Stuck inside? Making pasta can help the hours pass by

02/18/2014 5:37 PM

02/18/2014 6:15 PM

Sometimes even the worst situations can be turned into opportunities for deliciousness.

For instance, the recent bout of bitter cold and onslaught of seemingly never ending snow kept many people trapped in the house for a day or more at a time.

The thought of a snow day off from work or school seems like fun at first, but cabin fever can set in rather quickly for some, leading stir crazy people looking for something other than Netflix marathons and Twitter to assuage their winter weariness.

That’s when a good cooking project can be your best friend, especially when you see pre-storm supermarkets looking like scenes from the zombie apocalypse and even the cardboard crust pizza chains aren’t delivering.

So when winter has you stuck inside the house, it’s the perfect time to break out the pasta machine and start making pasta.

Homemade pasta may seem a little intimidating at first, but really it is just as easy as collecting the most basic of staples — flour and eggs — and getting going towards pasta nirvana.

Some additional equipment can significantly help, namely a pasta rolling machine, but making your own pasta can be an easy, fun and creative way to while away any day stuck inside.

The first part in producing fresh pasta is making the dough, which can be done in several ways. The classic Italian old school way is what’s called the “well method.” This involves creating a mound of flour on your work surface and making a hole in the middle where you put your eggs.

With a fork or even a chopstick, start working around the outer edges of the mound in small circles or strokes, slowly incorporating the flour into the eggs. Continue doing this until the dough starts to come together and then you can get your hands dirty forming the rest of the dough and beginning the kneading process.

If you don’t want to do the well method, you can also put your flour into a food processor and pulse to mix the eggs in. If you have a stand mixer, you can also do this with the dough hook, starting slowly and speeding up. Both machine methods work just as well. If your dough appears too dry, this is where you can add a little bit of water to help it come together.

A good tip to pasta making success is to always have bench flour, a bit of extra flour off to the side that you can add if your dough is too wet or sticking, and to help once you’re rolling and cutting your pasta.

Once your dough is formed you want to knead it on a well-floured work surface. Kneading is where you can get a nice upper body workout as well as take out any pent up aggression as you continually fold the dough over itself, turning and pressing down and repeating. This is activating the gluten in the flour helping to give elasticity to the dough.

Once your dough is made and kneaded well, wrap it tightly in cling film and let it rest in the refrigerator for at least an hour. This may seem trivial, but don’t skip this step; it is an important part of the process. Plus this gives you time to set your work surface up for next step in the process, the actual rolling out and cutting of your pasta.

This is the part of pasta making that will seem a little trickier, but fear not, your pasta machine will do most of the work for you. You can use a hand cranked pasta machine or many stand mixers will have separate pasta rolling and cutting attachments you can buy. If you don’t have a pasta rolling machine, you can roll it out with a rolling pin, but it will take longer and considerably more elbow grease.

In a pinch, I’ve made an impromptu pasta course before using only a wine bottle for rolling, but I would advise you to save the MacGuyver-ing for once you’ve really mastered the classic process. Plus, if you’re really into making pasta, I’d say buy a classic hand-cranked pasta machine, as they are inexpensive and last forever.

Divide your dough into manageable pieces — say in quarters, depending on how large a batch you’re making — dust it with flour and run it through the widest setting on your machine. The dial on the side will have numbers, generally one through five or up to seven, which will go thickest to thinnest.

As the dough comes through the rollers, it’s best to guide it through with your hand to support it. Make sure your dough is lightly floured, adding more from your bench flour when necessary, to avoid sticking. Run it through each setting, turning the dial to the next thickness, until you have a long, thin sheet of pasta. Some pasta shapes might be better a little thicker or thinner, so adjust accordingly.

Now you have fresh pasta, ready to cut or shape into whatever you desire. You can use the pasta cutting attachment on the pasta machine or cut by hand. The machine cutters generally have a linguine and fettuccine setting, but for making wider noodles like a pappardelle it is best to carefully cut by hand.

After cutting your pasta, make sure your noodles are dusted with flour to avoid sticking and clumping. Fresh pasta freezes remarkably well, so if you make a big batch, freeze what you don’t use and you’ll have fresh pasta at the ready to make even a weeknight meal into something special.

So the next time you’re stuck inside or just want a delicious project to indulge in, try making your own fresh pasta, it is well worth the work.

Tyler Fox, personal chef/event caterer who emphasizes ‘nose-to-tail’ cooking philosophy as well as vegan and local/farm to table foods. He writes weekly for Chow Town, The Star’s food blog at www.kansascity.com/chowtown.

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