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Making fresh pasta used to be a labor of love. Many Italians consider rolling out the dough by hand an art. I took a cooking class from a couple in Italy, Marco was a restoration architect and his wife Monaca was a child psychiatrist. They were passionate about food and their classes were a lot of fun. But anyone else rolling out the pasta dough was just out of the question as far as Marco was concerned, this was his and only his to make. This sounds unreasonable for a cooking class, but you have to understand how serious this is to Italians who consider rolling out the dough all-important to the quality of the pasta. After several classes, one of my classmates, a dentist from Michigan decided he just had to roll out the dough and proceeded to try to convince Marco to let him do it. We all sided with our classmate including Monica and won the battle, somewhat. Marco started the process and rolled the dough out to a huge size on the very large kitchen table and then let my classmate finish the process. Unfortunately for our classmate, he made a very small hole in the dough. It was a comedy I will never forget, as Marco just simply couldn’t deal with a hole in his dough. It took all of Monica’s humor and professional training to calm Marco down and convince him that the piece of noodle that had the hole in it would be discarded. We hand cut the fettuccini, but I’m sure none of us met his expectations. Never the less, it was delicious and we all left that evening with an appreciation of the importance of rolling out pasta dough.
I have to admit; I have also taken great pride in making dough, rolling it out to the thinnest sheet, and cutting it by hand. However, I am also a fan of kitchen tools that make cooking easier and allow us to still get good results in the least amount of time. Today we are not all at home worrying about how thin we can roll out our dough, or even making pasta by hand at all. But with a few tools we can cut the time down and make it by hand more often. Fresh pasta has a quality and flavor that you just can’t get with boxed pasta. Having said that, I feel that in the case of spaghetti, a good quality boxed spaghetti is often better then handmade.
I use to have a hand cranked pasta machine but have invested in an electric machine. I have a Puglian Chitarra (the spaghetti comes out better on this then the machine) and you can make troccoli, taglatelle and fettuccini. There was a time when you could only find these in Puglia Italy, but today I have seen them in Sur La Table and Surfas. I’m sure other kitchen supply stores carry them. It is an inexpensive simple box with wire strings strung across the top. You roll the dough out and then run it over the strings with a rolling pin and watch the pasta fall in strips into the holding tray. Kitchen Aid mixers have a dough rolling attachment. These tools and a few pasta cutters (I search for old pasta cutters in flea markets and Italian markets) along with a food processor give very good results. It takes very little time and the quality far surpasses anything you can buy.
The following is a recipe for garganelli, and some examples of other types of pasta you can prepare when rolling sheets of dough. The dough ingredients will vary according to the type of pasta you are making.
Prep Time: 35 minutes
Cook Time: 3-5 minutes
Yield: 4 Servings
2 cups flour
Tepid water (if necessary)
Mix the dough either by hand or in a food processor. Knead the dough for at least 10 minutes. The dough should be dry, or it will not go through the pasta machine without adding flour. Cover the dough with a kitchen towel so that it doesn’t dry out when you are working with it. Cut a piece of dough off the ball and roll it through the pasta machine in each slot until you have rolled it though the second to the last slot. Cut 2” squares with a clean-cut cutter. You can use a pizza cutter for example or a knife. I find that the pizza cutter works very well.
Using a spindle or the end of a round handle, fold each square from one corner to another. Roll it over the back of a folk or a grooved tool, which are sold in kitchen supply stores especially for this purpose. You can also leave them without grooves, but the sauce adheres better to the pasta with grooves.
Allow the garganelli to dry. Cook them for about 3-5 minutes; the pasta should be al dente. Fresh pasta cooks faster then boxed pasta so watch carefully and don’t over cook as they will be very soft.