There is an ongoing debate in our household about which is superior: potatoes or pasta. After too many discussions to recall, I think I have reached my answer, but like most of my thoughts it is qualified and perhaps unnecessarily wordy; life is complex, people! To be as concise as I am capable: I would choose potatoes if I had to pick one of the two to eat every day but pasta as a final meal.
Potatoes are generally more healthful and can be subject to a wider range of culinary manipulation; consider the diversity of textures potato dishes take on, for example. Pasta, on the other hand, is special. You know I’m talking about fresh pasta, right? Once you make your own at home, you can’t satisfactorily go back to the supermarket box – it works in a pinch, sure, but usually serves as nothing more than a vessel for whatever other meat, vegetables, and sauce you have prepared. Fresh pasta is a celebration in its own right, requiring nothing more than a splash of good olive oil or knob of butter to enhance its silky, delicate existence.
Although I do think pasta would lose in a match of diversity against potatoes, that doesn’t mean I can’t have fun experimenting with some variations. For a change of pace in color or flavor, I love adding spices and purees to my pasta dough. Once you understand the basics of making pasta dough, playing with add-ins is an easy way to enhance your gastronomical repertoire.
Fresh Pasta Basics
There are plenty of great pasta recipes out there, so feel free to start with instructions from one of the greats, but over time (and probably less time than you think) you will develop a feel for what the dough should look and feel like. My process? Start with one egg per person and half a cup of all-purpose flour per egg. Put the flour on a flat surface or in a large bowl and add the cracked eggs to a well you’ve created in the middle of the pile of flour. Use a fork to whisk the yolks together with the whites and simultaneously begin incorporating the egg into the flour. When whisking with a fork becomes futile, use your hands to knead the dough, adding flour as necessary to make the it relatively stiff but still smooth and easy to knead. Let the dough rest for a minimum of a half hour before rolling and cutting.
• Eggs vary in size, so aside from possibly weighing your ingredients there is no way to specify exactly how much flour you will need. Using my above “recipe” I often have to add anywhere between 1 tablespoon and ¼ cup flour per egg during the kneading stage.
• Adding an egg yolk or two will make the pasta richer tasting and the dough even easier to work with. Of course, you will need to add a bit more flour to bring the dough to the correct consistency.
• When you first start kneading, the dough is going to look and feel like a mess. Keep your faith: after just a few minutes the dough will come together beautifully.
• The dough can rest on the counter or in the fridge, but I find it easier to roll out if it’s still a bit cold. I often make the dough in the morning or even the night before and let it sit in the fridge so dinner prep is a bit shorter.
• Relax. Even imperfect homemade pasta is really, really delicious.
Make It Your Own
You can personalize your pasta by adding either dry (spices or dried herbs) or wet (vegetable or fresh herb purees) ingredients to the dough. The former is easier because the dough recipe remains essentially the same; just add the dry ingredient to the flour or early enough in the kneading process to evenly distribute. I find about a teaspoon of ground spice or dried herb per egg is usually about the right amount, but personal preference will vary; let your palate be your guide.
For most vegetables, boil or roast until tender then puree until smooth. For tender greens like spinach or fresh herbs, blanch for about one minute in boiling water, next submerse immediately in an ice water bath (to retain color), and squeeze out any excess water prior to pureeing. Then, for two servings of pasta, replace one egg with a scant quarter cup of puree and, as usual, add flour as needed. I find that depending on how much water is in the puree, I may need a bit more flour than I would with the typical egg-flour only dough.
The most enjoyable part of adding flavor and color to your pasta (other than, of course, eating it) is getting to play with different combinations. Experiment boldly and think about what you’re ultimately trying to achieve. Some of my favorite combinations include:
• Beet pasta with a yogurt and cream cheese sauce
and lots of fresh dill
• Black pepper pasta with melted butter and a pinch of salt
• Parsley pasta with a poached egg and a few grates of parmesan
• Spinach pasta ravioli, each pocket filled with an egg yolk
Any homemade pasta deserves a great wine to match. Here are some of our favorite pairings:
Pair beet pasta with a white wine with a touch of residual sugar like Züm Mosel Riesling – 2010 to balance out the sweetness of the beets.
For the parsley pasta with poached egg and parmesan, pair with Touraine “Le Grand St. Vincent,” Mureau – 2010. Crisp, high-acid whites with cut through the richness of the egg yolk and parmesan, and echo the brightness of the parsley.
Do you make fresh pasta at home? How do you make it your own?