Recently, I told you to grill salad. I meant it. And I hope you did. If you haven’t yet, there’s still time. Summer’s huge, sweaty heart is still beating with the hot blood of long days and food as fresh as the moment. Engage it.
Also recently, I started making pasta. And now I am telling you to do so. In fact, I believe in making pasta even more than I believe in grilling salad. I believe in it even though the results of my first two attempts were fail and fail harder. Making pasta is good for you.
How I came to be making fresh pasta: When my ‘food thing’ first started I was certain of very little. I was curious about everything. There were a hundred different esoteric food rabbit holes I wanted to fall down. I felt like there wasn’t a class or an event that I didn’t want to attend. Except for one thing. I absolutely didn’t give a crap about making fresh pasta. There was no way you were ever going to catch me standing around at home getting the skin of my fingers caught in the loose parts of that damn crank on that stupid little pasta maker. I ignored pasta making classes. I squeezed my eyes shut, put my fingers in my ears and sang loudly ‘La la la la la la la’ when they threatened. And I got on with dressing chickens, breaking down pigs and chickening out of staging.
Then two weeks ago, I had some potatoes I needed to use and I thought, ‘Why don’t I try to make gnocchi?’
Clearly my earlier self doth protest too much.
My gnocchi are –to put it euphemistically– in development. And the process of making gnocchi was this odd combination of simple (not easy! More about that in another post), tedious and fun. Gnocchi (all pasta) has very few ingredients. You combine them in the most obvious way (mix them until completely combined). Making the dough was simple. Rolling and cutting the dough was sort of tedious. There was definitely a moment when I realized that at the size I was making them, I might be rolling these little ropes of dough and cutting them for longer than I hoped/planned/wanted. But the pride at seeing those lovely fluffy frozen diamonds ready for the pasta pot obliterated all my angst. And I set myself up. I bought ricotta to make the gnocchi, but didn’t use all of it. So now I had to use up the ricotta. I didn’t want to make lasagna. ‘Could I make ravioli?’ I asked myself.
The answer to that question is emphatically, no. My first egg dough failed like a championship place kicker heading to the line to make the tie breaking field goal and utterly whiffing the ball. But again, the process was simple and the anticipation of my own noodles, no matter how jacked up they would have been (I already know that ‘too thick’ and ‘uneven’ are going to be two of my middle names. I don’t have one of those pasta rollers), had me very excited even though I knew there was going to be some tedium between that beautiful egg yolk tinted dough and a pot of boiling water with poorly sealed ravioli popping open in it (look, I just know myself okay). And even though I failed I want to make pasta again. I had to do something else with my filling because I knew I couldn’t try to make fresh pasta again before the filling (potentially) went bad, but the itch is there. I want to get this right enough that I will happily, confidently eat it.
Why you should make pasta: For all the reasons I mentioned above. Fresh pasta has between two and six ingredients. And when you get past four they are usually flavorings. You have all the ingredients to make pasta in your house right now (You do. Trust me. Go check a cook book.). How many filling, nourishing, fun meals can you say that about at the end of the week?
Making pasta is simple. It is not easy, but it is simple. And it is damn satisfying to see dough come together in minutes (even in the novice stages)!
It’s tedious. Yes. I know. That’s an inobvious selling point. But hear me out. We need tedious. You play Angry Birds or Alchemy or Bejeweled or Farmville or what have you because it is tedious. You don’t notice it’s tedious because of all the flashy colors. But your brain is taking a nice little break that you don’t have another way to provide for it. If you make pasta you give your brain a welcome and needed break and you make dinner. And then there’s that little burst of pride because you made something tangible and present and terrific.
It’s requires practice. I think we have forgotten how anything of quality takes thoughtfulness and practice. Here are both in a cheap, accessible ‘medium’. You can almost always eat your practice and the more you practice the better you will get. Soon you will understand how your friend’s Nonna could make fresh pasta for a family of nine everyday and still do all the other housework. With practice it is easy.
It’s a cheap habit. It’s a near thing on the boxed stuff, particularly if you go generic and/or it’s on sale. But pound for pound if you are making your own fresh pasta it is orders of magnitude cheaper than buying fresh pasta.
So make some pasta. Any recipe will do. It has nothing to do with the ingredients and everything to do with getting a feel for the dough. And practice makes perfect. Not unlike a happy life.