The comfort of staple foods plays a big part in why I cook and what I choose to put on my menu. There is a rich history in grains of rice, beans, potatoes and breads. These foods make me think of the countries and cultures that have subsisted on them for centuries on one hand, and about how my family has lived on them with the other hand. Few foods provide a more dramatic culinary springboard than pasta. For the first 30 years of my life, my lens of italian-based foods were based on pasta. Fortunately, frequent exposure to eastern rice noodles and other cultures has really shown how this staple can be so diversely used.
Over the last few months, I have been learning more and more about these staples. I have baked most of my own bread over the last three months and have really enjoyed the process and the results. Frankly, the idea of making my own pasta was a little intimidating. How can such an important food be only two ingredients (flour and eggs)? There must be really something to it.
Recently, however, I read a great book that prompted me to gather up my courage. The book is called, "The School of Essential Ingredients." It is written artfully by Erica Bauermeister. There are few things that I love more than when a good book provides me with insight. This is such a book. It reminds me to s-l-o-w d-o-w-n and enjoy the process. As a wise person told me this last week, "How can we be happy, when we are not even present?" Pasta really brings me into the present and helps me let loose of my constant forward focus. I think that is part of what has really drawn me to making bread and pasta recently. The process forces you to be present and the creation of something so fulfilling brings me great joy. Often, when I create, I miss the experience of joy that comes with it because I am not present - I am already on to the next thing.
I haven't tried my pasta yet. I made lasagna noodles and cooked it up last last night. It was a bit of work, but I really enjoyed it. In the spirit of Lillian's kitchen from this great book, here is the recipe for making pasta:
Two Handfuls of Flour
Softly plop two handfuls of flour onto a counter and make a hole in the middle with your fingers so that it looks like a volcano. Break the eggs into the middle of the volcano. With a fork beat the eggs together to break the yolk and slowly start to absorb the flour into the eggs until it is fully absorbed. If the dough becomes sticky, add more flour. If the dough becomes crumbly, add water a little bit at a time. Knead for 20 minutes until the dough becomes silky and springy. Break into four balls and set on the counter. Cover with an inverted bowl and let rest for one hour.
After an hour, take each ball and roll it out on your counter with a rolling pin until very thin (you know how thin pasta is). Pull and roll, flipping the pasta and rolling consistently. Once the dough is rolled to the right thickness, take a knife or pizza cutter and cut the pasta into the desired shape. Very thin slices for spaghetti, thicker for linguine, really thick for lasagna. After the pasta is cut, let it sit for another hour. Then use however you would use pasta (boil, etc.)