Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Rollin', Rollin', Rollin', Get That Pasta Rollin'...

When I was growing up, my parents had a pasta maker that was, on occasion, hauled out.  I was entranced by all its shiny, silvery parts, and I knew that when it made its rare appearance on our kitchen counter, chances were good that the end result was going to be fettucine.  Which, in hindsight, probably helps explain my ardor for a truly delicious fettucine alfredo.
I've wanted a pasta attachment for Watson, my Kitchenaid mixer, for quite some time.  Actually, I want a shiny, silvery pasta maker of my own, but our kitchen is too small and crowded already, so we certainly don't have need for yet another gadget or gizmo, no matter how pretty and shiny it is (have I mentioned it was shiny?).  But we don't have a pasta maker or a pasta attachment.
That hasn't quelled my desire to try my hand at making my own pasta.
On Sunday, I got a wild hair and needed to make that pasta.  I had, the night before, made an homage version of my favorite childhood pizza, the Gay 90's Special from Dirty Dave's Pizza Parlor in Olympia, Washington (my hometown).  The combination of pepperoni, crumbled sausage, onions, and cashews is something I must have whenever I go back home; it's not negotiable, and usually it's our first stop when we roll into town.

My version was made with soprassata, since I couldn't find any pepperoni, crumbled Italian sausage (which, fortunately, was weak on the fennel), and of course the onions and cashews.  It was good, but I"m still working on the recipe before I can call it "perfected."
Anyway, this post isn't about the pizza.  The only reason I mention it is that I had a bunch of leftover sausage and soprassata (you try easily finding amounts of each that are appropriate for one homemade pizza; I dare you).  Since I'm trying my darndest to toss out as little food as possible, Sunday, as I baked my biscuits, sausage gravy (made with breakfast sausage, not the leftover Italian sausage), and multigrain bread, I was on a hunt to find a recipe that could use both.
At first, I thought I might head out and get some wonton wrappers and make ravioli.
But then, you know, lasagne.
I could make a bolognese with the leftover meats, which would actually be easy; the majority of the time spent making a bolognese is dedicated to the "simmer, stirring occasionally" part of the recipe, so I could do other things.


I opted for the whole wheat version that is given in my Food and Wine Pasta cookbook (one of the three cookbooks my dad got me as I went off to college).  I got out the flours and the extra large eggs for which I made a special trip to the grocery store, took a deep breath, and got to work.
I sifted out the flour.
I made a well.
I cracked the eggs.
I poured the eggs into the well.
I mixed the flour in.
I kneaded.
I kneaded.
And I kneaded some more.
And all the while, my internal dialogue was going "Oh, s***, this dough is SO tough, how is it ever going to be pasta?  I'm going to have to go buy a box of pasta. Oh, s***!"
Bear in mind that I was kneading for 10, terrifying minutes.
As time went by, the dough became more workable, more elastic, and I began to breath a little easier.  I let it sit as I frantically ran to the store after realizing we were out of Parmesan.
When I got back, I threw a bed sheet over the kitchen table, floured it, and got to rolling.
I rolled and rolled and stretched and rolled and rolled and stretched.
I basically got an upper body workout between the kneading and the rolling, which is another benefit of this process.  Rest day, schmest day.
When the pasta was thin enough, I cut it into large-ish rectangles and triangle-like shapes and set them aside until it was time to boil, drain, assemble, and bake.

All rolled out and ready to boil
Y'all.  Make. Your. Own. Pasta.

Maybe not every time you want it (it probably won't be worth it on a Wednesday night when all you want is buttered noodles), but seriously, get out your rolling pin and just do it.
First of all, yes, it's time consuming, but it's actually easy.  Why was I so terrified?  It took two ingredients (OK, technically three since I used two types of flour) and an arm workout, and it was so, so... SO worth it.
Second, it tasted great.  I knew that everything would be OK when I boiled the noodles (for three whole minutes), and they smelled like...noodles.  I started getting confident when I drained and dried them and got set to make....this:

Layers of bechamel, bolognese, and Parmesan between those noodles
Of course, the true test was to actually taste the finished product.
The Husband went back for thirds.  THIRDS!!!!!!!  He sometimes gets seconds of whatever we're having, but it is a rare occasion that he goes back a third time, and I would be lying if I said I wasn't excited.  Basically, this is how I see that meal now:

But really, who wouldn't want thirds of this lasagne, loaded down with a garlic-infused bechamel instead of the standard ricotta and a bolognese instead of just "red sauce and meat."  Oh, and homemade noodles.  A bit thicker than they might have been if I'd been able to roll them through a pasta maker, they had a great chewiness and overall mouthfeel to them that was the best reward for making them instead of calling it in and buying a box.
This was the perfect lasagne.
And it made leftovers.

Lasagne con Ragu alla Bolognese
(adapted from Food and Wine)

For the bolognese:
  • 3 slices bacon or 3 oz pancetta, chopped*
  • 2 Tbsp butter
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 carrot, chopped (I like to use 2)
  • 1 rib celery, chopped (optional; I prefer to leave it out)
  • 1/2 pound spicy Italian sausage (not in casings)
  • 1/2 pound other ground meat (I prefer chorizo or lamb for good flavor)**
  • 1 1/2 cup pinot grigio (or other dry white wine)
  • 2 cups vegetable stock (you can also use chicken stock if you've got it, but I think that the vegetable stock gives the end product a better flavor)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3 Tbsp tomato paste
  • 1/4 tsp grated nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup 2% or whole milk

For the noodles:

  • 1 cup whole wheat flour (if using a pasta maker/attachment, at 2 Tbsp to this amount)
  • 3/4 all-purpose flour or whole wheat pastry flour
  • 3 extra large eggs

For the bechamel:

  • 6 Tbsp salted butter
  • 6 Tbsp all purpose flour
  • 2 cloves crushed garlic
  • 4 cups (1 quart) milk
  • 1/8 tsp grated nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper

For assembly:

  • 1 cup (or more) grated Parmesan cheese
*If you freeze your bacon/pancetta/soprassata for about ten minutes before chopping with a very sharp chef's knife, it will be a much easier process.
**I used leftover soprassata, and I used whatever I had leftover, which was not equal to 1/2pound.  However, I think that would probably be overpowering, flavor-wise.

In a large saucepan or Dutch oven, cook the bacon/pancetta over medium-high heat until it starts to crisp.  Remove and discard all but 2 Tbsp of the fat.
Add the butter and olive oil to the pan over moderately low heat.  Once the butter has melted, add the onion, garlic, carrot, and celery (if using) and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are soft.  Add the pancetta back in along with the sausage and our ground meat of choice (even if you are subbing in something like the soprassata that I used).  Cook, breaking up the meat, until browned.  Add the wine; increase heat to moderately high and simmer until nearly all the liquid has evaporated.  Stir in the stock and salt; lower heat to barely simmering and cook, stirring occasionally, until almost all the liquid has evaporated (this will take a few hours if done correctly; use that "free time" to prep the pasta, etc., as well as to grab a snack and perhaps a glass of the wine you used in the cooking).  Stir in the tomato paste, milk, nutmeg, and pepper, and simmer for another 15 minutes.  Alternately, you can cover the pot and turn the heat to low to keep it on the stove until you need it.

In a large bowl, sift the flours together and make a large well in the center.  Whisk the eggs together and pour into the well.  With a fork or your clean hands, gradually work the flour into the eggs.  Once you have the semblance of a single mass, turn the dough onto a floured surface and knead the dough, sprinkling with more all-purpose flour if it gets sticky, until it forms a smooth, elastic ball (this takes about 10 minutes).  Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and set aside for 10-15 minutes to allow the gluten to relax (this makes it easier to roll out; if you're using a pasta machine, you can skip this step and roll it immediately).
Turn the dough out onto a large floured surface (I covered my kitchen table with a clean bed sheet and floured that, since I didn't have a surface that was truly large enough for my needs - then I just tossed the sheet into the wash).  You can cut it into pieces to work a smaller piece at a time, if you want.
Roll the dough with a long, narrow rolling pin in a smooth, back and forth motion, giving the dough a quarter turn after every couple of rolls.
Now, ideally, you'll also stretch the dough every so often, starting when it's 1/4-inch thick.  You do this by wrapping the top quarter of the dough over the rolling pin, holding it securely with one hand.  Then, with your other hand, hold the bottom of the dough in place while you stretch it away from you.  Give the dough a quarter turn and repeat 7 times.  I was terrified of this and didn't stretch my dough as much as I should have.
Repeat the process of rolling and stretching twice more, until your dough is about 1/16-inch thick.  The litmus test is that you should be able to see your hand through the dough (I was still scared I'd rip the dough, so mine wasn't quite as thin).  
Cut the dough into large rectangles (I made a few triangles and random quadrilaterals around the edges).  Put them on a baking sheet dusted with flour until ready to boil.

In a large saucepan, melt the butter, with the crushed garlic, over moderate heat.  Add the flour and cook, whisking constantly, for about 1 minute.  Whisk in the milk and bring to a boil, still whisking constantly.  Once boiling, reduce the heat and simmer for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Stir in the nutmeg, salt, and pepper.  Remove the garlic before using (or, if you're lazy like me, just leave it in - someone will get a tasty surprise, like an edible, garlicky king's cake treat).

Boil a large pot of heavily salted water (Mario Batali's advice is to use water that "tastes like the sea"), and cook the pasta until almost tender, about 3 minutes.  Drain and rinse with cold water (usually you don't drain pasta, but since we are making lasagne, all my resources say yes) and dry on tea towels (or paper towels).

Preheat your oven to 350°.  Lightly oil (use olive oil) a 9X13" baking dish.  Ladle 1/2 cup bechamel over the bottom of the dish.  Lay several sheets of the cooked noodles, overlapping slightly, over the sauce.  Spread a 1/4 of the remaining bechamel on the pasta.  Top this with 1/2 of the bolognese and 1/4 cup of the Parmesan.  Repeat these layers.  On the top of the last layer of pasta, pour the remaining bechamel and the remaining Parmesan.  Bake until bubbly and starting to brown, about 40 minutes.
Let the lasagne rest for about 25 minutes before cutting into squares and devouring.  Yes, that's torturous, but this is going to be hot, and you don't want all your carefully prepared layers to go flying all over the place.

The whole process is time consuming, so it's true that for a weeknight, I probably wouldn't go to all this effort, but for a great Sunday supper or when company comes over, I have a feeling that I'll be going the distance.

Have you ever made your own pasta?

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