Friday, January 4, 2013

Homemade Pasta

As one of my New Year's resolutions, I decided to see if I was the kind of person who could make her own whole wheat pasta.

If you're staring at that last sentence in stunned amazement, you should know that whole wheat pasta--yes, the kind you get in the box--is just whole wheat flour, egg, and water (with a little salt).  It's made into a dough, rolled out, shaped, and dried.

Of course, Ronzoni and Barilla may be adding other things (like preservatives), but really, that's the gist of any pasta.  Regular (non-whole wheat) pasta is just regular flour.  Spinach pasta has spinach added to the dough.

So I decided to start by just making a small batch, to see how it all went.  I poured a cup of whole wheat pastry flour into a mound (you can use regular whole wheat flour as well, but I read that the texture of the pastry flour is a bit better for pasta).


You beat the egg, then add it to a well you create in the center of the mound.  I was going to take a picture of that, but my well was too small and the egg ran down over the mound, so I had to hurry and get it under control, which meant I was in no condition to take a picture (what with my floury-and-eggy little hands and all).

Then, you knead it into a dough.  This takes anywhere from 10-20 minutes.  You want a dough that holds together and is elastic without being sticky, so you should add water in a little at a time, to get the consistency that you want.  When you've done that, this is what you end up with.

You should then wrap it in plastic wrap, or put it in a freezer bag, and put it in the fridge to "rest" for a half-hour or so.

You need to let whole-grain doughs "rest" longer than non-whole-grain doughs, because the grain takes a bit longer to absorb the liquids.  Taking the time to let it rest will also give it more flavor and make it easier to roll.

The trick with rolling your own pasta (instead of using a machine) is getting the dough thin enough.  Ideally, it needs to be "translucent" or about as thick as a sheet of paper.  This is difficult to do with a rolling pin, needless to say.

But, if you're dead-set on doing it by hand (which I was), you need to start with a rolling pin and a lot of counter space.  You slowly and steadily roll it thinner and thinner.  Like this:


And this:

And this:

 
Periodically, I would pause and let it "rest" a minute or two.  I find that the dough is a bit easier to work if you do that.  Also, you kind of need a little bit of a "rest" yourself.  Keeps you from getting discouraged.

If it doesn't look like it's getting thinner, trust me, it is.  It was still not really thin enough to make pasta shapes, but if I wanted, at this point, I could cut it into strips and hang it to dry on a pasta drying rack, and I'd have whole-wheat fettucine.

I wanted to try my hand at making shapes, though, so I bought myself a garganelli board for Christmas.  Garganelli is just like penne, only the seam is on the outside.  My attitude is, if I serve homemade pasta and someone objects to the placement of the seam, I don't want that person in my life.  So I was happily willing to make garganelli.  (Homemade penne is always technically "garganelli.")

The beauty of the garganelli board is, in addition to making the ridges on the pasta, it also enables you to roll each small square very thin--much thinner than you can get with a rolling pin.  With the striper and paddle, you can get the dough rolled to paper-thin or "translucent" consistency.  Here's the small square--I cut them to somewhat larger than postage-stamp size.



Initially, the temptation is to make them small, but it's easier to work with slightly larger squares, I think, particularly for your first time out.  You roll the square paper-thin, like this:



So that it ends up looking something like this:

At this point, you're ready to make the pasta shape itself.  If you want it to look penne-like, you start at the triangle-point at the longest part of your square.

If you don't want pointed pasta ends, you could simply start at one of the sides, and get a rigatoni-shape.

I like penne, so I wanted something penne-like.

You take the stripper and, you guessed it, roll the pasta shape across the board so that it creates ridges.


 
You press down slightly to create a seam, then slide it off the roller onto a cookie sheet, like so:


 
You want to put down a little bit of flour and/or a piece of parchment paper, so that the pasta doesn't stick to the sheet (As you can see, I used both, to be safe).  A helpful hint: if you roll the pasta close to the end of the roller, it slides off more easily.

I'm not gonna lie: when I first started, I had a brief moment in which I thought, "Ye gods and little fishes, this is going to take ALL DAY."  But it didn't.  It took me an hour to create this:


I'm reasonably certain that next time, it won't take even half as long.  You get the hang of it pretty quickly.  One site I checked out said that the stripper makes rather large rolls, and I have to agree.  Next time, I'm going to follow their advice and use a chopstick to shape it, so that the size is even more penne-like.

You now need to let the pasta dry, if you plan to store it.  Fresh pasta, when dried, can be stored in the freezer for up to 3 months.  I love my storage freezer more than life itself, so this was music to my ears.

If you're going to dry the pasta, though, you need to be a bit patient.  If it isn't sufficiently dried and you put it in the fridge or freezer, it will get moldy.  To dry it, you need to let the air circulate around it.  So you could leave it on the cookie sheet and just turn your pieces (making sure they don't stick to one another), or you can put it on a rack, like this:


If this seems like a lot of work for not all that much pasta, remember: I made a small recipe, about half the typical amount.  Most recipes call for at least two cups of flour and two eggs, in which case, you'll end up with twice as much as you see here--about a pound, in the end.

Success!  A satisfying and fun morning-project, to start off the New Year.  Tomorrow is the first Classics Club Read-a-thon, so I'll be hittin' the books once again for the weekend.

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