Pasta / Recipes

Hand Made Pasta

One of the first forays into expanding my cooking horizons last year was making ravioli. Nothing as ambitious as the St. Louis toasted ravioli, just a simple beef ravioli. I spent (what seemed like) a very long time trying to make the dough the right consistency, then once I’d done that (sorta) I spent an even longer time trying to get it rolled thin enough with my pasta machine. In the end, the dough was uneven and think, resulting in badly constructed ravioli. They were still tasty, but looked terrible and were more like dumplings because of the thick pasta dough.

My second attempt was better. I made a 50% Whole Wheat Pasta which looked and tasted right but it was still very thick. I wanted to make hand made pasta that was thin, light, and delicate.

I started out by watching a Jamie Oliver video and decided to try his method using a food processor. Quick, easy, “takes 45 seconds and you’ll completely wow your mates.” Whatever limey, my mates would have laughed their asses off at my pathetic dough made in the food processor. I actually did something I rarely do: I started over. I went back to the mixing by hand on the tabletop which takes several minutes instead of 45 seconds but worked much better for me.

I used four large eggs and three cups of flour which left a ton of extra flour. I always seem to end up with too much flour, so I’m going to have to work on the recipe a bit. I didn’t add salt or olive oil, just eggs and flour. I have been working my way through five pounds of cheap bleached all-purpose flour which I grabbed by accident which probably didn’t help my cause here either with consistency or proportions. As soon as I use this crap up I’ll be back on the unbleached stuff which will work a whole lot better.

The biggest thing that I discovered this time around with my pasta is this: my pasta machine can’t really handle the dough until it has already been kneaded and rolled out a bit. Lots of recipes say to fold the dough over, run it through the machine on the thickest setting, fold it over again and run through the machine again, and then repeat four or five times in the place of kneading. My machine’s thickest setting is too thin to really handle that well. I found that if I rolled it out using a rolling pin, I could run it through the machine on the thinnest three settings and get some paper-thin, nearly transparent pasta.

I rolled out the dough in two batches, each with the rolling pin first, then with the machine. You can really get some length out of this stuff when it gets going. Half of the dough netted me a 6 or 7 foot strip of pasta when I got it down to the thinnest setting on my machine. At that point, I folded it in half, and half again about three or four times until I had a flat rectangle that was a dozen layers thick and then and hand-cut the pasta into strips. Once it was cut I quickly shook it out so the individual layers wouldn’t stick. I was mostly successful at keeping the layers separate, although the pasta was very very fragile.

I let the pasta dry for an hour or so while I waited for Dr. Fiance to come home. Then I heated up the last of the chicken breast leftover from Friday’s party along with some garlic, olive oil, and white wine in a frying pan. In a separate pot I boiled some salted water, dropped in the pasta for a minute or two, then drained it and threw it in the pan with the chicken. I added some butter and parmesan, topped with some fresh parsley and served with some crusty bread. It was delicious.

I’m still trying to perfect the quantities of ingredients for the dough, so I’m going to hold off on posting a specific recipe until I have a better handle on it. But suffice it to say that practice makes perfect, and I’m betting that if I do this more often I’ll be able to produce more consistent results.

Photography Notes

From a photography standpoint I approached this project like a Fellini film and decided to go with black and white. I have been itching to do B&W lately, maybe because everything in St. Louis is gray these days. I recently acquired a new macro lens which I have been experimenting with and used it for all of the images in this series. Lotsa fun, although there is the temptation to shoot everything really close up and abstract. I lit the shots with a single speed light with a shoot through umbrella on camera left.

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