Friday, March 11, 2011

Homemade Pappardelle and Life Outside My Comfort Zone

I’ve been kind of putting this blog off for a couple of days. Normally, a thought just strikes me and I take off with it and write it in my usual “too much information” way but not this time. This time the only thoughts filling my head have been those of a new camera that I purchased a few days ago. I knew the time would come when I’d have to upgrade from my little red $69.00 point and shoot, but I just wasn’t quite ready to make the leap; then I ran upon a deal at Target that was too good to be true and had to buy it. It’s been kind of like giving birth prematurely, you know it’s coming but you’re still not quite ready for the change when it happens. So here I sit with an instruction manual the size of War and Peace and more knobs and settings than I’ll probably ever use. No longer can I blame fuzzy photos on mechanical failure or camera limitation; bad photos are now 100% user error. This is where the rubber meets the road my friends. With this new camera there is no reason that eventually I shouldn't be the new Annie Leibovitz of the food blogging world. In theory my photos should make your mouth water and have you running to the grocery store to buy the ingredients for my featured recipe . . . well, we’ll see. So far I’ve taken so many photos of my dog that he’s beginning to roll his eyes when he sees me pick it up. It is now time to cook something to photograph and give him a rest.

Scruffy's "leave me alone" face

Lately I’ve seen some very inviting recipes for pappardelle, so I thought I’d cook one of my own. I shopped all over town without much luck in finding this pasta which is no more than a thin, extra wide fettuccini. You would think that this wouldn’t be so hard to find wouldn't you? Well long story short, I did manage to find it in two places, Williams Sonoma for about a gazillion dollars a package, and at Safeway for $5.99 for one pound. You’ve got to be kidding! As I see it I have three options, bite the bullet and pay the extortion money to Safeway (no way Jose), use an alternate shape of pasta (kind of defeats the reason of this post), or make my own without a pasta machine which seems a bit daunting, but hey, the Chinese and Italians made noodles for centuries before machines were invented so why can’t I? Besides, I went through an egg noodle making stage a few years ago and I actually got pretty good at it, so challenge on.

I hit the web and perused lots and lots of recipes and decided on one by Michael Chiarello because not only is he cute and stylish, but his recipe was written with rolling pins in mind. I had everything on hand but the cup of semolina the recipe called for which meant a “quick” trip to the bulk section of Whole Foods. An hour and a half and $40.00 in "necessities" later, I arrived back home and got to work. I was so excited that I was finally going to get to make a well in the center of something and work eggs into it with my fingers like I’ve seen so many chefs do so many times before. I am now here to testify that it is not as easy as it looks. A little known fact is that eggs are masters of escape and in the blink of any eye you can have egg dripping off the edge of your countertop onto your dog resting on the floor below.

Once I regrouped from the egg disaster, I replaced the guestimated amount of egg lost on Scruffy’s head and began mixing once again. I followed the recipe, kneading, resting, rolling and cutting and, despite the small setback, have to rate this experience a great success. The only caveat I’d like to add is that when rolling your pasta by hand, you have to roll it to a really paper thin consistency. It should almost be transparent because it thickens slightly as it absorbs water during cooking. This recipe makes a little less than a pound and a half which I find will feed 8 people nicely. Since I was only feeding three of us, I froze half of my pasta for later. I served it with a favorite simple little sauce of mine (recipe follows) and lots of grated Parmesan. It was a huge hit with my guys, much cheaper than store bought and so much fun to make. Buon appetito!

Homemade Pappardelle

1 3/4 cups (138g) all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1 cup (200g) semolina flour, plus more for dusting
6 large eggs, at room temperature
4 teaspoons olive oil

Make the dough. Sift both flours together on a large work surface and make a well in the center. Place the eggs, olive oil and a pinch of salt in a bowl, then pour into the well; with a fork, break up the eggs, then gradually mix the wet ingredients into the flour mixture just until combined.

Knead by hand. Gather the dough into 2 equal-size balls; flour the surface. To knead each piece, push the dough away from you with the heel of your hand, fold the dough over itself and turn it counterclockwise. Continue pushing, folding and turning until the dough is smooth and elastic, 4 to 5 minutes.

Rest the dough. Pat each piece into a ball. Flatten slightly, wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or overnight. (You can freeze 1 ball for later, or roll out both and freeze the cut pasta.)

Roll out the dough. Place the dough on a lightly floured surface and dust with flour. Starting in the middle, push away from you with a rolling pin, easing up on the pressure as you approach the edge. Continue rolling the dough into a sheet, turning occasionally, until you can see your fingers through the bottom. Let dry about 10 minutes.

Cut the pappardelle. Dust the top of the sheet of dough with flour and loosely roll it into a cylinder. Using a sharp knife, cut into 3/4-inch-wide slices. Unwrap the noodles; dust with semolina and gently toss to separate. Place on a sheet pan and cover with a tea towel until ready to cook (or freeze in freezer bags for up to 2 months).

Boil a large pot of highly salted water. Add desired amount of fresh or frozen pasta and cook to desired doneness (mine took approximately 10 minutes). Drain and top with your favorite sauce.

Spicy Italian Sausage Beef and Olive Sauce

1/2 pound (250g) mild Italian sausage
1/2 pound (250g) ground beef
2 nice size cloves garlic, crushed
1/2 – 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 – 28 ounce (794g) tin chopped tomatoes
1 cup or so green and black olives, sliced in half
2 teaspoons Italian seasoning
Salt and black pepper to taste

Place sausage and ground beef in a large frying pan set over medium high heat; cook until golden brown, drain and set aside.

In the same pan that has been quickly wiped out (leaving some meat drippings in the pan), sauté the garlic and red pepper flakes over medium heat for one minute. Add the tomatoes, cooked meat, olives, and Italian seasoning; stir well and bring to a simmer before reducing the heat to low. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes or so.

At this point you can remove the cover and continue simmering to reduce the sauce to desired consistency (I prefer the sauce to be a bit lighter so I stop here). Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve piping hot over pasta with a generous sprinkling of Parmesan cheese.

Serves 4
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