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. 🙂

Pasta with Creamy Bacon and Pea Sauce

After being glued to the TV every Friday night to watch Jamie Oliver work his magic on Food Revolution, Billy and I decided it was time to go pick up his latest book and get some new British inspiration. Jamie’s Food Revolution Cookbook is full of simple, flavorful and (most of all) healthful meals that are accessible to any home cook in America. Much like the show did for public schools, Jamie’s Food Revolution helps the average American rediscover what healthy, home-cooked eating is all about, without skimping on flavor.

The first recipe we tried from the food revolution cookbook was this pasta with bacon and peas in a creamy sauce. I think this recipe is proof that you don’t have to cut out things you love (like carbs and creamy goodness) to eat healthy — everything is acceptable in moderation.

Pasta with Creamy Bacon and Pea Sauce

{Print this Recipe}
Here’s what you’ll need:
Serves: 4
– 1 pound small shaped pasta
– 1 to 2 tbsp olive oil
– 1 to 2 tbsp butter
– 10 slices bacon or pancetta, cut into short, thin slices
– 2 cups frozen peas
– 2 heaping tbsp creme fraiche
– small bunch of fresh mint, finely chopped
– salt and pepper
– juice of 1 lemon
– 6 oz. Parmesan cheese

Instructions:
This is another recipe with a really simple sauce, so before you start any really cooking you want to bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and drop your pasta. Make sure to reserve a cup or so of the cooking water. We started cooking the sauce as the water began to boil and the timing seemed to work out perfectly.

In a large, high-sided pan, melt the butter and olive oil together over medium heat. Toss the bacon into the pan with some pepper and cook until crispy and golden brown, about five minutes. Add the peas to the pan, stirring to combine. Give the peas a minute or two to defrost, then add the creme friache and mint. Stir until the creme friache has melted and coated everything nicely. Season with salt and pepper.

Drain the pasta and add it directly to the sauce pan. Pour the lemon juice over the pasta and stir everything to combine well, making sure the sauce coats each piece of pasta nicely. Finally, mix in the Parmesan cheese. Add some of the cooking liquid to thin out the sauce if desired (this is based totally on personal preference…we didn’t add any water).

This is really a great recipe — something different, yet familiar. The combination of the creme friache and Parmesan made for an extra creamy sauce that wasn’t too heavy. The mint brought a great springy, fresh flavor to the pasta without overpowering it, and the peas burst in your mouth in every bite. The bacon gave the whole dish a light smokey flavor, but I think next time I’d opt for pancetta in place of it (Billy disagrees). This is a great creamy pasta dish for those who fine traditional cream sauces too heavy, and a great dish for spring and summer months. I think it would also be great with some grilled Italian sausage.

Check out this (and other!) recipes from Jamie’s Food Revolution Cookbook on his website. Jamie’s recipes never disappoint, and with all the new healthy ones, you can’t go wrong!

Mugrabidi

It’s been a while since I posed about Arabic food (actually, it’s been a while since we made Arabic food), so I thought I’d share something before we get rolling on all the Christmas goodies (yay!). Mugrabidi is a sort of soupy dish with tiny pasta, garbanzo beans and chicken. This is a perfect dish for a cold winter night — I promise it will hit the spot and warm you up instantly!

Here’s what you’ll need:
– 8 cups water
– 4 chicken breasts, cut into bite size pieces
– 1 onion, chopped
– 1 can garbanzo beans, drained
– 1/2 to 1 pound acini de pepe pasta (amount depends on what kind of pasta to bean/chicken/liquid ratio you want)
– salt and pepper to taste

This is a really simple recipe, but the end result is nothing but! First, add the cut chicken pieces to a pot of boiling water. Let the chicken begin to cook and when the water returns to a rolling boil, add the garbanzo beans. Meanwhile, saute the onion until it begins to turn brown then add it to the boiling water. Continue to boil for about 10 minutes, or until the chicken is almost cooked through. Finally, add the pasta and cook until al dente, about 15 more minutes. At this point the chicken and pasta should be done. Season with salt and pepper and you’re ready to serve! (There will be quite a bit of liquid left, the consistency of the dish is supposed to be soupy.)

Of all the Arabic dishes I’ve had, I would say this is the least Arabic tasting…if that makes sense. It doesn’t have any of the flavorings and spices found in most Arabic dishes. Nevertheless, this is a great dish and it’s one of my favorites. I love the soupy consistency and the flavor the beans give to the liquid. I think the best way to eat mugrabidi is to get a little of everything in each bite — you really get a great flavor and texture combination that way.

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. 🙂