EUSTIS ON FOOD: Homemade pasta

Pasta feeds children well. It is cheap, and serves as a vehicle to deliver any number of lovely sauces. But there is so much more there, so much more flavor, in fresh pasta, and it is much better for you.

Pasta is a staple. It’s found in the middle of the supermarket along with other dried goods. It feeds children well. It is cheap, and serves as a vehicle to deliver any number of lovely sauces. But there is so much more there, so much more flavor, and fresh pasta is much better for you than the boxed sort. Surely it takes some time, and some equipment, but it’s worth the effort. And what is better comfort food than a bowl full of rich pasta with a lovely red sauce, or olive oil, salt & pepper, and a dash of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.

Pasta dough folding under the Atlas machine.
Pasta dough folding under the Atlas machine.

Reading through the list of ingredients on a supermarket box of spaghetti, I saw flour, no eggs, and several ingredients about which I was not completely familiar: niacin, thiamin mononitrate, and riboflavin. I believe it’s a basic tenet of eating a healthier diet not to eat foods with ingredients you don’t recognize. Clearly for most meals, an impossibility, but a worthy goal nonetheless.

Pasta can be made in many different ways. Flour and water do work just fine, but with eggs, the flavor is enhanced, as it is by the addition of the semolina flour. Below, we use ¼–⅓ of the volume with semolina flour. Any more and it just becomes too onerous to manipulate.

The author, at right, with son Henry, cutting pasta during a cooking class in Tuscany.
The author, at right, with son Henry, cutting pasta during a cooking class in Tuscany. Photo: Sarah Eustis

On a stay in Tuscany, outside of Siena, we took a cooking class from a local noteworthy chef. The experience was as memorable as you think it might be, but what I remember most of all was his recipe for pasta, and the color of his eggs. The recipe was a simple one.

  • 1 lb. of flour (500 grams, to be exact, but exactness is not required here.) (All Purpose is fine. ‘00’ flour is best — it gives more suppleness than All Purpose flour, but AP isn’t bad.) I like to cut it a bit with semolina flour, for flavor, texture (adds to the al dente taste), and color — I like Bob’s Red Mill.
  • Enough eggs to bond the flour together. The highest quality you can find. (Sometimes I add just the yolks, because they add a richness to the pasta.)
  • Dash of salt, a glug of olive oil (to create an improved elasticity to the dough)

That’s it. The quality of his eggs, from truly free-range eggs, showed in the most yellow of yolks,

Raviolis made with free-range eggs retain the rich yellow color of the yolks.
Raviolis made with free-range eggs retain the rich yellow color of the yolks.

Of course, he began with the classic Marcella Hazan approach, creating, in a Richard Dreyfuss (“Close Encounters of the Third Kind”) sort of manner, a volcano of the flour. Into the maw of the volcano, begin to add your eggs, stirring until it becomes a slightly tacky dough. That’s a pain. Instead:

  1. Add the dry ingredients into a food processor.
  2. Add the eggs, until the mixture coalesces into a sticky ball.
  3. At this point, move dough to a floured surface. (Again, I love my Roulpat, from Silpat, as it’s really big, and requires less flour to knead the dough.)
  4. Knead the dough, which furthers the binding of the glutens. Add your “00” or AP flour until the dough is no longer sticky. Keep kneading until when pulling apart the dough, it stretches rather than tears.
  5. Let rest for 30 minutes (v. important; makes rolling out much easier. See the two photos showing dough that has rested for 2½ hours, compared with a fresh batch.)
Pasta dough before resting.
Pasta dough before resting.

Though it is possible to cut pasta by hand, it is time consuming; better to invest in a simple pasta machine. I’ve had mine for at least 30 years, an Atlas 150. Out of the box, it makes linguini and angel hair pasta, and lasagna sheets, and you can buy attachments for other sizes. I bought the pappardelle attachment, and that with a wild mushroom ragu, yum. One does have to crank this machine, and so installing an electric motor is v. nice. I ran mine for years by hand. Some finesse is required, but again worth it. (Available at The Chef’s Shop for about $100-$140.)

Pasta dough after having rested.
Pasta dough after having rested.
  1. After letting the dough rest, cut off a piece about half the size of a tennis ball. Smush it down with your hand. Set the rollers at 1, the widest setting, and insert the dough.
  2. Roll the dough through the machine several times, trimming the piece into a nice rectangular shape. (That last part isn’t completely necessary, but it keeps the strands more uniform.) Save the extra for another batch. Sprinkle the dough with semolina flour to keep it from getting sticky.
  3. Keep rolling the dough, making the rollers thinner and thinner. You can make the sheets too thin; if you do, they’ll tear. If that happens, just fold it over, back off a couple of settings, and work your way to the terminal thickness. If the sheet gets too long, cut it in half.

    Rolling the pasta sheets.
    Rolling the pasta sheets.
  4. Set aside the thin sheet, sprinkling it with more semolina flour. Repeat until you’ve worked your way through the dough, laying out the sheets on a wooden board or hung over a broomstick.
  5. Choose your pasta size, move the handle to the cutter, and, while cranking, slowly feed through the sheets. After about ¾ of the sheet has made it through, you can let it lie back on the machine, and grab the cut strands as they fall from the rollers.
  6. Lay them onto your floured surface, curling them into a bit of a bird’s nest. (Sprinkle with semolina flour, as you don’t want it to stick.) Repeat.

    Fettuccine nests.
    Fettuccine nests.
  7. Shake off extra semolina, and dd to well salted boiling water. Use a big pot, as the large amount of water will help to keep the pasta from sticking. Wait about a minute, trying the pasta as it cooks. The completion time will depend on thickness and width of the noodle; with experience, you’ll be able to tell just by how the noodles roll over in the pot whether they’re done.
  8. Drain the pasta, reserving a half-cup of the pasta water. Return the pasta to the pot, adding your sauce. Olive oil, salt & pepper, and a copious amount of fresh Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, or Romano or Grana Padano makes for a great sauce. As does brown butter with fresh herbs. Or, try simple sauces below. (Add the pasta water if the pasta seems too dry.

 

The homemade pasta, ready to eat.
The homemade pasta dish, with a simple tomato sauce. See recipe below.

 

Simple Sauces

Olive Oil, Good, fresh Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, grated. Salt & pepper.

  • This one’s kind of easy to figure out. No real instructions needed.

 

Tomato Sauce

Ingredients

  • 1 28 oz can of San Marzano tomatoes. Crushed.
    (Yes, the Italian ones are much better.)
  • 2-4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 small red onion, diced
  • Olive oil
  • Spices, e.g. Oregano, basil, salt & pepper

Instructions

  1. Heat up a saucepan with med high heat (I’m over the “set it to highest setting and go from there” approach. Things tend to burn this way.)
  2. Sauté the diced onion for a few minutes. Toss in the garlic for not much more than a minute. Stir, being careful not to let the garlic burn.
  3. Add the tomatoes, cooking down for 5 – 15 minutes. Add to pasta, with some Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.

This is a master recipe. You can adapt as you see fit. Sauté some ground beef and pork at the first step, and remove. Add it in while simmering (until the meat has cooked through) for a simple Bolognese. Add mushrooms, quartered or sliced; small diced carrots add a nice sweetness. And who doesn’t love bacon? Slice 1/8” wide little slivers from bacon slices, sauté over med-low heat, and toss into the sauce.

Broccoli Rabe and Sausage

What makes this good with fresh pasta is the bitterness in the greens along with the fatty and rich sausages.

Ingredients

  • 3 bunches broccoli rabe, snap off the tough stalks
  • 1½ pounds sweet or spicy Italian sausage, cut into 1” pieces
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 5 garlic cloves, chopped

 

Preparation

  1. Chop broccoli rabe in half. Put into a large pot of boiling, salted water.
  2. Cook until tender, about 4 – 5 minutes. Drain and rinse with cold water to stop cooking. Squeeze out excess water.
  3. Coarsely chop.
  4. Sauté the sausage til almost done over med-high heat (6 – 10 minutes, depending on the size of the sausage.) Add the garlic for the last minute or two, being careful not to burn it.
  5. Add the broccoli rabe, over medium-low heat, making sure all the elements are well mixed and coated with garlic oil, 3 – 4 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve over fresh pasta with fresh Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Chef Julie Gale of Hillsdale’s At The Kitchen Table Cooking School will continue her series of hands-on cooking classes at The Chef’s Shop in Great Barrington with a special session dedicated to the art of homemade pasta this coming Sunday, April 17. Students will be instructed in creating fresh and easy pasta dough and sauces from scratch, and will apply their techniques to making Homemade Ravioli, Fettuccine Carbonara, and Spaghetti Amatriciana.

Wines to accompany

The best dinners are those accompanied by wine. And so we went searching for complementary offerings. We visited two important wine stores in the Berkshires: Spirited Wines in Lenox and Domaney’s Liquors and Fine Wines, in Great Barrington.

Guido’s

Fattoria Selviapiana, Chianti Rufina 2013 Sangiovese

Beautiful Chianti nose. Good acidity with a little bit of corpulence to complement the noodles.

Spirited

Guidobono, Lange 2014 Nebbiolo

At very first glance, this was muted and uninteresting, but as it opened and with the arrival of food (esp. the excellent Pasta Bolognese from Eat on North), it really opened up into something special. A sense of black fruit with a solid structure makes it a compelling drink with fresh noodles. CHECK PRICE

Domaney’s

Joe Domaney, Eddy Domaney’s son, has taken over the wine buying at Domaney’s and he was very excited about this wine: a Chianti Classico Riserva 2011 from Castello di Gabbiano. As Joe put it, to find a Chianti Classico Riserva with a little bit of age at this price — $15.98, is quite the deal. As my wife put it, it’s got a lot going on, and it does. Classic old school Chianti that pairs well with food. Mostly Sangiovese,

My favorite

Another of Domaney’s offerings is the de Forville Barbera d’Alba 2013 Barbera. $17.99 This wine comes from Neal Rosenthal’s portfolio. I love his wines. If you’re ever stuck at a wine store, and can’t figure out what to buy, look on the back label: if you see any bottlings from Rosenthal Wines, buy it. It will be good.

Barbera to me is the perfect pizza and pasta wine. A good wine that goes well with food must have acidity. One doesn’t want an unctuous, jammy, fruity wine with food; you might as well drink soda with your meal. Instead, you want a wine that wakens your palate. Barbera does that. It’s good, but not overly complicated, not drawing your attention away from the main dish. And it’s both refreshing and filling. I just love this wine and highly recommend it. My No. 1 selection. Ask for Joe, tell him I sent you! Enjoy

Spirited Wines

444 Pittsfield Rd, Lenox, MA 01240

spirited-wines.com

(413) 448-2274

 

Domaney’s Liquors and Fine Wines

66 Main St, Great Barrington, MA 01230

domaneys.com

(413) 528-0024

 

The Chef’s Shop

31 Railroad Street

Great Barrington MA 01230

413-528-0135

thechefsshop.com