I fear I may have gone off the deep end here. I blame the Eat Local Challenge, of course. In this perpetual quest to outdo myself, I have taken this opportunity to perfect homemade pizza crusts, to acquaint myself with an ice cream maker, and now, in my grandest leap yet, to spend an afternoon learning how to make fresh pasta.
That's right. I made my own pasta. Well, to be sure, I used some gadgets to make this happen; even though it is beginning to sound as if I would survive as a frontier gal, all of my newfound tricks involve electricity and machinery. That's a bit embarassing, actually. If the world were to come close to ending, and packaged foods were no longer available, but raw materials could still be found (along with the aforementioned electrical juice), I would most certainly survive.
That statement just doesn't have quite the same cache as if I were able to personally thresh my own wheat, milk my own cows, and do some proper kneading, now does it?
But let's focus on what's important: I MADE MY OWN PASTA today. I'm really quite proud, and I hope you don't mind if I preen a bit. It's just that my biggest fear in this month-long Eat Local Challenge was that I would die from lack of pasta. I am a carb-loader, you see, and a vegetarian. If you take away my pasta, I lose half my options for entrees. So it was that I spent a couple weeks researching pasta rollers and comparing prices and generally pulling out my hair while I tried to make a decision on whether I wanted to not only spring for one of these puppies, but whether I would ever actually get my money's worth out of it. Most of my kitchen gadgets came from yard sales (as did the $2 bread machine and the $5 ice cream maker), so I feel a little less than no guilt when those items collect the occasional smattering of dust. No one I know has ever actually run across pasta making implements at the thrift store though, so I was on my own with this one.
I did finally make a decision to purchase a pasta roller and cutter, and felt as if the hand of God had intervened when I discovered the exact model I wanted on Ebay for a whopping $50 cheaper than at any store in town. So I gritted my teeth, shook down my Paypal account, and then lay around in abject horror when the bloody thing took nearly two weeks to arrive.
I was starving by then, and almost too weak from carbohydrate-deficiency to read the directions.
Well, that, and I hate/loathe/abominate reading instruction manuals. I feared I would wither away without a fettucine fix though, and today was the perfect day for experimenting in the kitchen. The Carnivore was home all afternoon, Little Miss Piggy took a long, leisurely nap, and The Boy Wonder was happy to push his stepladder over to the counter and help mama make noodles.
The process was a bit nerve-wracking this first time around, especially because the manual seemed to have been written for members of Mensa, but when it was all said and done I was thrilled by the process. Thrilled and empowered, because as with most things that we all just assume are too complicated to tackle, there is such a confidence boost when you just jump in feet first and realize that nearly nothing is as difficult as it initially appeared.
All pasta-making really boils down to, with the proper equipment, is this: put flour, eggs, water, and salt in a mixer with a dough hook, allow to knead for a few minutes; remove dough from mixer and hand-knead for another couple minutes; divide dough into a few pieces and feed through a pasta roller a few times at progressively tighter settings until thin and pliable; then either cut by hand or feed through a pasta cutter.
It's that easy. Fresh pasta is cooked in boiling, salted water just as with dried pasta, but takes even less time to cook. I made a light wheat recipe and found it to be al dente within about three minutes. Then The Boy Wonder and I debated on whether we should just eat the noodles plain straight out of the colander because they were so flavorful on their own, we weren't even sure they needed a sauce. And we were snacking on the just-drained noodles at an alarming pace. They were just so darn good.
I flipped through some recipes and settled on a simple Mark Bittman recipe that we had tried sometime in late-summer when we were drowning in squash. This one looked perfect for the situation, and was light enough to allow the pasta itself to be the star of the show. The original recipe used zucchini, but I used my last pound of yellow summer squash instead and subbed in a hard, salty cheese from Sweet Grass Dairy (in the interest of staying local) for the Parmesan. Served with a salad of local greens, carrots, radishes, snow peas, onions and crumbled feta; and bruschetta from a fresh baguette picked up this morning at the farmer's market, we enjoyed a vibrant seasonal, local meal that was almost shocking in it's variety this late in the year.
PASTA WITH SQUASH AND HERBS (adapted from Bitten, serves 6 or so)
- 3 Tbs olive oil
- 1 lb. small summer squash, washed, trimmed, and cut into very thin slices (about 1/8-inch thick)
- Black pepper
- 2 eggs
- 1 cup (divided) grated Parmesan, Pecorino-Romano, or other hard, salty cheese
- 1 lb spaghetti, linguine or fettucine
- 1/2 cup roughly chopped fresh herbs, such as mint, parsley or basil (or a combination of the three)
- Heat oil in large skillet over medium-high heat.
- Add squash to the skillet and cook, stirring occasionally, until very tender and lightly browned (about 10 to 15 minutes).
- Season squash with salt and a lot of pepper.
- In a separate bowl, beat the eggs and 1/2 cup of the cheese together.
- Cook pasta in salted, boiling water until al dente.
- When pasta is done, drain it, return it to the pot and immediately combine it with the egg and cheese mixture, tossing until egg is cooked.
- Add squash to pasta, and toss again.
- Taste for salt and pepper, and adjust if needed.
- Toss in the herbs and serve immediately, passing extra cheese at the table.