Monday, February 1, 2010

Why is There Pasta in the Shower?

With my resolution to learn decent Italian cooking this year (and thereby resist the temptation of dining out every night as the Italian trend sweeps NY) I decided that in order to make truly authentic dishes, I would need to be able to create my own pasta. Since I already owned a Kitchen Aid mixer, the pasta roller and cutter attachments were the obvious choice, and I ordered a set. They arrived last week, and I have been plotting how to use them ever since. Now for pasta you need dough, and since dough is related to baking, things did not go smoothly at first. As I did my research, many websites talked about and Italian 00 flour, hard to find but ideal for true Italian pasta. "Ha!" I thought. I live in NY City. "I'm going to an Italian store to buy other ingredients anyway! I'll find the flour I need!"

Well... I couldn't find it. And then I found Semolina, which I remembered seeing on another pasta website, so I thought maybe that would work. I got home and found a recipe for that kind of pasta, and after I had all of the eggs and salt and oil in the bowl, I discovered I needed 3 1/2 cups of Semolina. I had only purchased a bag with about 2 1/2 cups in it. Well.... another recipe in the book combined another flour with All Purpose, maybe I could just fill in the rest with All Purpose.... You can see where this is going. I ended up with hard rock like clumps, and adding a little bit of water gave me some sticky hope, until I tried to put it through the roller and it crumbled. The moral of the story is never compromise your vision--not when dough is involved. The stakes are too high.

You know that scene in Julie and Julia, where something going wrong and she collapses spread eagle on the floor of her kitchen sobbing? During that scene my mother was elbowing me going "That's you!" "Shut up!" I said. "It is not!" In the months since this movie has come out, other people have managed to combine it and me in the same thought. I protested immediately, for I am a mature, poised woman, an accomplished chef and self possessed woman. I am not the kind of person who would, say, throw and unusable ball of pasta dough across the kitchen and start crying. And then sit in the living room and pout as her husband very calmly goes for the broom. Ooops. God Dammit.

Making your own pasta is one of those things that people say "Is very easy, once you get the hang of it!" And what you hear is "Is very easy!" And by that point you've stopped listening because you're envisioning yourself, every night of the week, with angel hair and fettucini and stuffing your own raviolis, and people come to your dinner parties and ask, "Where did you buy this perfect pasta?" And you smile knowingly and glance across the room at your mixer. Possibly while Frank Sinatra plays in the background. Not that I've ever had this fantasy.

Eventually the disaster dough was in the trash, a nice sized glass of wine was put into my hand, and I reevaluated the situation. I tossed the idea of doing anything fancy out the window, picked out a dough with similar ingredients, and actually did end up with usable pasta. I didn't own one of those fancy pasta racks, and in my four foot by six foot kitchen, I did not have the space to lay all the noodles out on towels. Therefore I did what any intrepid urbanite would, I made do with the tools and space I did have. I took my clothes drying rack, washed it down with dish soap, rinsed, and plunked it in the tub. My husband calmly walked into the kitchen. "Sweetheart, why is there pasta in the shower?" I handed him his own large glass of wine and the Nintendo remote. He nodded and sat down in front of Super Mario. It's a lovely understanding we have.

My noodles were soft, not nearly al dente, and cut a bit too thin, though were still pretty tasty and very fresh. I've decided, however, not to give you any recipes or advice until I really have this skill hammered out. I would, however, like to refer you to this video if you're looking to to try it yourself sometime soon, it's from kitchen aid and shows what it's supposed to look like if you're doing right, which can also be helpful for knowing when you've done it completely wrong.

I am going to let you know about my latest experiment in Italian cooking, though. As I planned my first night of fresh pasta, I wanted to serve it with a sauce that wouldn't overpower, as I wanted to really taste my first noodles. Tomato sauces were out. It was then that I settled on trying my hand at Spaghetti alla Carbonara. When I was searching for recipes, I landed on one by a chef that I ridiculously respect, Ruth Reichl. This woman was the New York Times Restaurant reviewer in 90's, and was the Editor in Chief for Gourmet Magazine for the last ten years. It was her vision that put more emphasis on sustainability and food politics, and when the magazine closed, it was through her determination that the Gourmet magazine and cookbook archive be donated to libraries. She is my food writing idol.

In the 1970's, broke and living in NY (sound familiar?) she wrote a now out of print cookbook, with possibly the most adorable cover of all time. Recipes from this book can now be found on her website. I did a little tweaking, she uses bacon where I subbed pancetta (if I wanted to be super authentic I would have used guanciale, otherwise known as cured pork jowl, but damn do I love pancetta). However, for all my single ladies, all my single ladies, (yeah so that will be in my head the rest of the day) this recipe really is full of things you have in the fridge most of the time. Pasta, eggs, parmesan cheese, a bit of garlic, and if you go this route, bacon. It takes very little time and creates a gourmet meal for a weeknight, or when you impulsively bring a boy home and want to seem like you can just throw a gourmet meal together like the brilliant goddess you are. And if you used boxed pasta you won't even have to worry about them seeing you throw things across the room.

Spaghetti alla Carbonara
Adapted from Ruth Reichl

-1 pound spaghetti
-1/4 pound sliced pancetta
-2 cloves of garlic, split in half
-2 large eggs
-Black Pepper
-1/2 cup of grated parmigiano cheese

Cook pasta according to package directions. If you are using fresh pasta, keep in mind that it will only take a few minutes so cook the pasta right at the end.

Cut the pancetta into strips about 1/2 inch wide. Cook in skillet for about 2 minutes until fat begins to render add garlic cloves and cook five minutes longer, until pancetta is beginning to get crispy. If you wish for a more garlic taste remove one clove and smash the other one to pieces and mix in. Otherwise remove all garlic.

While pancetta cooks break eggs into the bowl you will serve the pasta in. Whisk with a few grindings of pepper.

When pasta is finished cooking, drain, and toss immediately with the beaten eggs. Mix thoroughly, eggs will form a sauce. Add the pancetta with it's fat, and the cheese. Toss again and serve.

This dish was AWESOME. It was creamy, even though I had added no cream, and from the meat it was salty, though I had added no additional salt. It was one of those dishes that is comforting and rich, but had not taken much effort at all. The whole thing will be easy, once I get the hang of the actual pasta.


Anonymous said...

We are both thinking a like today. I just posted a Lasagna Bolognese where I made my own spinach pasta! I was lucky that my rolled out pasta didn't need to look perfect...good thing. I just bookmarked Ruth's web site. Thanks for letting us know she's still out there. Have you read her book Sapphires and Garlic? It's really good and also has her Carbonara recipe in it.

Anonymous said...

Bravo on making pasta! I have been experimenting with gnocchi. I cheaped out and got the extruding pasta attachment for the Kitchen Aid and I wasn't very happy with it, but it could have been my dough! Good luck!

Mother Rimmy said...

Wow! What a project! I admire that you stuck with it. The end result looks delicious.

Anonymous said...

Well done! I love cooking old school Italian and making pasta is next on my list. The great thing about Italian cooking is it's very forgiving. By nature you add a little a dis a little a dat! Keep it up!

the twins said...

pasta carbonara is my favorite! and congrats on making pasta...i tried it once and failed miserably.

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