Today at the Hillsdale Farmers Market, I’ll be demonstrating how to make filled pastas – ravioli, tortelloni, agnolotti, cappelletti, pansotti – and I’ll be starting at the beginning, with the dough.
At the market, I try to provide written recipes for what I’ve demo’d so that shoppers can refer to their hard copy reminder when trying their hand at something they’ve seen or tasted at the market. After writing up a full tutorial on pasta making, I had to sit back and think about how to present it. It’s long-winded, to say the least – after all, it is the subject of whole chapters of books, even the subject of entire volumes! And after researching a collection of cookbooks, and re-reading my own method, have concluded that there is no crystal clear way of really getting the whole of it across. It is a craft, and though a much simpler one to master, I’ve likened it to trying to make a piece of furniture by reading a how to manual. You won’t really get it – the nuances – until you see it in action, and better yet, feel it in action.
“Making pasta (and bread) is a bit like riding a bike. You can watch someone do it, you can read about it but ultimately you have to keep trying until you’ve got it,” says Eamon Molloy, Market Manager at the Hillsdale Farmers Market. Exactly. So here’s what I’ve come up with:
Below you will find an as complete as I can verbally illustrate guide to making and rolling the dough. Then, in a very soon to post video, I’ll demonstrate the technique so that you can see it happen nearly right before your eyes. To taste the results, meet me at the market. Still not convinced? Let me know and we’ll make it together!
Here we go:
I can’t say it better than Lynne Rosetto Kasper has in her book, The Splendid Table, “Making pasta by hand is simplicity itself – blend flour with eggs, knead the dough, stretch it or roll it into thin sheets, and then cut it into any shape you want. Pasta is also the most forgiving of doughs. You can easily correct most problems that arise as you go along.”
This is an all around good dough that can be used for flat shapes, such as fettuccine, pappardelle, or lasagne noodles. It works for ravioli and other stuffed pastas, though for those shapes, I prefer a dough in which I have omitted the lemon, and have instead added a bit of cream. The cream makes a tender, more elastic dough. Of course there are specific doughs very particular to certain shapes and regions when making traditional pastas, but that is the subject of another chapter!
approximatelly 4 cups flour (unbleached all-purpose, or see below)
the juice from 1 small lemon, about 2 1/2 Tbsp.
For the flour, an ideal mix, I have found, is a combination of equal parts Shepherd’s Grain Low Gluten Flour and “Blendako“, a lower protein flour that is modeled after the Double Zero (Doppio Zero) “00” flour used in Italy for pasta making. Each is NW local-grown, and I can obtain both in Portland. Unfortunately, I have found neither available at retail. Fortunately, I have a large supply….
Most pasta recipes call for you to mound the flour on your work surface, then make a well in the center and add the eggs. This is a fine practice, and one can hardly argue with generations of pasta makers. That said, I share with you my technique for pasta making that, although unconventional, yields terrific results with less mess and stress.
Add the flour to a wide bowl that will hold 2-3 times the volume of flour that the recipe calls for. Make a well in the center, leaving enough flour at the bottom of the well that you will not scrape the bottom of the bowl as you incorporate your eggs (the flour should be about a cup deep on the bottom of the well). You now have a caldera rather than a volcano in which to work your dough.
Crack the eggs into the well in the bowl of flour, or alternatively crack them into a separate bowl and whisk lightly before adding them to the well. With a fork, whisk the eggs enough to break the yolks, then add the lemon juice to the eggs. Once the liquid ingredients have been added to the flour, especially the lemon juice, work quickly and do not stop until the dough has been sufficiently kneaded. If the eggs and lemon are not mixed together right away, then quickly into the dough, the acid in the lemon will begin to stiffen the eggs causing them to harden, in turn hardening the dough. Using the fork, gradually incorporate the flour into the liquid ingredients, taking it in from the side walls of the caldera. Work quickly, taking in a small amount at a time, turning the bowl as you go to aid in the process. You want shallow scrapings of flour rather than large clumps. Once the dough has stiffened to the point that it is too difficult to work with the fork, abandon the fork for your fingers. This is the point where you will begin to knead the dough.
Using your fingers, pull up the dough at the end furthest from you, along with some of the flour beneath it, and fold it in to the middle of the dough, pushing or dimpling the dough several times along the turned over fold to push in and incorporate more flour. Rotate the bowl a quarter turn and repeat, gently but firmly pushing more flour into the dough. Repeat 2 more times, until the bowl is in the same position in which you began. The dough should become less sticky, but never dry or crumbly. On wet, humid days, you may need to add additional flour, on dry days, you may have flour left over. You will learn the feel of the dough, and be able to ascertain how much flour is needed. It should not be too stiff or dry, but rather pliable and elastic. At this point, it will be a rough mass. Now you are really ready to knead the dough. Sprinkle a wooden work surface (table or cutting board) with flour, lift your dough onto the floured work surface, and scrape off any dough clinging to your hands by rubbing them together or wiping them with a towel.
Press the heel of your hands deep into the dough, keeping your fingers high. Press down on the dough while pushing it firmly away from you. The dough will stretch and roll under your hand, turning over at the far end. You want the dough to roll towards you as you push down and forward. You will almost be working the dough into a snail-shell as it is kneaded. Turn the dough a quarter turn and repeat, pushing the dough away with the heels of your hands as it curls over to meet you like a cresting wave. Push the wave back into the sea of dough, your palms pushing the tide, stretching and smoothing the dough as you go. Add a dusting of flour if at any time the dough feels sticky. Turn the dough a quarter turn and repeat, continuing this process in the same direction (clockwise or counterclockwise, either is fine as long as you are consistent) until the dough is satiny smooth, pliable, silky, and although you are tired of kneading, your dough is so lovely and elastic that you almost want to continue for a while longer. You will have kneaded the dough for about 10 minutes. This step is essential, and can not be shortcut. Light, delicate pasta comes from working the dough, kneading it to develop the elasticity of the flour’s protein, or gluten. Gradually rolling, stretching, and thinning the dough lengthens the gluten strands. Because you are using a lower gluten flour than you would use for bread making, the structure will not develop as it would for bread dough. There will be structure, enough to give you some bite between your teeth; a delicate chew – it will be resilient while remaining tender.
Dust the kneaded dough with flour and wrap it in plastic wrap. Let the dough rest for 1 hour before rolling and cutting.
To roll the dough:
Work with a quarter to a third of the dough at a time, keeping the rest wrapped in plastic. Flatten the dough, rolling it out slightly with a rolling pin if desired. With the pasta machine rollers set at the widest setting, turn the crank handle while feeding the dough into the machine. As the dough emerges from the rollers, guide it out with the same hand with which you fed the dough, using your palm to keep from puncturing the dough with your fingers. Fold the dough in thirds, turn it a quarter turn, and feed it back into the rollers. Repeat this folding, feeding, and rolling a total of 7-10 times. This is the second kneading of the dough, and helps to create the structure in the dough that will result in a tender yet resilient bite when eaten.
Now set the rollers to the next, narrower setting and pass the dough through the rollers. Move the rollers to the next, narrower setting and pass the dough through, guiding it out of the machine without tearing the dough. If the dough becomes at all sticky, dust it lightly with flour. For filled pastas, the dough should be rolled out thin enough that you can see through it. Your hand should be clearly visible through the dough, and you should be able to see bright colors when they are held behind the sheet.
You can either cut the dough into the desired shapes immediately, or if you are cutting fettuccine with the machine cutter attachment, hang the sheets, trimmed to desired pasta lengths, to dry for a couple of minutes on a pasta rack or modified laundry rack (use a wooden rack or peel off the plastic coating so that the pasta does not slip off), then trim the ends and feed the pasta sheets through the cutters.