Friday, March 16, 2012

Pasta making


Today's guest post is brought to you by Christopher Johnson. Thank you, Chris!

You sit down for a "pasta" dinner. From a box it pours. 8oz of extruded noddles dropped into boiling water. 7.5 minutes later you drain it, add some powdered "cheese", butter and milk. Mac & Cheese, the food of college students and other poor kids for years. Still a comfort food for me.

But that's not what this post is about. This is about too much time and too much effort to make something that makes B. (Allyson's 'sis') go "Yummy!" for leftovers eating for lunch the next day.

20+ years ago I decided I wanted to make home made pasta. To that end I bought an "Atlas 150" pasta maker. I remember it as having multiple attachments but today, 2 divorces and 8 houses later we found that pasta maker. Only the base machine and one set of cutters remain. The handle and clamp went missing at some point as well. I find that a standard C clamp will work and an adjustable wrench driving a screwdriver works for the crank/handle. 2 minutes on the net and I have the instructions for the machine.

So I mix up a batch of dough. I follow the instructions and end up with something not quite right. I feed that through the machine, hang the pasta out to dry, and find that everybody loves it. Success breeds success and positive feed back leads me to make more and more.

A few days later, I made my second batch of home made raviolis. From scratch.

So the starting point is the pasta dough.

3+ cups of white flour
1/4 cup of olive oil (optional)
4-5 eggs

In general it is 1 egg per 3/4 cups of flour.

Put the flour in a high sided mixing bowl. Make a well in the center of the flour and add 3 eggs and the oil. I'm not really sure how much difference the oil makes, but I like the results so I'm not changing anything right now.

What's this well thingie for? Well if you add a powder to a liquid the powder often gets coated and you end up with "powder bubbles". Also, if you wet the sides of the bowl the flour will stick to the sides before you have a dough. By making the well you keep the liquids from the sides and bottom of the bowl. As you start mixing you add flour at exactly the right rate with the liquid moving from liquid to batter to starting to turn into a dough. It is at this point you add the rest of your eggs.

Photo by Allyson Szabo
Continue mixing, pulling more flour from the sides of the well until all the flour is mixed into the dough. The dough should be starting to turn stiff. Scrape your fork clean and put it aside. Using your hands start a simple kneading in the bowl.

Kneading is the process of working the gluten in a flour into long strings. When the dough is at this stage you'll be using just your finger tips to fold the dough over, rotate and press down. The goal at this point is to get almost all of the flour worked into the dough. When this starts to be difficult it is time to turn out the dough.

The counter you use should be at a height such that the heels of your palms are touching the counter top when you are standing straight and your hands are one on top of the other. You'll be using most of your upper body to knead so a comfortable height is important. If the counter is too high then get yourself a stool.

After you turn out the dough use the fork to scrape as much from the bowl as possible. It doesn't matter if the stuff coming out of the bowl is yucky looking. dry flakes or even crunchy flakes. It will all turn into wonderful dough.

Now you are kneading in earnest. Fold the dough in half, far edge towards you. Turn the dough 90 degrees counter clockwise. (If you turn it clockwise then you'll have to use the left handed pasta makers which are much harder to find). Put the heal of your hand at the forward edge of the dough and PRESS down and away. You want to flatten and stretch the dough. Fold, turn and repeat.

As you turn the dough ball pull those little bits of dough in under the ball. This will work that flour into the dough ball. If you find that the dough is tacky then just work in a bit more flour. You put the flour on the counter top and pull a little bit into the ball with each turn of the dough ball.

You NEED to knead the dough for at least 6 minutes.

Take the dough ball and put it into a plastic bag and put it into the fridge to rest.

If you are kneading and the dough is not fighting back you haven't been kneading it long enough. This should be work.

Now the resting is to allow the gluten to relax. This makes the next step much easier and better.

Ok. Now that the pasta dough is busy relaxing it is time to make some filling. I use a recipe I got from AllRecipies.com. Of course I don't actually use the recipe they have but something close.

4 oz cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup mozzarella cheese.
1/2 cup of shredded Parmesan cheese
8oz of ricotta cheese
1 Egg

Use a fork to break up the cream cheese. Add the egg and ricotta cheese. Mix until there are no lumps of cream cheese. Mix in the mozzarella and Parmesan cheese.

Mix well until the entire thing seems smooth.

At this point cover the bowl and put in the fridge to cool. The cream cheese will firm up the entire mixture.

Pretty soon you are going to be ready to make your ravioli. There are lots of ways of forming them. The cheapest and oldest method is to use a pasta cutter. This is a semi dull wheel that has ridges in it. You roll out your pasta as flat as required, put little balls of filling on center, cover with a second sheet of pasta, then use the roller to cut the pieces apart. Find something on google if you really want to do it this way.

I use this. It costs about $20.00 and is left over from long ago.

At this point the pasta has rested long enough. Take it out of the fridge. Cut the ball into equal size pieces, one for each egg you used.

Photo by Glen MacLarty
Put all but one piece back in the bag. Flatten the remaining piece with your fingers. Feed it through the pasta maker at setting "1" (the largest) This should make a sheet about 10 inches long and 4-6 inches wide (150mm is the max size). Fold the sheet in half and feed through again. This will spread the dough out and continues the kneading process. This time fold in thirds and feed through short side first. The goal is to make the sides nice and straight. Two more passes folding in half each time and you'll have a piece of dough 10in by a little less than 6in.

Now set the pasta maker to "5". Some people think you have to go from 1 to 5 via 2,3,and 4. You don't and shouldn't. It just makes it easier to tear your dough.

You should end up with a sheet of dough around 36in long which is great.

Take your ravioli form and spray it with some non-stick (Pam). Take a cookie sheet and put a light coat of non-stick on it as well. Now gently put the pasta sheet over the ravioli form (the piece with the holes in it.) Make sure that the pasta sheet is wide enough to totally cover the form. Next use the depression maker (the plastic piece) to make small depressions in the dough on top of the pasta form.

Take your filling from the fridge and start putting 1/2 teaspoon or so of filling in each depression. Don't over fill or the ravioli will "pop" when you close it up. If you under fill it all it means is that it won't have as much yummy in it.

Photo by Cyclone Bill
Now comes one of the fun parts: take your finger, dip it in water and gently paint along each edge. That's the 3 long and 13 short lines. Take the dough and fold it over so that it completely covers the form. Take your rolling pin and press down at the ends and in between each pair of raviolis. The idea is to keep the filling from being squeezed out if you overfilled. Once this is down gently roll out along the top. You want to press down hard enough that you cut the dough with the raised ridges of the form.

At this point you should be able to peel the unused dough from the form. If you have a piece long enough to cover the form save it. The scraps get balled up and put back in the bag for re-use.

Flip the form over and gently press each ravioli out. You should now have a dozen beautiful hand made raviolis. Place them on the cookie sheet(s).

Repeat until you run out of filling or pasta.

After they have been drying on the sheets for a while, flip them over so both sides dry evenly.

I make a double batch of filling for the 5 egg pasta dough and ended up with 72 raviolis with filling left over but not enough dough for another 12. 6 eggs worth would have just about done it.

To cook, bring a lightly salted water to a boil. Add raviolis, about 7-10 per person. Cook for 7-9 minutes.

Drain and serve under a sauce. We've used a white cheese sauce and a tomato sauce both were wonderful.