Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Ready. Set. Go. "00" Flour Makes the Best Homemade Pasta, Especially When We're "Safe-At-Home"

A post from last year is worth revisiting now. Making pasta is an ideal dish for these times when we are denied visits to our favorite restaurants. 

As with gnocchi, pasta is as variable as the sauces. Go simple with olive oil, black pepper and a sprinkling of freshly grated Parmesan cheese or make a savory meat sauce enlivened with roasted tomatoes and shiitake mushrooms. 

I recommend using "OO" flour, usually easily available at upscale markets like Whole Foods, Gelson's and Wegman's and online. If "00" flour is not available right now, All Purpose (AP) white flour is a good substitute. But "00" is clearly superior and I hope you can find some.

For those of you who always wanted to make pasta but were discouraged because you thought it was too difficult to make and required special equipment, this is your moment to have fun and delight your family with the best comfort dish ever!  Buon Appetito!

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 put away my shiny chrome Marcata 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.

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Ready, Set, Go: Easy-to-Make Gnocchi is a Perfect Staying-at-Home Comfort Food



Monday, March 30, 2020

Ready, Set, Go: Easy-to-Make Gnocchi is a Perfect Staying-at-Home Comfort Food 

Making gnocchi is perfect for this time when we are spending a lot of time at home. If you make gnocchi already, you know how easy they are to prepare. If you have enjoyed gnocchi in Italian restaurants, you remember how these heavenly "pillows" make you happy.


I was lucky enough to have chef Mirko Paderno invite me into his kitchen where he did a cooking video showing how to make gnocchi. Please go this link to see Mirko make gnocchi.

Mirko's original recipe was designed to serve 8. I have adapted his recipe to serve 4 people since we cannot currently have dinner parties. I made other small changes as well.

Gnocchi Made with Cold Potatoes

For Paderno, two details are key to making the best gnocchi. The potatoes must be steamed over salted boiling water so the flesh does not become water-logged. 

Mirko lets his salt-steamed potatoes cool before he puts them into the food mill. By using cold potatoes, the dough needs less flour. Also, if hot potatoes are used, when the egg and flour are added, the gnocchi must be cooked immediately to avoid becoming soggy. By working with cold potatoes, he can make the dough, seal it in plastic wrap and use it later that day or the next.

Paderno uses Idaho russet potatoes because they have a neutral flavor, the better to work with a variety of sauces. But he suggests using any potato you enjoy, even sweet potatoes or purple potatoes. 

Paderno uses “00” flour which blends easily with the potato. If “00” is not available, use all-purpose (AP) flour. 

The amount of flour used partly depends on the moisture of the cooked potatoes. Getting the right density takes a bit of practice. The gnocchi dough should be not too dry and not too damp. Like pastry dough, with a dusting of flour, the gnocchi should roll out without sticking on the work surface. Watchthe video to see Paderno’s technique.

Serves 4

Time to prepare: 30 minutes

Time to cook: 30 minutes

Total time: 60 minutes

Ingredients

1 lb. Idaho russet potatoes, washed, skin on
5 ounces “00” or AP flour
2 tablespoons AP flour for dusting
1/2 extra large egg
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Directions

Place a steamer on the bottom of a large pot. Add water only to the bottom of the steamer. Season with 1 teaspoon kosher salt. Bring to a boil. Place potatoes in the pot. Cover.  

Depending on the size of the potatoes, cook 20 minutes or until a paring knife can be inserted into the potatoes easily. Add water as needed if more steaming is required. Remove when the potatoes are soft but not mushy. 

Cool potatoes to room temperature or refrigerate. When it is time to make the gnocchi, peel and discard the skins or reserve to sauté with onions and parsley for breakfast. 

Run the cooked, peeled potatoes through a potato ricer or food mill using a fine blade. If neither is available, press the softened potatoes though a strainer or colander.

The potatoes will now look like strands of soft pasta. Place into a mixing bowl and add flour (preferably "00") and mix well together. 

Sprinkle work area with flour. Place potato-flour mixture on the work area and create a “volcano,” the way you do when making fresh pasta, with a depression in the middle of the mound.

In a bowl, crack open a raw egg and whisk with a fork until the white and yolk are well blended.

Pour 1/2 the egg mixture into the center of the volcano.  Reserve the other 1/2 for another use.

Using the fork and your fingers, work the egg, flour and potato together until all ingredients are combined into a ball. 

As you do with pasta (please see that recipe as well), roll the ball back and forth on the work surface. Sprinkle additional flour to prevent sticking. When the ball is smooth and well-formed, wrap the dough in plastic wrap and place into an air-tight plastic bag and refrigerate for one hour or until the next day.

Before cooking the gnocchi, make a sauce. That can be as simple as a butter sauce with a little pasta water or as complicated as a braised meat ragu.


Shaping the Dough into Gnocchi

Sprinkle the work surface with flour. Work in batches. Cut the dough into four pieces. 

Form one piece of dough into a ball and then using both hands, fingers and palms, roll the potato dough back and forth until it takes the shape of a dowel, about 1” in diameter. 



The dough is forgiving so if the dowel breaks apart, start over.

Once you have made a uniform shape, create individual gnocchi using a pastry cutter or chefs knife. The gnocchi should be approximately 1” long.


It is important to mark each gnocchi using a fork, your finger or a gnocchi board. The indentations will help the sauce stick to each gnocchi.

Cooking the Gnocchi

Fill a large pot with water. Add 1 teaspoon of kosher salt. Bring to a boil.


The gnocchi cook quickly. To determine how much time is needed, place several test gnocchi into the water. 

If the first gnocchi breaks apart, either the water is boiling too fast and/or the potato dough needs more flour, in which case you can return to the work area, gather up the gnocchi, sprinkle with flour, knead together, roll out and cut again.

If your gnocchi hold their shape in the boiling water, test how long they should cook. Taste one after 30 seconds. Taste another after 45 seconds. And another after 60 seconds and so on. Decide which you like and use that timing to make the rest. For my latest batch, 120 seconds worked the best.

Working in batches, carefully drop a dozen gnocchi at a time into the boiling, salted water. 

Using a wire strainer, remove the gnocchi from the boiling water. 

Drain and add to the heated sauce, which can be as simple as sautéed San Marzano tomatoes with olive oil or a tablespoon or two of pasta water mixed with a good quality melted butter. Or more robust with slices of grilled sausage or coated with pesto sauce.

Serve each plate of gnocchi hot, topped with freshly grated Parmesan cheese.

Shrimp 101: Easy to Prepare and Delicious

Shrimp are easy to prepare, nutritious and low in fat. Adaptable with many sauces and preparations, their versatility makes them an ideal in...