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July 4, 2020 | Rome, Italy

Pasta perfect

By | 2018-03-21T18:42:06+01:00 November 7th, 2010|"Suzanne's Taste"|
Lay them on a towel dusted with flour, or put them in a large bowl with a little flour or semolina.

ou would think that living in Italy might make a large part of life easier. All of your previously imported clothes now come from the corner boutique (especially after January sales), great Italian shoes are sold in every neighborhood, and fresh pasta shops make life luxurious.

And yet, some of the reports from friends living with Italian men or attempting to cut a bella figura with newfound Italian acquaintances make me wonder if there isn’t something a little more surprising and special one could do to make Giorgio or Fabrizio or Allesandro fall at your Pradas, or give a little boost to most Italians’ bemused view of non-Italians who eat junk food, live on diet colas, and live in rump-sprung running suits.

Start with this: buy yourself one of those beautifully-designed Imperia hand-crank pasta makers (no other brand will do). Screw it firmly to a kitchen counter or slab of marble and prepare to amaze your friends. Fresh pasta from your own hands will bear no resemblance to store-bought, even the pasta coming from ostensibly made-from-scratch shops.

I guarantee success with seducing lovers, acquiring a new mother-in-law, or letting your friends know that, for you, living in Italy is not just a passing whim. You mean business!

The secret to perfect pasta is mixing just enough flour, egg, and water to form tiny granules resembling bee pollen that can be gathered easily with the hands into a semi-soft mass of dough. The dough must not stick to your fingers. Remember, texture is the key.

With the Imperia at your side, gather the following ingredients:

  • 4 cups unbleached white flour, or half fine semolina flour and half unbleached.

  • 1 teaspoon salt.

  • 2 large eggs.

  • 1/2 cup warm water (you may need a few drops more or less, depending on your flour).

Put flour, salt and eggs into the bowl of a food processor. Add the water as you pulse, watching carefully to make sure the pasta does not leave the sides of the bowl.

If the pasta seems too wet, add a tablespoon or two of flour. If it seems too dry, add a few drops of water.

Gather some of the dough together in your hand. The little granules should stick together as you press them – and stay together in a soft lump that releases from your hand. The dough is now ready to roll.

Divide the dough into eight pieces, forming each into a round, flattened cake about three inches in diameter. Smooth the edges of the cake as best you can.

Set your pasta machine opening to the widest and place the edge of a cake at the opening. Begin to roll slowly as you feed the cake into the opening. The pasta will emerge with ragged edges and may or may not tear a little, depending on how fast you have rolled it, but don’t worry. Fold the top third of the rolled pasta down one third of the way and the bottom third upward, making a little square with two ragged edges and two smooth sides.

Now place the ragged edge against the opening, and roll the flat square again through the largest opening again. Repeat the folding, turning the ragged edge over the top third and the bottom third up to form another square.

This should yield a fairly smooth-edged square. Repeat this rolling and turning process with the other seven cakes of pasta. Set aside the squares. They may not be perfect squares, but that’s all right; they will still make beautifully cut noodles with no ragged edges.

Change to the next-to-medium setting (about midway on the Imperia dial) and roll the squares through into longer sheets. Set aside the sheets, not overlapping, on a barely floured surface. If you have wooden countertops, you’ll need no flour. Marble, granite, or any kind of man-made surface needs a little flour so that the pasta will not “sweat” and stick.

Change to the next to last opening and carefully roll the pasta squares through. You will have very long sheets of pasta almost like fabric, about 15 inches or so in length. Lay the sheets on a dry towel or on a wooden surface, making sure they do not overlap.

Now choose which shape you want: fettuccine, spaghetti, or simply flat pasta with which to make stuffed pasta or lasagna.

Each noodle requires a different cut, so follow these instructions:

  • Fettuccine: Use the wide blade on the machine.

  • Lasagna: Roll out dough on next to narrowest setting, and cut into 3- or 4-inch squares. Always boil the pasta for lasagna before assembling the dish.

  • Pappardelle: There is a separate attachment, which will enable you to cut a wider noodle. Barring that, simply roll out long, wide sheets of pasta on the narrowest setting. Lay the sheets out on a cutting board or counter, and cut the pasta into 1-inch widths. Pappardelle are often use with sauces made from game.

  • Ravioli: Roll out on the narrowest setting, and follow instructions for ravioli, folding the dough length-wise over the filling.

  • Spaghetti or spaghettini: Use the narrowest blade on the machine.

  • Stuffed pasta: Roll out on the narrowest setting and leave pasta in a sheet. Cut desired strips or squares for lasagna, squares for lasagna, or circles or squares for agnolotti, ravioli, tortellini, and other small, stuffed pasta.

Use the next to last opening to make fettuccine with a little more substance, and the last opening to make a thinner noodle. Pasta rolled very thin dries quickly and so will have to be treated with a little more care than the more robust, thicker pasta normally used for hearty dishes. It will also dry out faster and so must be filled or cut and used right away unless you wish to dry it for future use. If the sheets become too long to handle easily, simply cut each one in half and then proceed to cut the noodles. Slightly shorter noodles are easier to twirl on a fork.

With one hand, feed the end of the long sheet into the fettuccine or spaghetti cutter of your pasta machine. As you turn the handle with your right hand, use the other hand under the noodles emerging from the blades, guiding the cut noodles out from under the cutter. Lay them on a towel dusted with flour, or put them in a large bowl with a little flour or semolina, and toss them with a light hand until all are coated to prevent sticking together.

Cut the pasta when it is fresh or, if you wish to keep the sheets fresh until cutting time, dust them with corn flour and stack them on top of each other, then wrap them in a dry towel, place them in a plastic bag, and refrigerate. This works well for same-day cutting, but fresh pasta sheets left in the fridge over two days tend to discolor because of the egg.

Dried noodles keep very well in ziplock bags and tend to not stick together when cooked as the very fresh ones sometimes do. Both are delicious, but thoroughly dried pasta may be kept up to a month in an airtight ziplock or container

In our house, however, nothing stays around that long. Especially pasta.

About the Author:

Suzanne Dunaway
Suzanne Dunaway, a longtime major magazine writer and artist, is the author and illustrator of "Rome, At Home, The Spirit of La Cucina Romana in Your Own Kitchen" (Broadway Books) and "No Need To Knead, Handmade Italian Breads in 90 Minutes" (Hyperion). She taught cooking for 15 years privately and at cooking schools in Los Angeles, and now maintains a personal website and a blog. She divides her time between southern France and Italy.

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