Saturday, January 19, 2008

The Impastable Dream

You could say I'm on a roll today.

After making crackers, I decided to make more pasta since I polished off the last of last weekend's batch a couple nights ago.

But I thought I'd do something a little different.

The other day, as I was thinking about cooking projects, I thought of several potential variations on pasta that I wanted to try, starting with a spinach pasta that used some of last year's farmers' market spinach in the dough.

So I thawed the spinach in the refrigerator overnight and then pureed it with an egg this morning to add to the flour and salt.

That glorious shade of green worked its way through the dough as I mixed it, offering a striking contrast to the basic past dough recipe (made with unbleached flour this time).

I wrapped up the doughs and set them in the refrigerator for a couple of hours before I was ready to work with them again. Dividing each dough in half, I rolled out half of each into thin sheets.

My idea was this: if it's possible to sandwich herbs between layers of pasta and roll them out again to a thin sheet that presses the herbs more deeply into the dough, why not make two different doughs, sandwich them back to back (with a very light spot-brushing of water between the layers to keep them sticking together), and roll them out again to get a back-to-back sort of pasta?

Well, it worked. One side is the pale golden of the egg-enriched unbleached flour pasta, and the other displays the rich green (covered here in flour) of the spinach. Wow!

I cut the dough into long ribbons to dry, but I also played with some different shapes, twisting a few short lengths into bowties and cutting some squares that I folded corner (almost) to corner for a change of pace.

Of course, I needed to roll out and cut the remaining pasta dough, too, so I ended up with a cooling rack covered with spinach pasta ribbons and another laden with plain pasta, all set out to dry overnight.

The shaped pasta beckoned to me, though, and while I could let the little bowties dry, I knew the folded pieces wouldn't dry well due to their thickness. So I pulled out walnuts, local garlic, some homemade oven-dried tomatoes, and Parmesan cheese to throw together a variation on my usual walnut pasta dish.

The pasta cooked quickly, rising to the surface of the water as it finished, and I sauteed the garlic with the walnuts, adding the tomatoes before topping the pasta with it all... a rich, satisfying meal.

I tell myself that I don’t always have time to make pasta from scratch, but more and more I realize that actually, I do. Only a few minutes are needed to make the dough, maybe ten to fifteen minutes more to roll it out and cut out the ribbons (or make the other shapes), and then I have a stash of pasta to get me through the week. The difference in taste is so worth it, too: when the pasta is very fresh (not even dried), it cooks in no time flat and has an almost creamy texture when I bite into it.

What's impossible -- or even improbable -- about that?


At 1/21/2008 3:33 PM, Anonymous Laura said...

I'd love to make pasta, but don't have a pasta roller. Are you just using a rolling pin? Also, how long are you letting it dry? How are you storing it?

Enquiring minds want to know!

At 1/21/2008 3:50 PM, Blogger The Baklava Queen said...

Laura, I'm going very low-tech on pasta-making: all I use is a rolling pin and a pastry cutter (the little wheel with ruffled edges, found dirt cheap at a good junky antique store). A friend has offered to let me use her pasta machine, but I've just never gotten around to trying it.

To let it dry, I've found the best success in stretching the pasta out on wire cooling racks covered with baking parchment (used is fine). Since I usually make the pasta in the afternoon, I'll turn the ribbons over before I go to bed, and in the morning they're pretty well dried. (I tried hanging them to dry, but the weight of the pasta pulled them down almost immediately.)

And since there's essentially still raw egg in the dried pasta, I put the pasta in plastic bags and store the bags in the refrigerator (freezer if I want to save some, like ravioli, for later).

Very easy... I encourage you to give it a go!

At 1/22/2008 9:55 PM, Blogger Bri said...

Jennifer, you are so industrious! I'm really impressed at your commitment to local food from scratch. How do you find the time to work at the inn, cook all this amazing food from scratch, AND blog about to boot?!

Your pasta came out beautifully! I love the double sided effect, especially with the bow ties.

(BTW, I just made the squash/sage mac n cheese again tonight and added garlic. Wow! I swear that recipe is a keeper.)

At 1/23/2008 7:25 AM, Blogger The Baklava Queen said...

Hey, Bri! I get asked that a lot, and all I can say is, food takes up a lot of my "free" time because I enjoy it so much. (And I'm not at the inn right now... that was an intensive work experience over the holidays, but otherwise I just fill in here and there. The 40-hr job is elsewhere.)

I was really pleased with the double-sided effect... wasn't sure if the doughs would blend into each other or not, but it worked! Yippee!

At 1/25/2008 2:10 PM, Blogger Ed Bruske said...

great way to use spinach out of the freezer

At 1/25/2008 2:18 PM, Blogger The Baklava Queen said...

Next/this year I want to try drying spinach so that I can crumble it and use a dry powder in the dough instead. The spinach leaves weren't fully pureed, so there are occasional bits sticking out. Not that I have a problem with it! but it's worth trying a different method, I think.

At 1/26/2008 12:34 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ever used tomato or squid ink? And where would you get squid ink, anyway?

At 1/26/2008 8:43 AM, Blogger The Baklava Queen said...

I have not yet used tomato, though I may consider drying some tomatoes next/this year for that... red peppers, too.

And I wouldn't use squid ink, so I don't know. I hope you're squidding.

At 1/28/2008 10:49 AM, Anonymous jasmine said...

You may have finally encouraged me to give the pasta making a try -- it has been on my "to try" list forever.

At 1/28/2008 10:53 AM, Blogger The Baklava Queen said...

Do it, do it, do it, Jasmine! Have fun with it! In fact, start off with making pasta dough into lasagna... not so much cutting, and you don't have to worry about getting the pasta super thin (not that I do, anyway).

And let me know how it turns out!


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