Life’s too short to eat bad pasta
Sunday is usually pasta day here, and since our first vacation in Italy, that means making it fresh and serving it with a sauce made from a few simple, good quality ingredients.
I encourage you to give this a try. There is nothing tricky about it and the difference between fresh and store-bought dried pasta is well worth the effort.
I have read through many, many recipes and auditioned at least ten before deciding what works for us. “Making Artisan Pasta: How to Make a World of Handmade Noodles, Stuffed Pasta, Dumplings, and More” by Aliza Green is one of my favorite books on the subject. It encompasses all kinds of pasta, not just what we think of as the Italian types, and is awfully pretty to look at as well.
Because we are trying hard to work more whole grains into our diet, rather than all semolina, I am now using half semolina and half white whole wheat flours. The semolina gives the pasta a lovely, toothy al dente that, IMO, regular white flour cannot, no matter how briefly you cook it. The white whole wheat is a whole grain (semolina is not), but lighter textured than regular whole wheat, which makes a too heavily textured noodle for my taste.
- Mix 3/4 cups each semolina and white whole wheat flours
- Mound it right on the counter and make a depression in the center. Make a volcano.
- Crack two eggs and drop them right in the depression. Add no more than a tablespoon of olive oil.
- Have about a half cup of water handy.
Start mixing things with your fingers, adding enough water as you go to make a very stiff dough. You want it wet enough to hold together, but not much more.
If you are accustomed to making bread, forget everything you know about texture; this will be far more dense.
Knead for ten minutes. Don’t skimp on the time here. It is very important to work the dough thoroughly.
Form it into a flattened ball and wrap in plastic wrap. Let it sit for an hour or two.
When you come back to it, you will find that the dough has loosened up by about 25% and is much more pliable than when you left it.
Now the fun begins.
Work the dough through a pasta machine according to instructions.
I run each section through on the thickest setting about four times, folding in half each time, before starting to thin it out. It seems to hold together better.
We prefer a thicker pasta, so I stop at number 3 or 4 of the 6-1 settings on my pasta machine.
Depending on the shape and length I make, I either use a drying rack or toss the pasta on a baking sheet with some cornmeal or masa to keep it from sticking. The cornmeal will fall away to the bottom of the pot when you cook it.
Today I feel like a narrower pasta since we’ll be having it with a light lemon/artichoke sauce with shrimp.
- 2 cloves of garlic, minced
- 1 lemon
- I can artichoke hearts in brine, drained and chopped
- 3 tablespoons sun dried tomatoes ( I used dried-in-a-bag ones, so reconstituted in a little boiling water)
- a couple tablespoons of good quality olive oil
- 1 T butter
- 12 large shrimp, or more, if you like (I use cooked, frozen shrimp and thaw before using)
Saute the garlic in a tablespoon of olive oil, add the artichokes and tomatoes, squeeze in a tablespoon of lemon juice, add the butter, and let things warm up over a low heat.
This is where I enlist the help of my partner in food.
Things happen very quickly from here on in, so it helps to have an extra pair of hands. Preferably, hands attached to a body that will obey barked orders quickly and efficiently.
He is great at cooking the pasta to the perfect degree of tenderness, so He dumps the pasta into a large pot of rapidly boiling water that has been seasoned with a copious amount of salt. No salt in the pasta dough, so here is where it gets a little flavor.
Meanwhile, I put the thawed shrimp in the pan with the sauce and turn up the heat to medium. Since they are pre-cooked, I don’t want them lingering in there too long getting tough. If you use raw, you have a couple minutes for cooking time.
As soon as the pasta starts to float, He taste tests a strand, declares it ready and drains it well, saving a cup of the starchy hot water.
He dumps the pasta into the sauce pan, where I mix it all together, add some of the reserved pasta water and grate some pepper, then zest a bit of lemon over top. Add a little more olive oil if you need it to coat all the pasta.
Plate it up and shave some slivers of good Parmesan on top. This should render about four servings, depending on your idea of a portion size of pasta. There is enough sauce to coat the pasta, but not enough to puddle on a plate. No puddles on the plate. This is really about the pasta; the sauce is almost a garnish. This should serve four.
Sit down and enjoy with a nice glass of Sauvignon Blanc and finish things off with a second course of this simple salad:
- 1 heart of Romaine chopped
- 1 tablespoon freshly grated Parmesan.
- Whisk together 2 T of your best olive oil with 1T white balsamic vinegar, 1t lemon juice and a sprinkle of sea salt,
- Dress the greens, top with a few croutons and that’s it. Simple and delicious.