one thing I didn’t like about the dish were the cubes of squash. I would have rather pureed them or just left them out completely because the flavor that was left in the broth was enough for the whole dish. An alternative to the over-sweetness that Billy tasted could be to leave out the vanilla…maybe that’s a test for the future.

This recipe can be found in Giada’s latest book, Giada’s Kitchen, or on the Food Network Web site. Even though Billy wasn’t a huge fan of the dish, I highly recommend it for anyone who loves risotto!

Chicken with Saffron Cream Sauce

Saffron is an expensive spice, but it’s worth the price because it lasts forever (and it’s flavor, of course). Giada De Laurentiis’ chicken scallopine with saffron cream sauce is, in my opinion, a perfect way to showcase the great flavor of saffron without overpowering the whole dish. We’ve made this dish many times, and I think it gets better every single time.

Here’s what you’ll need:
– 1 lb chicken cutlets (we usually use two boneless, skinless breasts and pound them out so they’re nice and thin)
– olive oil
– salt and pepper
– 2 shallots, chopped
– 1 clove garlic, minced (we almost always use more than a clove, but that’s just personal preference)
– 1/2 cup white wine
– 1 1/2 cups chicken broth
– 1/4 tsp (a generous pinch) saffron threads
– 3 tbsp chopped fresh parsley

This is jokingly called “10 minute chicken” in our house because each step takes about 10 minutes, but apparently Billy doesn’t know how to read ahead and realize that there’s more than one step that takes 10 minutes and decides to tell me to start the side dishes 20 minutes too early. Anyway, that’s beside the point.

The first thing you’re going to do is cook the chicken. Heat the olive oil (enough to keep the chicken from sticking) in a skillet over high heat. While the pan is heating, season both sides of the chicken with salt and pepper. Once the pan is hot drop the chicken as quickly as you can, using a spatter guard to keep the oil from getting everywhere (including all over you). Cook the chicken until golden brown on each side and cooked completely through — 3 to 5 minutes on each side. Remove the chicken from the pan and cover with foil to keep warm.

Turn the heat down to medium and add the shallots and garlic to the pan (you might need to add a bit more oil) and cook until tender, about 2 minutes. Add the wine to the pan, using a wooden spoon to scrape any brown bits of the bottom of the pan. Bring the wine to a simmer and cook until it’s almost evaporated completely, about (you guessed it) 10 minutes. Next, add the chicken broth and saffron threads. Bring to a simmer again and let reduce for (another) 10 minutes — it will reduce by at least half. Add the cream, season with salt a pepper and let simmer for a minute or two in order for the flavors to combine. Pour the sauce over the chicken and sprinkle with parsley and you’re done!

We usually serve the chicken over rice because the rice soaks up the extra sauce and makes it extra delicious. Cooking the chicken over high heat gives it a little bit of a crust but helps lock all the moisture in. The sauce soaks into the chicken (and the rice) and all the wonderful flavors of the shallots, garlic and saffron permeate throughout the dish. Yum.

This recipe can be found in Giada’s latest book, Giada’s Kitchen, or on the Food Network Web site.

Sausage, Peppers and Onions

The great thing about sausage, peppers and onions is that everything is cooked in one pot and the only other thing you need to go with the meal is a good, hard roll or two. SPandO is a meal that I consider a “classic” Italian dish (I’m actually not sure if it really is classic or not, but it seems like it should be if it isn’t already). It’s got all of the classic Italian flavors — wine, tomatoes, meat and…wine. What makes it even better is that it’s really simple to make and it doesn’t take much effort at all.

Here’s what you’ll need:
– Olive Oil (for cooking the sausages)
– 1/2 to 1 lb Italian sausage (we like to use hot Italian turkey sausage)
– 1 to 2 bell peppers, sliced
– 1 onion, sliced
– salt and pepper to taste
– red pepper flakes
– 1/2 tsp dried oregano
– 1/2 cup fresh basil (or about 1/4 cup dried)
– 2 to 4 cloves garlic, chopped
– 2 tbsp tomato paste
– 1/2 to 1 cup red wine
– 1 can (15 oz) diced tomatoes

The first thing you want to do is cook the sausages. Heat the oil over medium heat in a deep-sided pan large enough to hold everything and cook the sausages until brown on both sides, about 10 minutes. Once they’re cooked through, take them out of the pan and set aside until they cool down. Add the peppers and onions to the same pan (you might need more oil, depending on the kind of sausage you’re using) and cook them until they’re the consistency you like, anywhere from 5 to 10 minutes. Finally, add the salt, pepper, red pepper, garlic and herbs and cook another 2 to 3 minutes (you want the garlic to cook down a little, but still keep a lot of it’s flavor).

Once all the veggies are cooked through, add the tomato paste, stirring to combine, then the wine and tomatoes. Make sure to scrape all the brown bits off the bottom of the pan after you add the liquid. Bring the pan to a simmer. In the mean time, cut the sausages into smaller pieces, about 4 to 6 inches each. We like to cut them in half, then cut the halves in half length-wise (did that make sense?). Assuming the wine and veggies are simmering away, add the sausages back into the pan. Continue to simmer for about 20 minutes, or until the sauce has thickened to desired consistency. And…that’s it! Easy enough, right?

My favorite way to make an SPandO sandwich is to cut a tip off of a long roll then hollow it out, leaving a little bit of the middle inside the roll so that you have crust, but also yummy fluffyness inside. Stuff the hollowed out roll with plenty of sausage, peppers, onions and juices. The best part? You can use the bread that you took out to sop up more juice! Y-U-M.

P.S. This is a combination of recipes…my mom’s “famous” sausage, peppers and onions, and Giada de Laurentis. Clck here for Giada’s recipe.

Nanny’s Macaroni and Peas

Probably since the day I could chew food, my absolute favorite meal in the entire universe is my great-grandma’s macaroni and peas. I know what you’re thinking, “Macaroni and peas? What the hell is that and why is it so good?” Let me explain….

It’s nothing complicated or fancy. It’s basically a soupy pasta dish with some onions, tomato sauce, and peas. Literally. But the deliciousness of this dish is unlike anything I can describe, but I’ll try. It’s tomato-y, pea-y and full of old-fashioned Italian simpleness. The sauce is thin and watery, yet holds a lot of flavor.

I hesitate to give out the (not so) secret recipe, but I insist that everyone try this dish. So, here it is in it’s short entirety.
Here’s what you’ll need:
– 1 pound of some kind of small pasta (small is a must)
– 1 medium onion, chopped
– 1 small can of tomato sauce
– 1 can Le Sueur peas, with juice (it is most certainly important that you use Le Sueur peas — trust me on this one)
– Salt, Pepper and Red Pepper flakes to taste

This will be one of the simplest dishes you ever make. First, saute the onions in a little olive oil until the become soft and translucent. Season them with the salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes (you can omit the red pepper flakes if you prefer). Next, add the can of tomato sauce. Let this simmer away for a few minutes so the sauce has time to heat up and cook down a little. Then, add the peas and all their juices. Stir to combine then remove the pot from the heat and add water. You need enough water to boil the pasta, but not so much that it takes away the flavor of the tomato paste and peas. I usually determine how much water I want by the color of the sauce. My personal preference is for it to remain fairly red, but you can add as much water as you like. (A good way to determine how much water you want is to taste as you’re adding to decide how strong of a flavor you want.) Bring the water to a boil and add the pasta. Cook to al dente and serve right away. (That’s right ladies and gentlemen…no draining of the pasta water here!)

Billy likes to cook some sausage on the side, but I think that’s sabotage. (Secretly I think it’s pretty good, but still not right.) My great-grandma always makes breaded and fried chicken cutlets on the side. Either way, it is imperative that you have bread to dip in the sauce.

I literally could eat a whole pound of this in one sitting, and if you know me that never happens. While I don’t think my mac and peas will ever be as good as Nanny’s, they sure do come in a close second (sorry mom). I think they’d make her proud.

BTW, if you try this recipe, let me know how it turns out and what you thought of it! Since it’s one of my favorites, I’m always interested in other people’s opinions.

P.S. Don’t judge our heart-shaped bowls. 🙂