by Ben Miller
One of my holiday gifts this year was a pasta maker. I used it once to help make lasagna noodles, but with a free Saturday I decided to be ambitious and make fresh pasta two ways: basic, which is just flour and eggs, and spinach (the cookbook I was working from told me other options have no gastronomic value, and that squid ink pasta “is deplorable” so I kept it simple).
I was incredibly pleased with how these turned out. The pasta tasted great and had a wonderful texture. We served it with a very basic tomato-butter sauce that Ezra made. Of course there are multiple ratios of eggs to flour and amount of time resting, so feel free to share your own pasta recipes in the comments. (I’m also going to try and make either ravioli or tortellini in a few weeks so share thoughts on those as well.)
I do have to warn you though, the whole process takes several hours from start to finish.
Fresh Spinach Pasta
From the Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan
(I doubled the recipe but as long as you keep track of the ratios you should be ok with whatever amount you use. Past is a lot of work so why not make more?)
The spinach and basic pasta are the same in terms of preparation for the dough. There is a difference in the amount of flour to eggs you use, so I will provide the basic pasta ratio at the bottom, but use the same preparation directions for both.
Ingredients (produces about 1 pound of pasta):
- 1 pound fresh spinach
- 1.5 cups unbleached flour (I used all purpose, though I just bought some of the tipo “00” which I hope to use next time)
- 2 large eggs
Prepare the spinach:
- Wash the spinach in several batches of cold water.
- Shake off the excess water and then place the spinach in a pan. Add 1 tablespoon salt, cover the pan and turn the heat to medium. Cook the spinach until it is tender, about 5 minutes or so (could be less).
- Drain the spinach and let it cool until you can handle it. Squeeze out the excess water than chop it very finely
Prepare the Dough
You’re going to need a fairly large work surface here. I cleaned off my kitchen table, cleaned it and then used that area.
- Place the flour in a pile on your work surface. Shape it into a large mound and then make a well in the middle. You’re better off making it wider rather than tall so that it can hold the eggs without spilling over.
- Crack the eggs one at a time into the well. After each egg goes in, take a fork and then whisk it for about a minute. You can work in a little bit of the flour from the edge here to get it to stay together better. (At this stage you can work in the spinach if you are using it).
- Once you’ve done that with all the eggs, start using your hands to combine the flour and eggs. This may take a little while to get it to all incorporate, but don’t worry it will.
- Once it starts becoming a bit more of a coherent dough you want to start kneading it. This is one of the most crucial steps. Proper kneading gives your dough the stretchiness that you will need later on for it to be effective. The best way to knead is to use the bottom of your palm outstretched and push it forward against the dough. The picture below shows it, though I apologize that it’s a bit blurry
- After you push forward on the dough, fold it in half and rotate it 90 degrees. Keep doing that same process for almost 10 minutes until the dough becomes very smooth. Err on the side of too much kneading. You really want it broken down and as smooth as possible.
- Once the dough is ready, wrap it in plastic and let it sit for 30 minutes. (There are multiple schools of thought here, Hazan doesn’t call for any resting, some call for 2 hours. I picked a middle ground.)
Rolling out the pasta
- Attach your pasta maker to the table. You’re going to need a lot of space. Take your dough out of the plastic and divide it into a number of pieces that is three times the number of eggs you used (i.e. 6 for this recipe). The number of pieces actually doesn’t matter, just use your judgment and remember the dough is going to get very long.
- Take one of the pieces you are using and then cover the rest in a clean dish towel. Set the pasta maker on its widest setting. Flatten the dough as much as you can with your palm and feed it through the machine a few times. (Hazan recommends feeding it through, folding it in thirds and feeding it through again 3 times.)
- After it has gone through the thickest setting a few times, set the machine one setting thinner and then feed it through twice. Keep doing this until you reach the thinnest setting of the machine. (If you want you can just put each piece of dough through on the same setting then making it narrower and going again. Just make sure you keep everything covered.)
- Once you’ve thinned out all of your pieces of pasta, you want to give them about 10 minutes or so to dry. If you’ve been thinning all the pieces at once, you likely won’t have to wait that long.
Cutting the pasta
After all the work rolling it out, I decided to cut the pasta the easy way by using the attachment on machine. Feed the strips through one at a time to get pasta that is uniformly cut. Once you’re done, place on the backs of chairs covered with paper towels to dry a little longer.
Cooking the pasta
There are two important things to remember when preparing the pasta: use lots of water and salt it heavily. This really imparts additional flavor to the pasta.
- Fill a large stockpot most of the way up with water and add lots of salt. Stir the water a bit so that it mixes in. Turn the heat on high and get the pasta up so that it is very rapidly boiling. This is important so that when you add the pasta it will return to a boil quickly.
- Once the water is boiling add the pasta and cook uncovered for about 2 minutes. Taste the pasta to make sure it is ready.
- Drain immediately and serve.
For the basic pasta, follow the same directions (don’t add the spinach obviously) but use the following ratio of flour and eggs to get about 3/4 of a pound of pasta.
- 1 cup unbleached flour
- 2 large eggs
UPDATE: I should have mentioned that Ezra helped knead together the spinach pasta before getting absorbed by a movie on tv (he also did make the sauce for it, which I mentioned). To make up for it, here’s a contemplative action for those of you who need a quick Klein fix: