Dialing 911 for pasta

An emergency text from a friend:

Hi! We got a pasta making attachment for the KitchenAid mixer. Some recipes say all purpose flour and some say 00 flour. I thought we should ask an expert.

That’s how my holiday season started, and it seemed to be a theme that carried through to the end when a successful restauranteur suggested he might need my input on fresh pasta for his menu. Seriously folks, he’s no amateur around Italian food. This is a guy who has won pizza contests in Parma, Italia.

So if you’re wondering, here was my advice to my friend:

I never use all purpose flour.

All purpose flour isn’t really that great for all purpose. The problem with all purpose flour and pasta for me is that all purpose flour noodles tend to absorb a lot of water. They become sticky and just settle in your belly like you’ve eaten a ton.

Maybe you have.

An uncle who was a chemist for a big company was once contracted to develop a special flour for pasta. He would send bags of the “experiments” to my mom; she would test them out (I guess on us) and then she would give him her review. The one common characteristic of these flours is that they were all very finely milled.

So that’s what I texted back to my friend. I never use all purpose flour, but any flour that’s 00 works well. Sometimes you can find a semolina blend which might be a little more difficult to work with, but it’s a little tastier and maybe a little grittier.

The flour I currently use is in effect imported, imported from Little Italy in San Diego.

There’s a Little Italy in San Diego. One of my brothers discovered the perfect Italian grocery selling fresh pasta there. I’m not sure how he does this, but his radar for these spots works better than Google. I’m not into flavored pasta so much, but Assenti has it. And it’s good, probably because it’s all fresh.

Saffron flavored fettucine, squid ink flavored spaghetti, spinach pappardelle, the list goes on. It’s too easy to buy-like chocolates from Leonidas-I’ll have one of those and then one of those and yes, one of those too.

So all I have to do is eat the pasta when I am at his place.

When I am back in LA, I have to make it. But Assenti’s also sells the pasta flour. Whole durum semolina-finely milled. It makes the best pasta I have ever made.

Her next text:

How long do I let it dry?

I don’t.

She remembered coming to my home years ago in school and seeing pasta hanging all over the place. I used to do that for my dinner parties-make the pasta in advance so it would be easier to cook.

But I know better now. The best procedure is to start the water boiling when you begin to cut the noodles. Honestly, no matter which apparatus you use to cut noodles-machine or by hand-it takes about 20 to 30 minutes. By the time you are finished cutting the noodles, your water is boiling, and you are ready to drop them in.

The table has to be set, cheese is out, and everyone has to be ready to be seated once the noodles are dropped in.

The time to cook them varies. Usually, it takes a lot less time to cook fresh noodles. Maybe 2 to 4 minutes once the water starts boiling. I don’t use a scientific method. I just taste them. I kind of like my noodles more hard than soft. But if they go too long then they get a little sticky.

Once they’re out they get a quick turn in a few generous spoonfuls of olive oil. And then to the table.

My friend’s final text was a photograph of a perfect dish of fettuccine. And the scientists that they are, they already decided what they would change next time.

My recipe

I stick with a basic recipe. It could be that I made it up, just so that I could remember it, but here it is: 1 egg, 1 cup of flour, 1 tablespoon of olive oil, 1 tablespoon of water, and enough salt to fit in the crease of the palm of your hand. Just multiply everything by the same number if you want a bigger batch. I usually make 3 cups of flour.

Water really gets added as needed which depends on which part of the world you live in. In Bergen, where it rained constantly, I needed less of it.

Once it’s mixed, I knead the dough for 6 minutes, let it rest for 30 minutes under saran wrap in a bowl, and then cut the noodles.

My preferred noodles are tonarelli which are long noodles cut on the chitarra. This year we had bought some US grown truffles so we flipped the chitarra over to make even narrower noodles to complement the delicate taste of the truffle.

You can put anything you want on such noodles. Or nothing at all. Olive oil with freshly ground parmigiano tastes pretty good coupled with a glass of good wine.

We did our usual family thing while everyone was in town. My mom made her sauce with meatballs and her home-grown chocolate tomatoes. Yes, whoever wants to know how often you can eat pasta, I say every day when I have my mom’s sauce and meatballs.

About 30 days into her holiday in SoCal, it was down to me and my mom.

My mom loves homemade pasta. She used to make a pile of it once a week for us when we were kids. She stopped that, but when she comes west to visit us, it’s one of the things she looks forward to.

And who can refuse a mother’s request? I made pasta just for her. We picked up free range heirloom eggs from the store (although we usually get them from the farmers’ market where I learned that different types of chickens are responsible for the different colored eggs), and then there I was making the pasta from start to finish myself.

For sure I have done it alone many times before, but when you do it with others there is at least one part of the process you get really good at. My hand made pasta dough is preferred over others. That’s a start, and with the flour from Assenti’s, I think my noodles are the best.

But the other thing I do which contradicts what the books tell you is that I don’t mess around with the dough a lot. My noodles end up coming out in different sizes because I don’t make perfect rectangular sheets to go into the machine, but they don’t get processed too much. For me, the noodles have a better taste and texture. My uncle the chemist once told me it was better not to knead dough so much. But if you watch them making noodles in Italia, they will put it through the machine until they look perfect.

the killer zucchini concoction

On her last night, we had a brilliant pasta collaboration. She makes this killer zucchini concoction on the grill-zucchini, tomatoes, garlic, olive oil, parmigiano, and salt and pepper. Wrap it up in aluminum foil. Grill. The concoction smells wonderful when you open the foil, and a blast of hot garlic-y steam rises out. The best part though is the olive oil and juices which have settled on the bottom once the zucchini cooks. It’s a perfect topping for pasta.

I struggled a bit making the noodles on my own the last night. They were a little wetter than usual. Sometimes I get anxious kneading the dough and add too much water. The funny thing about the experiments you think are going to be a bust, are sometimes the best. These were some of the best tasting noodles I ever made.

So that’s it.

Easy steps to making homemade Italian egg noodles everyone will love.

And don’t forget, a little glass of Monte Carbonare (a suavia) helps.

PS I’d love to hear about your favorite pasta topping…

©Janice Marie Nigro/janikiInk.com

Looking for a scientific editor or writer? Contact Janice Nigro at Janice Nigro Ink. I have published in Cell, Science, and Nature, and articles I have edited have appeared in Cancer Research, PLoSONE, the Journal of Surgical Oncology, and Oncotarget.


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