Sunday, January 22, 2012

No Packer Game, I Pasta Time Away Differently

I just completed an all-day, from-scratch Sunday of cooking. Inspired by my recently purchased The Mozza Cookbook, I decided to make a fettuccine and Mozza's house tomato sauce. What an undertaking!

First, the easy part—well, sometimes it's the easy part—making the dough ball. I've included a picture of how I do it. Many pasta dough recipes will say to mound your flour on a flat table then make a "well" in the mound in which you add your eggs and oil. I tried this method first, but I wound up messing it up. The problem is if you lose the well, the liquid contents will spill and it's difficult to reincorporate the spilled liquid. This happened on my first attempt and I failed miserably trying to blend the ingredients Using a large bowl makes so much more sense. It's easy to make the well in the bowl hand whisk the eggs gradually into the dough without worrying about a spill. Attempt number two worked perfectly and I was able to perfectly combine the ingredients (1 cup all-purpose flour, 1 cup semolina flour, 3 eggs, and a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil).

Once the mixture thickens to the point that it can no longer be whisked with a fork, it's time to get your hands dirty! Start kneading the sticky ball into itselfpicking up the dry dough remaining in the bowl. When you've got all the dough incorporated that you can get, the workout begins: for about 10 minutes, knead the dough ball with your hands. It becomes  firmer as it's kneaded. When complete, wrap the ball tightly in plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator for at least an hour.

The sauce ingredients are pretty standard: canned whole tomatoes, garlic, onions, thyme and olive oil, but the one surprising ingredient is a grated carrot! Some say the carrot is key. It's used in Milwaukee chef Michael Feker's Il Mito tomato sauce too. Just before adding the tomatoes, the sauté looks like the picture to the right. Once the tomatoes are tossed in, the sauce is simmered for about a half an hour. (I went longer as I wanted a thicker sauce and the light simmer boiled off some of the excess water.)

While the sauce simmers, the time is perfect to remove the resting dough from the fridge and start preparing the fettuccine. I don't make my own pasta enough to get good at it and this step can make me crazy. Usually I start out nice and calm, but 20 minutes in I'll be cursing my stupid idea to make my own pasta.  Fortunately, today's episode went perfectly, albeit, it was very time consuming. The key, I figured, was to work with smaller pieces of dough, and that seemed to work. It helped, too, that the dough was perfect and it didn't stick to the rollers—frequently my greatest source of aggravation.

Also important is liberal use of dry semolina flour to coat the finished noodles in to prevent them from sticking to each other. Some folks will hang the noodles strips to keep them from tangling with each other. I don't mind the tangling—they're going to get that way in the pot anyway, but I don't want them sticking to each other so I'll often grab the noodle pile and gently massage the noodles with flour as they drop back to the table.

Sauce well-simmered, I then tossed it into our blender. The recipe I was using calls for using a food mill. That's the one kitchen appliance we don't own. I am not sure how different the outcome would have been as the blender seemed to work well. I tried not to overdo it and kept the blend rather coarse.

One thing about fresh pasta: it cooks in a blink! Just a quick dip in salted, boiling water (about 3 minutes) is all it takes to get perfect al dente pasta. Follow with a quick drain through a colander and toss in the sauce pan to coat. Plate and serve with a couple with a couple of crusty chunks of buttered bread and you've got yourself a meal! I also topped the pasta with some Bel Gioso shredded Parmesan. It was good without the parm, but with it, it was the extra dimension that made this a perfect dish.

It took a good chunk of my day to make this meal—about 5 hours, but when I finally got to sit down and watch some football with a delicious bowl of this rustic homemade goodness, it was all worth it!

Bon Appétit friends and readers!

P.S. If for some inexplicable reason you wish to see more pictures of me making a homemade pasta meal, click here.

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