Thursday, May 05, 2005

Completely Homemade

I get a real kick out of making a meal completely from scratch. If I could grow the grain, mill the flour, lay the eggs, and dowse the water, I might even do that too. But instead I settle for buying all the ingredients at my local market. It still counts in my book.

The first day I arrived in New York was my friend's birthday. To celebrate, we had a fabulous dinner at Moto, on the outskirts of the hipster haven of Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Williamsburg is 1 part cool, 16 parts attitude. In Williamsburg, legwarmers are in. It makes me want to pull the cord and let the water splash all over their fashionable garb, a la Flashdance. Instead, I wore my coolest Adidas track top and most expensive jeans and tried my best to blend in. I think that makes me a poser. Whatever. But Moto is mostly safe from the hipness, and resides in its own little bubble of cool. It was like Paris or San Francisco before the .com era. Quaint, charming, and cozy. Our meal was good, the desserts better, and the conversation was the highlight. At the end of our meal, my friend received a pasta maker from her sweet friends T and A for her birthday. Her voice goes very high when she's excited or honored by a gift, and at this point, we would have required translation from a dog to understand what she was saying. Needless to say, she was thrilled. And we immediately made plans to make homemade pasta during my stay.

Homemade pasta is one of those things that seems hard, but is really very easy. The most basic recipe requires eggs and flour. That's it. And a pasta maker. You can either hire a cute little Italian lady from the old world, or buy a metal contraption from Williams Sonoma. They run about $50 for the metal kind. The grandmother version is priceless.

So on Saturday afternoon, we set about making ourselves some pasta. I hadn't made pasta since I was a kid cooking with my mom. But I've watched a lot of cooking shows, so I figured it would be easy. All you do is make a pile of "00" flour (about two cups of the finest milled semolina flour), push the pile down in the middle to make a moat for the liquid, and pour two eggs, beaten, into the center. Using a circular motion, you swirl the eggs taking in a little bit of flour each time until you've incorporated enough flour to make a sticky paste. Continue combining flour until you have a dough, and begin to knead the dough. Knead it with the heel of your hand, pushing down and forward on the dough, folding it in half, and kneading it again. The dough is ready when it is firm to the touch and not sticky. Then you feed it through the pasta maker, starting with the widest setting, graduating to the thinnest setting. The final pass goes through the pasta cutter, and then you've got pasta. When the noodles come out the machine, coat them in flour. Don't be shy with the flour, it won't hurt the dough, in fact it will keep the noodles separated until cooking.

Things to keep in mind:
  • When feeding the dough through the machine, it's easiest if you cut the dough into batches instead of feeding the whole lump through at once.
  • Don't worry if you don't use all the flour. Add only as much as the eggs will take. Trust your instincts. If you feel like you don't have instincts, trust the dough.
  • Don't be afraid to make a mess.
  • Don't worry if the dough looks weird or lumpy on its first pass through the pasta machine. That's normal. At least for me. And it will smooth out as it is passed through again and again.
Our resulting pasta is below.

You could leave the pasta in a pile like this and let it dry to be cooked later, but we were dining that night, so we didn't need to do that. I prepared a sauce of fresh peas, mint, lemon, and butter. It was delicious, if I do say so myself. We also roasted some tomatoes to go along with the dish.


Note our gourmet floor picnic tablecloth. The New York Times is quite handy.

Please make fresh pasta at least once in your life. It is incredibly satisfying. That said, you can make this sauce for dried pasta, or store bought fresh pasta, which is very good too.

Sauce of Fresh Peas, Mint, and Lemon:

2 lbs fresh English peas, shelled
1 or 2 handfuls of mint, chopped gently
1 lemon, zested and juiced, reserve both
5 Tb butter
1 Tb olive oil
Grated parmesan

Boil water in a saucepan big enough to hold all the peas. Blanche the peas, cooking them in the boiling water until they float to the top. Drain them, and shock them in ice water. Drain them again and set aside.

Bring a large pot of salted water to boil, wait until the sauce is almost done to add the pasta.

Put oil and 3 Tb of butter in a large pan. You'll want a big one because you'll be putting the cooked pasta in when the sauce is done. When the butter is melted, add the peas and saute them until they are warm. Add the mint, to taste. Add 1 tsp of lemon zest, or more, to taste, and 2 tsp of lemon juice. (Start the pasta, see below.) Finish with 2 Tb of butter. When it's melted, the sauce is ready to add the cooked pasta.

Add the pasta to the pot of boiling salted water, cook for only a few minutes, tasting often, until the pasta is al dente. Drain. Add the cooked pasta to the sauce, stir to combine. Serve. Sprinkle parmesan cheese over the finished dish. Enjoy. Our batch of fresh pasta and sauce served three. It was very light, but the portions were plenty generous.

Roasted Tomatoes:

1 tub fresh cherry tomatoes (My test to see if they're good is to smell them through the plastic tub. If they smell like tomatoes, they'll probably taste like them.)
Salt and Pepper, to taste

Cut the tomatoes in half, lengthwise, and arrange them on a baking pan in one layer. Sprinkle salt and ground pepper over the tomatoes. Roast in a 250 degree oven until they release their lovely fragrance. About 20-25 minutes. Wait before tasting, or you will have one sorry burned tongue.

You can roast some garlic cloves alongside the tomatoes and spread it on toasted sourdough or a bread of your choice to accompany the pasta. Yum.


Blogger James said...


Hey Julie, I finally managed to migrate over to your blog. Very cool stuff.

How about Veronica Mars this week huh?

- James

5/06/2005 8:49 AM  

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