There were even more rare times when Mom would make potato gnocchi. Later on in life when Mom was in her 80s she showed me how to make them, teaching me the technique that her mother taught her. I had seen the fork technique on TV cooking shows, where you roll a nugget of dough down the back of a dinner fork to make ridges in each dumpling... the ridges help sauce cling. But them Mom showed me what her mother used to do. A simple technique of using two fingers to quickly roll the nugget to form a cavatelli shape. Press the nugget of dough down and give a quick jerk, cupping your hand toward you, flipping the cavatelli backwards. I still remember her bumpy, arthritic fingers working with a remembered agility as she made them twice as fast as I could. It's times like that which remind me to always include Lucas when making special meals based on family traditions.
You can use any type of flour to make pasta, but I'd stay away from bread flour. All-purpose, Italian style "00" flour makes a silky, delicate pasta while Semolina flour makes a heartier more textured pasta.
What I prefer using is ready mixed flour blends specially made for pasta making. I like Hodgsen Mill Golden Semolina and Extra Fancy Durham Pasta Flour but King Arthur Italian-Style Flour is another great choice (it's not available in supermarkets, though). King Arthur is a blend of Durham, Semolina and All-Purpose flours.
Next you have to consider whether to add egg yolks, whole eggs, egg whites or just water. Pasta recipes using just water are typically used only when making pasta that will be dried, like from an extrusion pasta die on a pasta-making machine. When you make fresh pasta with only water, it comes out very bland, white and can be very sticky. You can also use recipes that use only egg yolks, which makes a very golden colored rich pasta--but higher than normal in cholesterol and fat. Some mix whole eggs with additional egg yolks--2 egg yolks for each egg used. When you use only egg whites (which are mostly H2O) your pasta will come out almost like if you used water alone. For me, I've gotten great results using just beaten whole eggs--rich enough without adding extra cholesterol or fat. Why complicate things?
You mix the ingredients in a "well", by placing the flour on a board and adding the wet ingredients into the center of a well you make in the flour. This is hand work. However, I do recommend getting some sort of pasta roller to roll out your pasta into thin sheets ready for shaping. Sure, you can use a rolling pin if you want, but having a motorized roller that you can set the thickness as you work gives you absolute control. We use a Kitchenaid stand mixer with a pasta rolling attachment.
- First, pour 2-1/3 cups of pasta flour onto a clean work surface. Make a well about 4 inches across in the center of the flour, being careful to leave flour at the bottom of the well.
- Next, beat 2 eggs in a small bowl with 3/4 teaspoon salt and pour into the well.
- Using a fork, start to bring in some flour into the wet mixture--little by little. Try not to break the wall of the well at the beginning or you might have a leak. Keep bringing in more and more flour--it will look sticky and then slowly form into a single shaggy mass.
- Depending on the humidity of the day, you might not use all of the flour. If the mass seems too wet and sticky, incorporate a little more flour. If the mass seems very dry, you can use a small spray bottle to mist a bit of water over the dough and then rework it with your hands until the water is incorporated. It will form into a rough shaggy ball as you begin to work it. If it sticks to your hands use a scraper to get the dough off your hands and back into the dough ball. You might want to use the bench scraper to help scrape up and incorporate the flour into the dough.
- Start kneading the rough dough ball by pressing the heel of your hand and pushing away from you as you fold over the dough onto itself. Turn the dough a quarter turn then knead again. Keep kneading like this for at least 4-6 minutes... 10 minutes is better but takes a lot of strength and stamina. The ball will look much smoother after a little while. If you give the pasta a rest for a minute or two (and yourself) the kneading will be a bit easier as you continue. Don't go beyond 10 minutes or your dough might start to dry out.
- Cover the ball of dough with plastic wrap and place in the fridge for about 1 hour to rest.
- When you take out the dough, unwrap and then cut into three equal pieces. Roll each into a ball and keep them wrapped until you are ready to form your pasta sheets. Rest these about five minutes before running through the pasta roller.
- Place your pasta attachment onto your Kitchenaid (or get your manual pasta machine clamped tight onto the edge of your counter) and place the roller on #1 (the widest setting). Make sure you have a large work area clear to handle laying out the pasta sheets for cutting out shapes or prepping for ravioli.
- Get out two large sheet pans and place a coating of flour evenly over the surface of each... perhaps 1-1/2 cups each. (You can also use corn meal or semolina). You will be placing your finished pasta shapes onto these pans for drying. You can also dry long pastas like tagliatelle or fettuccine by hanging on wooden pasta racks, broomsticks set across two chair backs or something similar. I like making sure my pasta is well dusted with flour and place them into "nest" clusters on the floured sheet pans.
- Now, take a ball of your pasta dough and form into a long rectangle, about the size of a large deck of cards--a bit less than 1/2" thick. Turn on the pasta machine/attachment and place the short end of your pasta "deck" into the rollers. Support the sheet as it comes out of the back end of the roller. I like to run the pasta through each setting two times, then reset the roller to the next smallest number for another pass, and so on. I typically will run pasta down to a #5 or 6 thinness. It depends on how well the dough is behaving... pasta making is an organic thing. If it's rainy out, if there's high humidity (or low), if the past is too cold or two warm, if you work counter is hot or cold.... all these are factors in the way the dough will handle. As long as there are no extremes, your pasta should roll out fine. If not, just reshape it into a ball again and try running it through again. When your sheet is ready, place on a clean, flat surface ready for cutting into shapes...
As for drying, you can dry your pasta for bagged storage in a fridge (use within a few days) or freeze by allowing your shapes to dry out completely. You really have to be sure that your pasta is not at all damp or sticky and dusted very well (especially when arranging into bird's nests) or they will stick together. You can then arrange on sheet pans, place into your freezer, freeze and then place in Zip-loc bags for later use. I like making batches that are going to be cooked right away. "Fresh pasta"--Duh. For this reason, I'll tend to use only have my recipe for fresh cooking the same day, and I'll freeze the other half of the dough ball for future pasta making. This dough freezes and thaws perfectly.
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