My friend and fellow blogger and lover of all things homemade, Caroline, recently posted about making kitchen resolutions to learn new skills and techniques during 2012.
She invited friends and other food bloggers and anyone who’d like to join her in doing the projects. My fellow home cooks and foodies will agree that there is nothing better than food made from scratch. Not only the taste is superior but it is budget friendly, season-conscious and most importantly, it brings people together.
The plan is that every month is a new project. Each project will be one that we all have little or no experience with but that we love and can’t get enough of. How amazing it would be to be able to make them ourselves!
This month’s project was: Make your own pasta from scratch.
I have to admit that I cannot live without pasta. Those “carb-conscious” diets are my enemy #1. I simple do not believe in a world without pasta. Maybe it’s the Italian in me.
Learning how to make my own pasta has always been a dream, but a very intimidating one. Luckily, for me, my younger sister Paola has been visiting us from Italy and when I told her about the project, she immediately said she would teach me how to make homemade pasta just like she had seen it made in Italy by the moms and grandmothers of her friends.
We decided to make “Orechiette” which is a typical pasta from Puglia, a southern region in Italy, the heel of the boot! Even though we are from Northern Italy, we have a lot of Southern Italian friends and they are the ones who are renowned for staying in the kitchen for hours at a time making their own pasta, sauces and anything in between.
Orechiette means “little ears” in Italian, and that is what the pasta shape looks like. And we made it with a “polpetine al sugo” sauce, which is basically a soupy tomato/white wine sauce with small meatballs.
OK, before I begin I have to say, this is not for the impatient cook. This pasta takes A LONG time to make. But if you have good company and nice bottle of Italian red, it is actually fun, relaxing and extremely enjoyable. Not to mention the immense satisfaction and sense of accomplishment of eating something shamefully delicious that you made with your own hands. It’s heaven on a plate, and you are god.
Here we go: Orechiette al Sugo con le Polpetine
For the pasta dough you will need:
*1/1/2 cups of Semolina 1/1/2 cups of all purpose flour
approximately 1 cup warm water (the amount depends on the dough consistency)
½ teaspoon of salt
* I could not find semolina flour, so I mixed Semolina with regular flour and it worked perfectly
For the Polpetine sauce:
1 lb. of ground 97% lean grass fed beef
1 cup of panko bread crumbs
1 cup of bread dough (from cooked white or whole wheat bread)
½ cup of milk
2 eggs yolks (ideally from fresh farm eggs, organic or grassfed hens)
salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
½ an onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
½ cup of dry white wine
1 tablespoon or a sprig of rosemary
2 pint jars of fresh canned tomatoes roughly pureed (If you do not have your own canned tomatoes you can also used a good quality can of peeled tomatoes – and watch the sodium, please)
½ teaspoon of sugar
salt and pepper to taste
On a clean surface, make a well with the mixed flours and salt. Pour water slowly (1/4 cup at a time) bringing the edges of the flour in towards the water.
Start needing together with your hands. It’s going to be a bit messy… just like the picture, but eventually it will come together. Keep adding water until you have a smooth dough that does not stick to your fingers.
Now it’s time to do some heavy kneading! This dough needs to be very smooth because it does not have eggs in it. The only thing holding the pasta together is the gluten in the flours, which has to be worked a lot so the gluten starts working.
We kneaded this baby for 10-15 minutes. You will notice how slowly the dough becomes softer and softer, and does not break, until it becomes similar to the consistency of Playdoh (see Emma below making her Playdoh Orechiette too, she wanted in the action).
The dough should look like this when you are done kneading
Cover the dough with a damp kitchen towel and let rest for 20 or 30 minutes.
Ok, now It’s time to start the pasta!
Take a little piece off the dough, and keep the rest covered. In a generously floured wooden surface (could be a wooden tabletop or a large cutting board), roll out the piece of dough into a long shape, a little thicker than a pencil. Like below.
Then cut off little ¾” pieces with a knife. Like so:
This is the harder (but fun!) part. Take one of the pieces and put the tip of the knife over it, the drag the knife towards you all the way until it goes all through the dough.
Then, carefully pick up the little piece of dough and turn it inside out
That is your Orechiette!!
Place each finished Orechiette on a floured tray.
Now make 1.354.650 more and you have enough for 4 people! Yay!
They have to dry so, leave them to dry for a couple of hours. You’ll see that they become harder just like the fresh pastas you find at a specialty pasta store.
Note: Take into consideration that this takes a little practice. My first Orechiette (pictured below) looked more like a piece or smashed chewed gum than pasta, but eventually I mastered it.
While your Orechiette dry, make your sauce.
Lets start with the meatballs. In a medium size bowl, mix the bread dough with the milk and let sit for a few minutes, add the ground beef, egg yolk, bread crumbs, salt and pepper to taste.
Keep your hands wet so the meatball mix doesn’t stick. Make balls of about ¾” diameter.
Set on a grease cookie sheet.
In a pot over medium heat, heat up EVOO, add the meatballs a few at a time. Do not crowd the pot or the meatballs will boil instead of sauté. Turn meatballs slowly until they are browned on all sides and take them out of the pot and back onto the cookie sheet Repeat with all the meatballs and set aside. Add a little more EVOO to the pot, sauté garlic and onions until translucent in color but not brown. Add white wine and meatballs. Cook for 2/3 minutes, add crushed tomatoes, the rosemary and salt and pepper to taste. Cook on low heat for about 20 minutes or until the meaballs are completely cooked. The sauce will be quite acidic, so to lower the acidity, Italians’ secret is add a little sugar. This balances out the flavors without making the sauce sweet.
Shake excess flour off your dried Orechiette and boil in salted water for 6/7 minutes, or until “al dente”. Drain, add a tablespoon of EVOO.
Plate some Orechiette and top with the meatball sauce and some freshly shaved or grated Parmigian Reggiano.
NOTE: There are a number of Youtube videos that also teach you an easier way to make this pasta shape, being Italian and a stickler for pasta perfection, when it comes to making pasta, it has to be the real deal. I find that the harder and more time it takes to prepare a meal, the more enjoyable it is. Yes, I might be crazy… but I am food crazy, and proud.
I hope Caroline is also proud of me and I can’t wait for the next project.