Monday, February 14, 2011

Object of Necessity 2: Mercato Pasta Roller

Everything you see I owe to spaghetti. – Sophia Loren

 Poster for Pâtes Baroni (Baroni Pastas), c.1921 by Leonetto Cappiello

The Marcato Atlas manual pasta machine, or one like it, should be a kitchen staple. It is so easy to use (foolproof nearly, if your dough is right) and gives a very rewarding result. Prepare your pasta dough as you like, and roll through the various settings until it is the thinness you need. It even has an attachable cutter to make three common widths of pasta. It’s difficult to say more about it than the above. It’s like trying to describe how to use a bowl—it’s kind of obvious…

To note, I have rescued a few under-kneaded doughs with this machine by rolling, folding and re-rolling on the lowest setting to finish what I should have done on the counter...

There is very little that is as wonderful, or rewarding, as fresh pasta, made lovingly with your own hands. It is completely different than dried pasta, and even fresh pasta sold in groceries. There’s a delicacy to it that doesn’t seem to be able to be replicated in any other way.

Pasta is extremely easy to make. On my pet peeve TV show “Anna and Christina’s Grocery Bag” (HGTV) the two intrepid pseudo-cooks had a lesson in pasta making while at a cooking school in Italy. They still managed to bollocks it up, on not one but two occasions. How I don’t know.

If you can make pancakes, you can make pasta. It is that easy. The only “challenge”, if you can call it that, is the variation in the size of eggs and moisture content in your flour. Usually recipes call for large size eggs. If the dough is too moist, add flour, if too dry add water. Very simple, right?

Put your flour in a bowl (or on a board if you’re fancy) and make a well in the centre. Add in eggs and salt. Break up the eggs with a fork and slowly “whisk” in the flour. At some point you’ll have to switch to your “impeccably clean hands”, to quote Julia Child. What you end up with is fairly stiff dough that only requires kneading for a few minutes – just enough to ensure it is smooth and a little elastic. 

Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and let rest for 1/2 hour. This helps the gluten relax and makes it elastic. Then it’s ready to roll. If using the machine, divide into quarters and roll out each piece and use the sheets as you wish. If rolling noodles, either by hand (annoying) or machine, cut and toss resulting noodles with flour. Then heap them on a baking sheet to dry slightly. It does not need to dry hard. Fresh pasta cooks in three minutes, maximum. 

Fresh pasta with eggs for 4: 
2 eggs, 1 cup flour, and a pinch of salt. If you intend on making stuffed pasta such a ravioli or tortellini, add 2 tsp of milk. This helps the pasta stick together when you seal it.

Fresh durum wheat pasta for 4:
2 eggs, 1 cup and 2 tbsp durum wheat flour, 1/2 cup water, and a pinch of salt.
(Pasta made from durum is much “stiffer” than bread flour and consequently a little more difficult to bring together.)

Kitchen Tip 1: For those who don’t know, a “pinch” of salt is the amount of salt you can grab when you pinch your fingers together. Not an exact measurement, for sure, but it’s worked for millennium.

Kitchen Tip 2: For beet pasta (which makes a dark ruby red dough), add 1/4 cup or a little more of puréed beets. Adjust flour to accommodate the extra liquid. Fresh roasted beets are best, but canned will do. We made ravioli with this dough, and served it with a fried sage butter sauce. Diety, no. Tasty, yes.

Fear not if you don’t have a pasta machine. 
Cut hand rolled noodles into 4-6 inch lengths.
Hand rolled pasta is just as easy, and if you’re looking for a rustic meal to impress family or guests, this is the way to go. 

Just take pieces of the dough and roll on the counter until the desired thickness. These noodles takes longer to cook than rolled noodles, so be sure to test and boil until they're al dente.

Homemade noodles are great with rustic sauces such as chunks of Italian sausage meat (pull off irregular chunks), onions, garlic and mushrooms. 

You could also try my No-Sin Tomato Sauce (from a previous post) and make an afternoon of it with friends and a bottle or two of red wine. Nothing like it on a cold, wintery Saturday afternoon.

The Marcato, or similar, is available in most Italian Gourmet shops (most expensive), our local Stokes stores, and even Winners/HomeSense. You should be able to get your hands on one for around $20-$30. Don’t look on eBay. The prices are crazy and the shipping will kill you.

If you can find one for a good price, it's well worth the investment. It’s a grownup’s toy. It will give you hours of fun.


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