The soft heft of fresh pasta has haunted me since Italy. Ever since I started making my own pie crusts a few years ago, I've wondered when I would finally break down a particularly stubborn fear set to make my own.
Turns out the when is in the years category. I've helped to feed pasta dough made by pros into pasta machines so I at least had a basic idea of how it should feel but I'd never pulled it together from scratch. Turns out it just took a quiet Sunday night when the Internet had been taken over by Lost fans to coach me away from my computer and toward a low shelf of forgotten cookbooks.
The book I ended up opening was Chez Panisse Pasta Pizza and Calzone by Alice Waters. Surely, if anyone can guide me through scratch cooking at its finest, it's the Madame of the American Slow Food movement. I happened to have a fresh supply of spinach and figured I'd go really nuts with a spinach/parsley pasta given that it didn't change the steps to dramatically.
One thing I'll say right off the top: pasta dough is more resilient than pie dough. It actually prefers a little handling, requiring 10-15 minutes of steady kneading before it rests.
Once the dough has gotten ahold of itself while wrapped tightly at room temperature, it's time to kick it up. Flour your work surface, flour your pin and put your back into it. Even with a sweat on my brow, I knew I couldn't get the pasta as thin as an actual pasta machine could. I'm alright with this.
There will be a time for machines but sometimes you just want to know you can do something with your own two hands. I'm so used to the buttery slip of pie dough that being able to maneuver the pasta was refreshing. Roll, roll, peel, flip. Roll, roll, stretch, peel, flip. It was cathartic.
Soon enough, I made peace. The pasta and I had reached where we could, so I rolled my sheet up tightly and cut the most uniform fettuccine I could muster. They were imperfect, slightly clumsy and were very clearly made by hand. They were beautiful.
I laid them out, exhausted, on a drying rack to rest for another hour. Even when the time came to cook, I had butterflies scooping up my bounty and approaching bubbling, salted water. Ready or not.
Sigh. Rustic and toothsome and perfect right out of the pot (which incidentally only takes about 5 minutes).
The pasta and I worked hard as just the two of us so I didn't take further pairing lightly. I flash toasted a small handful of pine nuts in a dry pan then wilted some additional spinach in my good olive oil.
At this point I stuck my full face in the bowl because it smelled so ridiculous. My good olive oil du jour (or rather, di giorno) was brought back from Alba and it's like it had been waiting months just to touch fresh pasta. Fragrant and spicy with a sliced garlic clove mingling somewhere in the mista. I topped it with the Parmesan I had on hand. Admittedly a cheap trollop as cheese goes but the pasta was graceful and I ate heartily.
adapted from Chez Panisse
6 to 8 ounces of spinach leaves
1/4 cup Italian parsley leaves (hallelujah! we can get this locally now)
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 egg, lightly beaten
Remove the spinach stems if they're obtrusive and pull the leaves of the parsley if you haven't already. Puree in a food processor until you have about 1/3 of a cup of dense, dark green mass. Add the beaten egg, puree. Add salt, puree again.
In a separate, large bowl dump in your flour and make a deep well in the center. Use a rubber spatula to our the spinach puree from the processor bowl into the middle of this well. Now, start mixing the flour and spinach a little at a time, starting at the inside and working in a circular motion to incorporate from the middle out. This will take a minute if you're going to incorporate it evenly.
Once you have one mass in the middle and all flour involved in the green drama, add a couple drops of water. I used water with lemon because that's what I had in my glass. It worked. You want it to have just enough moisture to hold together but as Alice says, only experience will allow anyone to do this by feel. Being as this was my first time, I happened to get lucky and am still in no position to tell you what's what.
Turn it out onto a floured work surface and knead with abandon for 10-15 minutes. flatten and fold and flatten and fold twice....it's tough, it can handle it. Cover and leave for 45 minutes to prevent a skin from forming.
Forty five minutes later ("the magic of television..."), roll out. No, not to the club. Roll out your dough as flat as you can. Once you can get it no flatter, roll it up tightly (ensuring both sides have been freshly floured, as pictured). Cut your pasta to the desired width. Fettuccine is about an 1/4 of an inch.
Lay them out to dry for another hour before cooking. Everyone's working hard, I'm sure you could use a break. Check your email, have some wine. Maybe watch an episode of Firefly.
Now get a large pot of water boiling and do not be shy with salt for the water. Once you have a steady boil, add your noodles and cook for about 5 minutes. Check the texture/taste.
Just slightly salty and al dente?
You're done. Dress as desired.