Saturday, September 21, 2019

Ready. Set. Go. "00" Flour Makes the Best Homemade Pasta

When I learned how to make pasta from scratch, I gave away all my boxes of dried pasta. Quality brands of spaghetti, linguini, fusilli, penne, tagliatelle and pappardelle. All of it.

I also gave away my shiny chrome Marcato hand-operated pasta making machine.

Now I only wanted to eat pasta that I made myself.  No machines. Just me, a rolling pin, an egg and "00" flour.

I always loved pasta, even when my mom served me Chef Boyardee's pasta and sauce in a can. As an adult, I made my own sauces and used dried pastas, priding myself on buying the best quality available.

On a press trip to Seattle, I had a pasta-epiphany at Spinasse (1531 14th Avenue, Seattle 98122, 206/251-7673). I was traveling with a group of food writers. Before the pasta arrived, we were talking nosily about the trip. One taste of our pasta and all talking ceased. Everyone focused on their plates. I had pasta with a deliciously savory meat ragu (Tajarin al ragu). 

That pasta was a revelation. The bite, flavor and texture of chef Stuart Lane's pasta was unique in my experience. After that visit, I wanted to make my own pasta at home. I bought a machine and read countless recipes. The result was always less than satisfying.

Ultimately I gave up on making my own pasta and concentrated on sauces



Then I watched the "Fat" episode of Samin Nosrat's Netflix series Salt Fat Acid Heat. That episode is my favorite of the series. I loved watching chef Nostrat lose herself in the sights, sounds, textures and ingredients of Italy.

In the episode she visits Benedetta Vitali's Tuscan kitchen to learn her way of making pasta. The instruction was simple. Mix together the best eggs and "00" flour you can find. Knead and roll out the dough into a paper-thin, round sheet. Use a knife to cut the pasta. Boil in salted water. Drain. Done!

As soon as the episode ended, I had to try. Since I didn't have "00" flour, I used All-Purpose flour. The result was good and, thinking "00" flour was too exotic to find locally, I kept using AP flour, but the result was inconsistent. 



So I went in search of "00" flour. Which wasn't much of a search. Our local supermarket carried it. A bit more expensive than AP flour, "00" made all the difference.

I was so excited by the result, now I make pasta all the time.

Basic Pasta Dough

In correspondence with chef Lane for this post, he explained that "'00' is "a fine grained/milled slightly softer than all purposed flour."  That finer grain gives the dough better elasticity. 

To prevent the dough from sticking while you roll it out, sprinkle flour on the surface of the cutting board and on the dough. When pastry chef Federico Fernandez was showing me how to make sfogletella, a wonderful Italian pastry, for my YouTube Channel: Secrets of Restaurant Chefs, he used semolina instead of flour on the cutting board. 

I liked the idea of using the coarser semolina when I make pasta. I dust the cutting board with semolina, which is incorporated into the dough. I think it adds a nice texture. Less available than "00" flour, both are sold in Italian markets. (For a good description of the differences between "00" flour and semolina, please visit the website Farro.)


As with any dish, using the best ingredients improves the quality, so use the best eggs you can find. Chef Lane sources his from organic farms in the Seattle area like Stokesberry.

One day after I had rolled out the dough, I was distracted by a phone call. Before I realized it, more than half an hour had passed. When I returned to the kitchen, I discovered that the dough had dried slightly. The pasta that day was lighter, with a better bite. I added the air-drying step to my pasta making. I was very pleased when chef Lane noted that letting his dough dry was a key step for him as well.

Because the dough is fresh, the pasta cooks more quickly than dried pasta. On average, 5 minutes is sufficient, but taste the pasta after 3 minutes so it doesn't over cook.

I add freshly ground pepper and sea salt to the flour for added flavor, but that is optional.

When the pasta cooks in the salted water, it expands. What appears to be a small amount of dough on the cutting board will yield a much larger amount of cooked pasta.

To make larger yields, multiple the ingredients by the number of servings you want. However, for ease when rolling out the dough, I would advise working with an amount of dough equivalent to that made with 1 egg and 1/2 cup of flour.

The dough must be used the same day you make it. Once cooked, the pasta can be kept in an air-tight container to use the next day.

Prep time: 15 minutes

Waiting time: 45 minutes

Cook time: 5 minutes

Total time: 65 minutes

Yield: one entrée serving or two side dish servings

Ingredients

1 farm fresh egg

1/2 cup "00" flour + 2 tablespoons "00" flour or semolina to dust the cutting board and dough

1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper (optional)

1/4 teaspoon sea salt (optional)

1 tablespoon kosher salt

Directions

1. Place the flour on the cutting board. Using a fork, make an indentation into the top of the mound to create a "volcano." Season flour with black pepper and sea salt (optional)


2. Remove the egg from its shell and place into the indentation.

3. Using the fork, swirl the egg into the flour until completely incorporated. Use the fork to scrape the wet dough off the cutting the dough.


4. Dust the wet dough with flour or semolina. Clean any dough off the fork. Use your hands to form the dough into a ball. Liberally sprinkling flour or semolina on the cutting board, roll the dough back and forth. Incorporate any dough that sticks to your fingers or the cutting board. Continue rolling the ball back and forth on the cutting board for 10-15 minutes. As chef Lane notes, "Really knead the dough a lot. You are not going to overwork it (like bread). In fact, it is more common to underwork it."

5. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and allow to rest 30 minutes. If the weather is cool, leave the dough on the counter. If the weather is hot, place the dough in the refrigerator.


6. Unwrap the dough. Sprinkle flour or semolina on the cutting board. Using a rolling pin, flatten the dough and roll out, keeping the round shape by turning the disk of dough frequently. After rolling out the dough three or four times, flip it over, dusting the cutting board and the dough to prevent sticking. Continue rolling out the dough until it is paper thin.


7. Allow the rolled out dough to air-dry for 15-30 minutes.

8. Add kosher salt to water in a large stock pot. Bring to a boil.

9. Place a colander and a heat-proof cup in the sink.

10. Sharpen a chefs knife.

11. Lightly dust the rolled out, air-dried dough with flour or semolina, fold the circle of dough in half. Do not press the dough.


Dust again and fold a second time.


Dust again and fold a third time and then a fourth time until the folded dough is approximately 1" wide.


12. You can cut the pasta into any width you enjoy, remembering that the pasta will double in size in the boiling salted water.


13. After you have cut the dough into strips, lift the cut pasta and let fall onto the cutting board so the strands separate.

14. Place into the boiling salted water, using tongs to separate the strands. Cook 3-5 minutes. Taste after 3 minutes to confirm when the pasta is to your liking.


15. Drain in the colander, capturing 1 cup of salted pasta water in the heat-proof cup to use in making a pasta sauce.

16. Toss in the colander so the strands do not stick together and serve while hot.

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Ready. Set. Go. "00" Flour Makes the Best Homemade Pasta

When I learned how to make pasta from scratch, I gave away all my boxes of dried pasta. Quality brands of spaghetti, linguini, fusilli, penn...