My dough hands love making fresh pasta. The project this week is fresh herbed pasta at Cook-the-Book-Fridays, the online group whose members are making our way through the recipes in David Lebovitz’s My Paris Kitchen. This recipe uses semolina, a high-protein wheat flour, and all-purpose in roughly equal portions. I made one third of the recipe, one egg and one egg yolk to 160 grams of semolina and all-purpose flour. Herbs, why not? Mixed chopped fresh herbs, which are in abundance in my garden, give the pasta a herbaceous and fragrant note. Rosemary, oregano, sage and lemon thyme seem to play well together with the fresh pasta, amplifying the sunny earthy flavors I’m all too happy to put on the table.
I enjoy making fresh pasta at home. That gives me the freedom and imagination to experiment with a variety of flours (milled rye berries) or to make some unusual flavored (squid ink) pasta not found elsewhere. The dough-making process, including kneading the dough and rolling it through a pasta machine until it has the desired thickness, is getting easier over time.
The pasta machine is indispensable. I remember the first time I made fresh pasta. I must have passed the dough through setting number 0 at least half a dozen times until the dough was supple and coherent enough to go on to the next setting. The machine is forgiving, working the dough to the right consistency as long as you give it time and patience. Making the dough is really not that complicated when you start with a sound guideline.
The guideline I follow: one large egg (50 grams) to roughly 100 grams of flour, seems to be a good starting point. The rest is by feel. I add water if the dough seems dry. Add some flour when the dough feels sticky to the fingers. It’s an adaptive process based on the kind of flour, temperature and humidity in the kitchen. What I don’t do is adding salt to the dough. Two reasons: salt inhibits gluten development and salt is added to the water when the pasta is cooked.
I used to think fresh pasta is superior until I read this in Marcella Hazan’s Ingredienti. “On a book tour, the food editor remarked, hoping to demonstrate her devotion to the best in Italian cuisine, ‘I only ever use fresh pasta.’ Hazan replied: ‘You don’t know what you are missing.'”
Marcella Hazan makes this point clearly in her book. Fresh pasta is not superior to boxed pasta. They are merely different. It’s starting to make a lot of sense to me. There are two broad categories of pasta: fresh hand-kneaded flat pasta made with flour and eggs and the factory-made extruded pasta through dies of different shapes made from flour and water. Due to their textural substance and shapes, they absorb sauces differently. When matched with the most appropriate sauces, the flavors of store-bought boxed pasta are fully as remarkable and satisfying as those of the homemade varieties. Large tubes like rigatoni have the ideal shape for holding meat sauce and for enduring baking in an oven.
Of course, not all boxed pastas are created equally. The supermarket I go to are stocked piles high with many mediocre brands. Look for dry pasta with the roughest-looking finish (slowly extruded through brass dies vs. pasta with a smooth finish extruded less expensively through Teflon-coated dies to speed up production) which allows the sauce to be absorbed more easily.
I tossed thoroughly the freshly made herbed spaghettini and fettuccine in a mixture of ricotta and lemon zest. I liked the fettuccini better than the spaghettini for no other reason other than it was a better match with the sauce. There was more surface texture in the fettuccini to enjoy fully the flavor of herbed pasta with the creamy ricotta. Then I realized I didn’t make enough fresh pasta to soak up all that sauce.
Fresh Herbed Pasta with Lemon and RicottaPrint Recipe
- 6 ounces fresh herbed fettuccini
- 3/8 cup fresh whole-milk ricotta
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- dash of freshly ground black pepper
- 1 lemon
- Kosher salt
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta in the sustained boiling water and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes, or until it is tender but firm to the bite. Drain the pasta, reserving about 1/2 cup of the pasta water.
In a large bowl, mix the ricotta, oil and pepper. Grate the zest of half a lemon over the ricotta. Season with salt.
Add the pasta to the ricotta mixture and toss throughly to coat, adding the reserved water to moisten as needed.
Divide the pasta among the serving plates. Finely grate the zest of the remaining lemon over the pasta and serve immediately.