The Christmas pasta

by Janice Nigro

Families get together over the holidays. Exchanging gifts and watching movies. And eating. And well… eating.

Growing up I would say Christmas food for me was a lot about the cookies. My grandmother made the best cookies on the planet. She always had cookies in a cookie box, a rectangular Tupperware number, that was kept in her freezer. I couldn’t wait to see what was in the cookie box when we went to visit.

She made cookies year-round, with real butter, which made them soft, but at Christmas, special cookies were in the box. In there, were hastily decorated anise cookies with homemade frosting among others that were only available once a year. It was a sort of sport event with so many cousins – you had to grab your favorites before they became someone else’s.

But we don’t bake cookies for Christmas in my family. At this point, my family is heavy on adults and lite on children so cookies and sweets are not necessarily the center of our Christmas festivities.

But eating is.

And so it begins when my mother arrives in LA from Chicago.

One thing we are sure to have, even though it’s winter and California, is my mom’s home grown tomatoes made into sauce. She collects the tomatoes over the summer before from her garden in Chicago and freezes them specifically to make sauce at Christmas when most of us will be together. She packs up her cartons of frozen tomatoes along with her clothes in two large suitcases to be checked (she has quite a few frequent flyer miles) and then unloads everything once she arrives in LA.

That means there will be Christmas pasta.

The recipe for Christmas pasta is really no different than the rest of the year: 1 cup of flour, 1 egg, 1 tablespoon of oil, 1 tablespoon of water or more as needed, and some salt. One thing that is different about the Christmas pasta is that it isn’t just the recipe for just 1 cup of flour; it’s usually multiples of the recipe.

That sauce and the meatballs that go in it is more than a little special (there have been threats about stealing meatballs in my family), but what really makes the Christmas pasta special is who is there to make it. My mom no longer participates in this part of the process, but her role is to be there to see that it gets done. It’s just me, my brother, and whoever else is around.

This year it was my two nephews. One is 16 and the other 27. They still were both more than happy to participate. And they were both happy to eat the pasta. They made beautiful tonarelli using the chitarra.

Making tonarelli is not so difficult, but you need someone to make the dough – that’s me. You need someone to roll out the dough – that’s my brother. And you need someone to cut the noodles. While it can all be done by a single person, the more around, the easier the pasta making goes. With four of us, the pasta making went spectacularly.

But eventually my nephews left, and we were down to two again.

A clever Christmas gift to my brother made it too easy for us to continue making pasta, large amounts of it. The gift was an attachment that goes onto a KitchenAid mix master. The KitchenAid we use was handed down to me by my mother, but it is conveniently located at my brother’s home (for baking his birthday cake). That KitchenAid has been going for several decades.

Once the pasta dough is made, the KitchenAid plus the extruder does the rest of the work.

I didn’t have a clue how this pasta extruder was really going to perform. And whether it might ultimately lead to the death of the KitchenAid. I am always skeptical of those perfect images on the box top of such appliances, but on the other hand I was pretty sure that restaurants serving homemade noodles were not making rigatoni by hand.

The extruder is a slightly sophisticated version of what we all did with Play-Doh, only you need electricity. Basically a corkscrew shaped awl pushes the dough down through the dyes cut with the different shapes. The speed of the corkscrew shaped awl is guided by the motor in the KitchenAid, which as you know, goes faster or slower depending on what you are mixing in the mixer. With the extruder, the mixer looks a little funny rotating around and around without the usual attachment for making batter, but the activity is still safe for everyone and requires very little space.

The biggest threat is a potential blow-out of the mixer.

Speeds for the motor vary for the different shapes. Some noodle types you can make faster than others. Bucatini go the fastest (15 minutes for 3 cups of flour) while fusilli are the slowest (~ 30 minutes for 3 cups of flour). We were in awe of our new machine, although the fusilli were not consistently kinking, and so mesmerized by it, we nearly forgot what we had to do: add in more dough and cut the noodles.

I call it our pasta extruder, but I have to remind myself that it was a gift to my brother from his girlfriend. Still I did express my gratitude to her for it. The decades old KitchenAid had come with an extruder, but the original was lost in our beloved USPS over the summer. My brother’s girlfriend was listening. It was the perfect gift.

There is just something about homemade pasta. Not only does  everyone love to eat it, but more importantly everyone loves to make it. Many unwittingly contribute, like the olive oil and parmigiano that was a gift from my friend from her hometown in Italy.

I talked about making pasta so much this year everywhere I went, that I think I committed to bringing the pasta over to someone else’s home for dinner. It’s not the first time; I schlepped my flour and hand cranking pasta machine to many homes in Norway to do just this.

With an extruder and the KitchenAid, I suppose it would be unbelievably easy to make pasta wherever I am asked to go. Single-handedly. I keep thinking, it’s possibly a new business idea – in home pasta making service -, but really it works best with all the members of my family there.

We are each capable of making all necessary parts of the pasta independently, but together it’s a masterpiece…


What does your family make special for Christmas?

©Janice Marie Nigro/


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