Monday, October 26, 2009

Demystifying Pasta

Spinach and ricotta filling

Until recently, baking bread was one of those mysterious kitchen activities that I simply assumed, without giving it much thought, was beyond the skills of the average amateur. And then I discovered just how easy, and delightful, bread-baking can be. It is now something I do habitually, without looking at a cookbook or recipe, and with the easy, practiced movements of someone who is thoroughly comfortable with her enterprise.

Making pasta from scratch has a similar mystique about it, it seems. But I figured, if I can bake bread -- easily! joyfully! -- then surely I can give pasta a try. And as I read the recipe (in How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, one of my favorite cookbooks), the process seemed more just time-consuming and annoying than actually difficult. As I become a better cook, I think the most important thing I have gained is confidence -- I see no reason to be intimidated by a mere recipe.

Pasta dough

The actual pasta dough is even simpler than my basic bread dough, and even easier to pull together. The toughest part was separating the eggs (I saved the whites and made meringues for dessert -- yum). It needs to be kneaded a bit (unlike my miraculous no-knead bread recipe), but it was easy and rather soothing to do. The dough really did feel amazing in my hands -- springy and lively. Then (just like bread!), the dough needs to rest a while before rolling it out.

Pasta dough, resting (shhh...)

I do not -- yet! -- own a pasta roller. I am so putting one on my Christmas list, though. Rolling the dough by hand was quite time-consuming and challenging. I was glad I had chosen to do ravioli, as oposed to something like linguini -- yikes! -- at least I only had to roll two big sheets. I made a spinach and ricotta filling (heavenly), and used a pizza cutter to cut out my little square raviolis. But then I still had all this filling, and all these weirdly-shaped scraps of pasta... so I made a ton more little "raviolis" of various sizes. I wish I had taken a picture of them all ready to cook -- they were like crazy mutant raviolis.

Assembling ravioli

Once made, the ravioli just needed to be popped in boiling water for a few minutes -- probably about 3-4 minutes. I tossed them with a simple pesto, paired it with some of my homemade bread, and served with freshly-grated Parmagiano-Reggiano. It was sublime. So many, many times better even than the "fresh" pasta you can get in the grocery store. Frankly, better than most pasta I've had in restaurants. So very much worth the time and effort.

Pasta, interrupted

I wonder what other dishes I've put on a pedestal? What other basics have I been outsourcing because I really didn't think I could possibly tackle them? Lesson learned: never underestimate the power of doing something yourself.

1 comment:

  1. It looks delicious. I'm going to give this pasta recipe a try soon...was this close to what you used?

    “Two eggs per one cup of flour. Make well in flour, crack in eggs, and slowly mix with hand. Knead by hand until dough becomes smooth and pliable, adding flour to the board as necessary. Let rest for a little while before rolling it out. I usually figure one egg per person to determine how much to make. Example: Two eggs and one cup of flour would make enough pasta dough for a dinner for two. Got it?”