Wednesday, January 13, 2010

On Apple Dumplings, Fresh Pasta, and Confidence.

I do not, to my knowledge, have a drop of Italian blood in me. My dark hair and love of Italian food, however, would have you thinking otherwise. While in Tuscany last fall I ate plate after plate of delicious pasta, and even had the chance to assist my friend Michele, a chef, while he taught a small group of Americans how to make pasta fresca. The fresh stuff is good, so very
good, and when I returned to Canada I added MAKE FRESH PASTA to my list of January to-do's. I am a big fan of lists, by the way.

I had everything I needed to get started: a free afternoon, some confidence from my cooking lesson, eggs, flour, semolina, salt, and a second-hand pasta machine gifted to me several years ago by a friend's mom. There was one rather important thing missing, however - the pasta machine's handle, without which it has no purpose.

If you've ever wondered what brings together a daughter who loves cooking and a father who loves power tools, the answer is a crank-less pasta machine. My dad took one look at it and exclaimed “I've got just the thing!” and came back holding his DeWalt XRP 18 volt cordless power-drill. With the drill-bit inserted into the hole and turned on, the pasta rollers sprang to life, not only capable of rolling out sheets of pasta but now with a variety of rolling speeds. What a guy.

I first made a semolina dough, which nearly broke my wrists while kneading; I had added too much flour in this dry climate of northern B.C. and worried it would be too tough to roll out. Confidence dashed and doubt creeping in, I began to recall my numerous culinary adventures which had ended poorly. Take for instance the time I was eight, and after watching The Apple Dumpling Gang attempted to make dumplings. The result was a solid disc of dough, simultaneously tough and gooey. It wasn't inedible, because I stubbornly ate it on the way to dance class so as not to admit total defeat; the point is, though, that such disappointments stay with a person, resurfacing years later when they are getting their butt-kicked by semolina dough and make it hard to stay positive.

I let this first batch rest on the counter and decided to make some backup dough to ease my fears about the first one not working. This time I used a basic egg and flour recipe which proved far friendlier to knead. I set this on the counter next to the mounds of semolina and realized I now had about enough dough to feed ten families. If that's not Italian, then tell me what is.

A half hour later I called in The Dad and The Drill to help me roll; after a few practise runs we perfected our system, and an hour later we had two big cookie sheets full of thin, flour-dusted noodles. In the case of Semolina Dough vs Lindsay, I'm happy to report that I won. It wasn't as easy to work with as the second batch, but it rolled out just fine thanks to the drill.

On the advice of my chef-friend Michele, we let the covered noodles dry out for 24 hours before cooking them up and tossing them with fresh pesto the next evening. My confidence soared when I realized that just as it had been in Italy, this fresh pasta was very very good. The noodles were thinner than store-bought pasta and yet held more bite, each one glowing with olive oil and wrapped up happily in the bed of my spoon.

I have compiled the three main things I learned from this kitchen adventure into – you guessed it – a list!

1. To not let small or monumental failures keep me from cooking (I have many more stories on this topic to share, just ask).

2. That I am continually amazed at how gloriously delicious eggs, flour, and salt can be when mixed up and rolled out. And finally,

3. That power tools do have a place in the kitchen. Get yourself a DeWalt.

Fresh Egg Pasta (from the Williams-Sonoma Pasta book, bowl method)

2 1/2 c. unbleached flour, plus extra for dusting
4 large eggs (preferably free-range)
2 tsp. extra-virgin olive oil

Put 2 cups of the flour into a large bowl and make a well in the center. Crack eggs into a separate container, ensuring no shell fragments fall in. Add the 2 tsp of oil to the eggs, and carefully pour the eggs and oil into the flour well. Working gently with a fork, beat the eggs and olive oil in the well, slowly incorporating the flour a bit at a time into the mix. Continue stirring with the fork, letting the flour be incorporated evenly from all sides, until all the flour has been moistened and you can no longer stir the dough with a fork.

Turn the dough out onto a floured counter surface and use your hands to knead it into a smooth dough. To knead: with the heel of your hand, push the ball of dough away from you. Lift it from the far side with your fingers and fold it back to you. Rotate the dough a quarter turn and repeat. After kneading the dough should be soft, smooth and moist but not sticky; if it is sticky, add remaining flour one tablespoon at a time until no longer sticky. Add as a little extra flour as possible or the dough will become tough. Cover the dough and leave it to rest for 30-45 minutes at room temperature. This allows the gluten in the flour to relax and makes it much easier to roll out.

Roll out as thinly as possible, preferably with a pasta machine, and dusting with flour frequently. Cut the sheets of pasta into noodles with a knife or the pasta machine, and dust lightly with flour before laying out and covering with a tea towel. Let sit covered for 24 hours, preferably, but they can be eaten now also.

To cook, boil a pot of salted water with 1 tablespoon of olive oil added. When boiling, add noodles, stir, and turn down element slightly. Cook only 1-3 minutes; after 1 minute, remove a noodle and test to see if it is done. When al dente, drain and toss immediately with sauce, reserving some of the cooking water to add to the mix if it needs some extra moisture for tossing. Makes about 1 lb of noodles.

Buon Appetito!


  1. ugh the joys of a pasta machine WITH A DRILL!!! such a luxury. i don't have one (sometimes i have trouble spending money on really useful things... totally useless things though, no problem), so i ususally borrow ellisa's for family dinners. but if i don't have one handy, i use thea lizette's trick for phyllo dough. make sure the dough is well floured, wrap around a dowel, and roll outward from the centre, then flick the dowel down and unravel the dough. do it about 5 times and it will be the perfect thickness. though this is best if you're making a stuffed pasta... that way you don't have to cut EVERYTHING into tiny strips.

  2. Thank you Jill and thank you Thea Lizette! This woman just keeps on giving.