Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Homemade pasta

I admit to being a carboholic. I would not do well on a strict low-carb diet. Good bread and especially pasta are amongst my comfort foods. Mac & cheese. Carbonara. Almost anything with pappardelle....you get the idea.

Throughout my foodie education, I have learned why some pastas are cheap and some are expensive, comparatively. Your nice dried artisan pastas are exuded through brass dyes, which give the pasta dough its shape, and often its rough, craggy texture. Look at your linguine next time! If it's a good quality one, you'll see
and feel the roughness on what in inexpensive brands would be a smooth surface. The shaped pasta is then left to air dry -- and herein lies the key. All dried pasta really is is durum semolina flour and water. Through in an egg if you're making egg noodles. When pasta air dries, that semolina is left to ferment just a tiny bit, giving your cooked pasta a fuller-bodied flavor. The Italian brand Rustichella d'Abruzzo is a fantastic quality pasta, available in many different shapes, and found in places like CM & WF. Try for yourself!

So having experimented with various brands of dry pasta, I've now been trying to conquer making fresh pasta on my own. Getting there! The typical method is a mound of flour with a well made in the center; break an egg into it, and with a fork, start blending the flour and egg together until you get a dough. When I tried this last night, obviously my well wasn't big enough, as my egg promptly went running overboard, escaping its flour walls. Messy. It was a very stiff, unworkable dough with crunchy flour globs throughout. Yum. Not.

Then I remembered the adorable Jamie Oliver. On one of his shows from his "Jamie at Home" series, he literally made pasta in 3 minutes as the camera rolled the entire time. His trick -- the food processor! Flour, eggs, pinch of salt go in (maybe EVOO too, can't remember), and a nice malleable ball of dough comes out. He kneads it about 3 times, and then starts putting it through his hand-cranked pasta maker. The dough gets thinner and longer, and then he's cutting it by hand into fettucine or pappardelle strips. Into the salted, boiling water, and voila! Dinner.

My versions makes 2 decent servings of handcut noodles.

1 cup "00" flour (double zero flour.... regular AP is okay, but this has less gluten, making it a more tender dough)
1/4 tsp salt
1 egg
1 tsp olive oil

-- Put it all in the blender, and pulse a few times until dough begins to come together. (I used my mini-Cuisinart, and I think the motor is starting to go, so I didn't want to subject it to a big dough ball. Next time, I'd try it in the regular Cuisinart, though the motor on that one has also been a little wonky lately....)
-- Turn out onto countertop, and knead 3 - 5 minutes until dough is smooth and elastic.
-- Form ball, cover in plastic wrap, and let sit at room temp for 20 mintues. (Allows the glutens to rest, so it doesn't get tough.)
-- Get your pasta machine ready.... mine is "technically" for modeling clay, bought at Michael's with their 40% off coupons.... It was about $10. No pasta cutting attachment like for linguine or fettucine, but that's fine by me.
-- Start on the widest setting, and start cranking your dough through; I ususally do 2 - 3 passes on the wider settings.
-- Keep putting the dough through; as it stretches out, and if you are the only one making it, it's probably best to cut your long sheet in half.
-- Once you get it down to the lowest setting (or sometimes the second lowest), you're ready to cut it. I folded it in quarters, and trimmed my scraggily edges, and then into roughly half-inch wide strips. You may want to dust with cornmeal before you fold it, but immediately after cutting, you want to separate the strands so they don't stick.

-- Boil water, and salt it well (salt gives it flavor!). Add pasta -- it will be ready in about 2 minutes. Don't over cook it! Even just real simply, with good olive oil, salt, pepper, and real parmesan cheese -- it's worth the effort!

Next time, I will have to try the Jamie no-knead (relatively speaking), no resting time method and see how that compares. With my fresh pasta, I made a delicious and fairly easy dish with pancetta and fennel, from epicurious.com (click here for link).

Red Chile Sauce

Do you know how hard it is to find a recipe that uses FRESH red chiles to make a red/enchilada sauce??? They pretty much all use dried whole chiles or variations of chile powder. Of the several New Mexico cuisine cookbooks I have and a number of internet searches yielded two recipes for fresh red sauce. So I took the two and improvised....here's my take:

Fresh Red Chile Sauce, makes about 2 cups
6 - 8 good sized fresh red New Mexico chiles, roasted & cooled
2 - 3 Tbls. grapeseed oil (or other neutral oil, like veg)
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. dried oregano
1 cup water or broth
kosher salt to taste

-- Peel, seed & chop the chiles. (To roast, put them on a baking sheet under the broiler for a couple minutes per side, or until skin begins to blacken & blister. Once fully blackened, remove from oven, and place in zippered bag; seal, and let sit for 20ish minutes. When they are cool enough to handle, the skins will slip right off.)
-- Heat oil in a heavy bottomed skillet or saute pan.
-- Add onions & garlic, and cook on medium heat, until onions begin to get translucent.
-- Add in chiles, cumin, oregano & salt; stir well to combine.
-- Add about 1/4 cup water & mix well; remove from heat.
-- Pour everything into a blender, and puree very carefully! (Take out the little donut hole that's in the blender lid, and cover it 75% of the way with a towel; the steam needs a place to escape!)
-- Return puree to pan, and gradually incorporate the remaining water.
-- Check for seasonings.... I think I added a bit more cumin and salt.
-- Let simmer over low heat for a good 20 minutes.

What do you do with your sauce now that you've made it? The easiest is enchiladas. Get some corn tortillas, precooked & shredded chicken, and a bit of cheese. Oven to 350. Spray a casserole pan with non-stick spray. Pour a good spoonful of your sauce on the bottom of the pan (I used an 8 x 8 pan, and 4 tortillas for 2 generous servings.) Place some chicken down the middle of the tortilla, about a tablespoon of the sauce, and a bit of shredded cheddar. Roll up, put seam sides down, and repeat. Pour the remaining sauce all over the top of the tortillas -- try to cover their entire surface area. Sprinkle with more cheese -- here I used feta in lieu of Mexican-style queso blanco. Bake about 15 - 20 minutes or until heated through. Here's what you get: