Adventures in Pasta Making

This weekend, I was fortunate enough to attend a cooking class on pasta making at the Kitchen Window

I've been making homemade pasta for over a decade now, but I've never been taught how to do it by a trained chef, and I always felt like I wasn't doing it quite right. I always thought the texture was just a little off. This cooking class was my way to learn the tips and tricks of making pasta!

About 25 people attended the class, and we were separated into four workstations and eight groups. First we learned how to make a really good marinara sauce. I always add sautéed onions and garlic to my marinara sauce, but this sauce was much simpler than that. It just consisted of a can of whole peeled tomatoes that was balanced with vinegar, sugar, and salt, and finally seasoned with fresh basil. That's it. The chef had us tasting the sauce before and after the addition of each ingredient so we could really taste how the ingredient affected the sauce. Ultimately, great marinara sauce isn't the result of a perfect recipe; it is the result of adjusting the ingredients appropriately for that particular can of tomatoes. 

I also learned about a new kind of vinegar! Tomato vinegar! When added to canned tomatoes, it is like polishing an old silver spoon. The spoon is beautiful, just like the tomato sauce is tasty, but when the spoon is polished, it really is remarkable. Similarly, when tomato vinegar is added to canned tomatoes, it makes it remarkable. 

Once the sauce was done, we made some pasta dough using all purpose flour, salt, water, and eggs. In recent years, I've shied away from making pasta dough with eggs. I didn't really see the point of adding eggs to something that could easily not have eggs. I was wrong. Eggs contribute significantly to the texture of the pasta. After reading more about preserving eggs without refrigeration, I'm now less queasy about leaving raw eggs out on my counter for a few hours. A few days would be a different story. However, I'm not giving up on a great vegan homemade pasta recipe. I'm now thinking about how awesome it would be to make flax pasta! 

Pasta dough can be made either by hand or in the food processor. It takes less than 10 minutes to make pasta dough using either method. I prefer making it by hand because I dislike washing my food processor, but the chef indicated that using the food processor makes it a little easier to determine if enough water has been added to the dough. 

Once the dough has been made, it needs to rest. Why, you might ask? The flour needs time to absorb the moisture. If the flour hasn't fully absorbed the moisture, the texture will be off. An hour is ideal, but 20 minutes will suffice.

Rolling out the pasta dough is my favorite part! I love to see a lump of dough transform into beautiful noodles. A pasta maker is really handy to use here, but I've also made pasta using just a rolling pin and a knife. This method makes rustic looking noodles, but still delicious. I prefer to use my Kitchenaid pasta maker attachment for my stand mixer. 

The chef had made pasta dough for us to use for the rolling out part since our dough was still in the resting stage. I love that he did this because I got to play with dough that had the right texture. When I got home and rolled out my dough, I was able to tell if my dough needed more flour or more liquid. 

The key tip I learned from this class was to dust the dough with flour as soon as it starts to get tacky. I had been afraid to add more flour at this point because I thought it would adversely affect the texture. I was wrong again. As the pasta dough is rolled out, it releases moisture, so it needs additional flour to maintain the proper texture. A light coating, not a full dousing, is perfect.

This light coating of flour made all the difference when cutting my pasta. I've had the dreaded pasta blob emerge from my pasta maker in place of neatly cut fettucini. It wasn't pretty. Keeping the dough lightly dusted in flour caused my fettucini to look perfect. Once the pasta was cut into fettucini, I tossed it in a couple tablespoons of flour so all the individual strands were lightly coated. This prevented the pasta from sticking together. Genius. 

Once the pasta is finished, you can let it sit and dry out for a while before cooking it as this will also contribute to the proper texture. I didn't want to cook all my pasta, so I separated the cut pasta into 2 ounce servings and froze them. Now, I have fresh pasta that I can use for a fast weeknight meal.

Cooking fresh pasta only takes a couple of minutes in salted boiling water. Then, we quickly doused our pasta in our sauce and swooned with happiness. 

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