30-Minute Homemade Pasta & Tomato Sauce

Saturday, October 13, 2007

30-Minute Homemade Pasta & Tomato Sauce

I used to cook a lot of dried, store-bought pasta. Then I discovered that I could buy fresh pasta from such places as the fantastic Pasta & Co. here in Austin, staffed by wonderful, friendly people. And it wasn't much more expensive than dried! My life was changed.

My life changed again when I noticed that, gee, every time I make pasta, it doesn't really seem to take that long. In fact, now that I have my big butcher-block island to work on, it's really extremely quick. I decided to see just how quickly I could throw together a pasta dish from scratch, and the result? Thirty minutes.

This post is meant to be both informative and also offer an imperative: make your own pasta! It's really not that hard! I think a lot of people see pasta as some kind of atomic ingredient, and the phrase "making pasta by hand" sounds something like "making rice by hand." But it's not. Pasta is just a dough that you shape, like any other dough, and it doesn't need to do anything tricky like rise.

Without further ado, I present the thirty-minute home-made pasta & tomato sauce. I used a simple pasta dough of just flour and eggs, because I like eggs but also because they act as a binder and will make the dough elastic better than water would. Since I prefer my pasta without all-purpose flour, and opt usually for all-semolina or sometimes a blend with whole-wheat flour, that's relatively important, because semolina flour doesn't develop gluten when you knead it quite like all-purpose flour does, so you won't get anywhere near as much elasticity from the flour. When you're trying to make the pasta quickly, elasticity is a handy quality because it means you can roll it out quickly, without letting the dough rest first, and it won't break or crumble.

As for the sauce, it's kind of secondary to this post, but I offer it for the sake of completion. I used a can of diced tomatoes, garlic, some leftover asparagus, and then a bunch of vegetables and herbs I had in my CSA basket: lemon basil, bell peppers, and a few jalapeños. I threw in some chopped roast chicken when it was almost done, just to reheat the chicken for the dish.

The trick to making this whole dish, start to finish, in 30 minutes is multitasking. Start the sauce simmering first thing, and then start the pasta dough. About 10 minutes in, put the water on to boil. As you finish cutting the pasta, throw the chicken in the sauce. Everything just fits together like clockwork.

30-Minute Homemade Pasta & Tomato Sauce

There's the sauce, simmering away. Since I was hurried I just threw the asparagus in at the beginning, which meant it was a bit yellowed by the end, instead of staying vibrant green. Still tasted good. If I were presenting this to friends, I would have kept it separate and blanched it ala Keller in a giant pot of very salty water right before plating. But that alone would have taken 30 minutes.

Minutes to this step: 2. Or however many it takes you to open a can of tomatoes, cut up a few veggies, press a few cloves of garlic through a garlic press, and put it all in a pot over low heat.

30-Minute Homemade Pasta & Tomato Sauce

30-Minute Homemade Pasta & Tomato Sauce

30-Minute Homemade Pasta & Tomato Sauce

As the sauce simmered, I mounded the flour on my countertop, dumped the eggs in the center, and began to mix it together with a fork. You can use your free hand to help rebuild the outer wall of flour like a sand-castle in the tide as you draw the flour into the egg mixture in the center. Soon, though, it's firm enough that you don't really need to worry about it leaking out.

Minutes to this step: 9. Mixing the dough goes quickly if you've got the counter space. I suppose you could do it in a bowl if you don't, too.

30-Minute Homemade Pasta & Tomato Sauce

Knead the dough for a few minutes, folding and pressing down and out with your hands. You do want to develop whatever gluten there is in whatever flour you use, so stretch the dough out with your hands as you knead, don't just press it down to mix it. Stop when it feels fully integrated and has a nice, silky, stretchy texture.

Minutes to this step: 14. At this point, put the pasta water on to boil.

30-Minute Homemade Pasta & Tomato Sauce

I chose to roll the pasta dough out with a rolling pin instead of using my Imperia hand-crank pasta machine because, frankly, it's faster to roll it. It does yield less consistent thickness, of course, and requires that I cut it by hand, but for something simple like this fettuccine cut, that's not only fine, I think it's desirable. The imperfect hand cutting and hand-rolled thickness variation makes it seem more rustic. If you have guests over, I suppose it's also nice because it makes it clear the pasta is hand-made without you having to announce it and look like you're digging for praise. Which, of course, you are.

Let the pasta dig for praise on your behalf.

As for the technique, well, just keep at it, rolling from the center out in all directions. You want the dough to be about 1/16" thick. If at any point it starts sticking to the pin or counter, either dust the top with flour or lift it up gently and dust the counter underneath it with flour, and keep going.

Minutes to this step: 20. Rolling does take a while.

30-Minute Homemade Pasta & Tomato Sauce

Cut it with a sharp knife, dragging just the tip of the knife down through it so the dough doesn't bunch up as you go. Hold it steady with the other hand as you cut. This starts a bit slow but gets faster as you both develop confidence and lose patience.

Minutes to this step: 25. At this point, tear up that chicken and throw it in the sauce.

30-Minute Homemade Pasta & Tomato Sauce

I made more pasta than I was going to eat in one sitting. The right way to store it is to pick up a handful of pasta and gently lower it, coiling, onto the counter so it forms a kind of bird's nest. The key, though, is that you don't want any two strands of pasta to be have any significant surface area in contact, or they'll stick together and won't cook thoroughly, and you'll be unpleasantly surprised during your meal by a bite of what seems more like tire rubber than delightful hand-made pasta.

Minutes to this step: 26. Hey, it's quick.

After that, all that's left is to throw some pasta in the now-boiling water, and let it cook just until it floats back to the surface of the water. Drain it, plate it, and pour some sauce on it.

Minutes to this step: 30. Voila.

30-Minute Handmade Pasta & Tomato Sauce

For the pasta
300g (scant 2c) flour -- semolina, all-purpose, whole-wheat, or some combination thereof.
3 large eggs

For the sauce
1 can of diced tomatoes
2 large cloves of garlic, minced or pressed
5 stalks of asparagus, cut into 1" lengths
1 bell pepper, chopped into 1/4" pieces
2 small jalapeño peppers, seeded and de-veined, medium dice (BHS: Wear latex gloves!!)
2T lemon basil, finely chopped
pinch salt
pinch sugar
thigh meat from one roast chicken, chopped into bite-sized pieces.

Begin with the sauce. Combine the tomatoes, garlic, asparagus, bell pepper, and jalapeño in a saucepan and place over medium-low heat.

Then, the pasta: On a counter surface dusted with flour, or in a bowl, put the flour, and make a well in the center large enough for the eggs. Crack the eggs and pour them into the well. With a fork, break the yolks and beat the eggs briefly, and then continue mixing, gradually drawing the flour into the egg mixture in the center, using your free hand to keep the well intact and prevent leakage. Continue until all the flour is mixed in.

If using a bowl, turn the dough out onto a floured countertop. If using a countertop, add flour to the surface as needed. Begin kneading the dough, folding, turning, and pressing out for several minutes until it has a silken, elastic texture.

Put a pot of water with several generous pinches of salt on to boil over high heat.

Roll the dough out on the counter with a rolling pin to a thickness of 1/16". Using the tip of a sharp knife, cut the dough into 1/4" wide strips.

At this point, add the basil, salt, sugar, and chicken to the tomato sauce.

If not using all the pasta immediately, take the pasta to be saved in handfuls. Holding them up above the counter by one end, lower the handful onto the counter, coiling it in a spiral, so it forms a little bird's nest and each strand of pasta is not sticking to any other.

When the pasta water is boiling, add the pasta and cook briefly, for just a couple minutes, until the pasta has sunk to the bottom of the pan and then floated back up to the surface.

Drain the pasta and serve, topped with a generous ladle of the sauce.

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At October 14, 2007 9:52 AM , Anonymous clumsy said...

Wow, I love that you don't even use a pasta maker! I wish I had a bigger kitchen!

At October 18, 2007 3:04 PM , Blogger Amy said...

What a lovely blog!

At October 26, 2007 5:17 PM , Blogger Joanne said...

I love your blog. You sound so kind gentle, speaking about food here you can tell you really love it.. I can't wait for the next update.


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