The first time I made pasta from scratch it was almost a disaster. I say “almost” because in the end it did all come together, but getting to that final stage was not easy. I was living in a 6 bedroom flat in San Francisco at the time (with 6 roommates), and two of my roommates, Caroline and Raelynn, had just started their culinary training at the California Culinary Academy. I had already enrolled at the school, but my start date was a couple of months after theirs. One afternoon they came home super excited to tell me about their entire day of pasta making. I was so jealous that I didn’t get to partake, and I suggested we practice their new-found skill that weekend.
In preparation for that day we went to the store to buy all the ingredients and decided to invest in our very own pasta roller. We were taking the task of pasta making very seriously. It turned out to be a drizzly Sunday, which made for a perfect day to stay inside and cook for hours. The recipe we decided to tackle was a wild mushroom ravioli. Because pasta dough needs time to rest before rolling it out, we thought we should start with that first and then move on to the mushroom filling.
Now you have to picture a typical San Francisco flat. Even though it did have 6 bedrooms, they were all tiny (or conversions from library and parlor rooms), and the kitchen was pretty much non-existent. There was a 4 burner stove/oven, 3 feet of counter space, and no dishwasher. I had just inherited an old cast off wood table of my parents, so that was our “prep” space. I’m pretty sure the table used to live at my grandparents’ house and was at least 30 years old, and probably hadn’t been oiled in the last 5. The three of us gathered around that 48″ round table though, and started building up our large mountains of flour. We cracked the eggs and then dumped them in the center of the mounds. Caroline and Raelynn showed me how to use my fingers to slowly incorporate the flour. This step usually takes 5 minutes or so, and then the flour and eggs transform into a nice tight, round ball of pasta dough. That day however, the flour seemed to be fighting with the eggs. We worked with that pile of flour for at least 10 minutes before deciding to add some water. We started with a couple teaspoons. Then a couple of tablespoons. Then a 1/4 cup. It still wanted more, it was like that plant Audrey from Little Shop of Horrors, screaming “feed me!” At this point we said screw it and popped the bottle of cooking wine early! We were already 45 minutes in still had no dough, so the wine couldn’t hurt.
We thought the best idea was to clean off the table, and start all over again. I am not sure if it was the wine or our determination to eat ravioli for dinner (notice how the eating is more important than the actual cooking), but the second time around we realized what the problem was: the 30-year-old wood table was taking every bit of moisture out of that dough. Lesson learned. Don’t ever make pasta on a wood surface that is not well-oiled. I guess because all the surfaces in a commercial kitchen are stainless steel, we had not considered this sooner. The new batch of dough came together much more quickly; however, our knife skills severely started to dwindle after the wine, so it took the rest of the afternoon to make the ravioli. I think the total meal took 5 hours, and we made 50 ravioli.
I have made pasta many times since that first experience, and I think I have it down to under 45 minutes now. It does help to have two people, especially if using a hand-crank machine (one to hold the machine, while the other rolls it). It also helps to limit yourself to just a glass of wine until the pasta is cooked! The recipe I have posted here uses a combination of semolina flour and all purpose flour. Semolina is a hard durum wheat that is popular in Italy and helps to give the pasta it’s meaty texture. The regular flour has more gluten, and helps to create the elasticity. Although you can make pasta with just one or the other, I like the components that each add, so I use both.
I made fresh pasta this weekend because I saw a recipe for a new pesto I wanted to try. So this post is part 1 of 2. Stay tuned for the pesto recipe.
Basic Semolina Pasta
Makes: 4 cups cooked
1 cup All Purpose Flour
3/4 cup Semolina Flour
Pinch of Salt + more for cooking water
1 TBSP Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- Sift together the All Purpose Flour, the Semolina Flour, and the salt. Place the sifted flour onto a plastic cutting board, or a clean counter top, or a well-oiled cutting board. It is important not to use a wood cutting board that is dry because the wood will take all the moisture out of the dough (as mentioned in my story above).
- Create a well in the middle of the flour and place the eggs and olive oil into the well. Using your fingers or a fork, begin to mix the eggs and oil and slowly start to incorporate the flour mixture into the liquid. Once all the flour is mixed into the eggs and oil, you can use your hands to start forming the dough into a ball. If the dough seems dry, wet your hands to add in a little more moisture. Knead the dough ball for about 10 minutes. The dough will be very stiff, but should look smooth and shiny.
- Place the dough ball into a bowl that is lightly oiled. Cover with plastic wrap or a cloth, and let rest for 20 minutes. You want to let the gluten relax so the pasta is easier to roll out and not too elastic.
- Next, roll out the pasta. For this step I recommend a hand crank pasta roller or one that attaches to the Kitchen Aid Mixer. Cut the dough ball into 4 pieces. Using one piece at time (leave the other pieces covered until ready to use), flatten the dough into a rectangle and roll though the pasta machine until you reach a desired thickness (for pasta I like taking it to a “6”). Cut the pasta into the shape you want, and then toss with a little semolina until you are ready to cook. Continue this step with the rest of the dough.
- Bring 5 qts of well salted water to a simmer and cook pasta for about 2-3 minutes. Drain and then toss with sauce.