Friday, June 1, 2012

Making pasta without a pasta maker

One of the efforts I try to make for the health of my family is to bake our bread. Take a look at the ingredient list of any standard loaf of bread at the store and you will see why. The ingredients of bread should look something like this: flour, water, salt. The bread at the store is a fluffy, expensive, food-ish sort of material. This isn't to make you flip out or feel bad about buying bread. I bought a loaf that exactly fits this description two days ago. Prayfully do whatever it right for your family and it's needs, and don't worry about anybody else's standards. I'm just talking about the standards I have for my cooking.
The problem is summer time weather doesn't put me much in the mood to heat up my house with baking. So I've gradually come up with different ways of getting around baking regularly...which is often easier said then done, because one of The Man's first loves is bread. One of my coping skills to beat the summer heat is pasta.
Of course you can find plenty of reasonably price pastas at the store that list just this one word for the ingredients: whole wheat. And I do certainly buy them, to have on hand for what I call Panic Food. But I keep coming back around to my home-made pasta, mainly because I find it more filling and I love the way it tastes.
I hate to invest in kitchen gadgets unless I really deem the worth of the space they take, and if I continue to enjoy my home-made pasta, I may be in the market for a used small pasta maker. But until them I'm making due with what I have, and I've found a couple of different ways to hand shape pasta. One note to the mamas out there, for now, pasta making is strictly a nap time activity for me, when little hands are out of the way and I want to do something quiet. If you have any sort of kitchen aid of food processor that kneads dough making the pasta dough this part of going to be very easy. You can find all sorts of variations in recipes, some use just flour and water, some use milk, some include grated cheese, or herbs, or even mashed potatoes. I would suggest making a plain batch for the first few times, until you have a sense of what the dough should feel like, and then playing with it some.
My pasta recipe is rather loosy-goose, but here it is:
  • 3 cups of flour (I like to use whole soft white winter wheat because it's lighter both in color and texture)
  • 6 eggs
  • 1 tablespoon of olive oil (or more)
  • 1 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon of water
Measure the flour onto your kitchen table (it will be easier to kneed this on your table as opposed to your counter, because of the lower height of the table and how stiff the dough is) or into your food processor. Make a hole in the middle and crack your eggs and poor your oil into this. Use a fork to gently beat the eggs, gradually working flour in from the sides of the dough, or turn your food processor on low. If all the flour won't absorb into the dough, add a little bit of water a little at a time, working it in well before assessing if you need to add more. The dough should be the constancy of a thick play-dough with a lovely glossy coat to it. As you kneed it will absorb more moisture, so be care not to add too much water. Don't worry if you dough is too wet , just add more flour a little at a time. You want to kneed the dough for about ten minutes. Then put it in a plastic bag, and put it in the fridge for at least 30 minutes and up to 3 or 4 days.

A few nights ago I tried my hand at shaping some gnocchi, which is almost more like a dumpling. It was almost the texture of baked bread in the center. These would make great finger food for a baby I think. It is definitely the quickest way I have found to hand shape pasta. Hopefully you can discern each stage of shaping in this photo. The last step to take the cut sections of dough and roll them down the back of a fork, to make ridges on one side.
The last way I have found to hand shape pasta is to make to make a version of orecchiette (which means little ears). This one took time but very little effort, and I think would make a good purposeful play dough project with little people...though maybe a little older than my two year olds, but I am going to let them try. These would be easy to make while watching a movie or listening to something. Pinch off pieces of dough and roll them into pea sizes balls. Then smash the ball between your thumb and the palm of your hand, twisting your thumb as you do. The dough will be stuck to the end of your thumb (probably want to have your nails cut short and certainly clean for this activity). Remove the dough with you other thumb and index finger and pinch it in the center as you do.
After you are done with all the shaping you can drop the pasta into boiling water, freeze it, or let it dry and store it, like the stuff you buy at the store. A friend of our family recounted to us how her Italian mother would have pasta making days once a month or so, and would cover all the beds in the house with clean sheets and lay all the pasta on it to dry. I'm not half to ambious in my pasta making!
If you are interested in making your own pasta at home I hope you find this helpful, and if you know something I don't know about all this (because quite honestly I just wing all this) please do share.
I pray you will enjoy your dinner tonight, whatever it is! Me? We're having burgers with some of that horrible store bought bread, lol. Pasta was last night. *smile* c

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