Monday, August 24, 2009

Strega Nona Night


HELLO Monday, you always come too soon. We had a wonderful weekend hosting P.'s best friends from college and I am still stuffed from all man-food we ate. The night before the boys descended on our little casita I made a surprise treat for P: homemade pasta and tomato-carrot-cream sauce. That night was a little cooler than usual so it was just joyous to be able to sit outside and twirl warm, buttery fresh pasta on our forks with two attentive dogs waiting for morsels to drop at their feet.

Making pasta from scratch is simple; it just takes some time, but it is so worth the effort because it is such sensual delight to make something with your hands and then eat it after it has been transformed into something delicious. I borrowed my dear friend Nora's hand-crank stainless steel Italian pasta maker to cut the dough into ribbons of pasta, but you can use a rolling pin and knife just the same. (Amazon sells the impeccably designed original Italian Atlas pasta machine for about $70.) If you're even flirting with the idea of making pasta, I urge you to consider the aptly-named Pasta Bible which has every conceivable recipe for pastas and sauces with step-by-step photographs of no-nonsense Italian matrons, vast bosoms covered in flour, as they lovingly roll out tubes of orecchiette. I followed the most basic recipe for standard dough to make my tagliatelle (a little thinner than fettuccine) and it was fool-proof and DE-LICIOUS. It is required that you enjoy a glass of wine whilst making the pasta. Obviously.

2 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
3 eggs (preferably room temp)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon water if required (I needed almost 2 tablespoons in the dry hi-dez air)
1. Sift flour onto the work surface in a mound and and shape a wide hollow in the middle. Break the eggs into the hollow. Add the olive oil and salt to the eggs. With a fork, first mix the ingredients in the hollow together and then start to mix in the surrounding flour.
2. Gradually incorporate more of the flour until a viscous paste begins to form. Yes, I said "viscous paste." Moving on: using both hands, heap the remaining flour from the outside of the mound over the past in the middle. Work the flour into the paste, adding a bit of water if ingredients cannot be easily worked.
3. Work in the water with both thumbs, then press the dough into a ball and work in the rest of the flour. Now the actual kneading begins. Push out the dough with the heels of the hands, then form it into a ball again. Repeat this kneading action until the dough has a firm but slightly elastic consistency and no longer changes shape when you remove your hands. Cover with plastic wrap and let rest about 1 hr.

4. Now for the fun part. Dust a little flour onto your work surface and roll the dough out into a uniformly thin, long strip with a rolling pin, adding a little flour to the top so it doesn't stick to the rolling pin. If you're using a knife to cut your pasta keep in mind that the thickness must be consistent so that it all cooks evenly. If you're using a machine, cut the long dough strip into manageable lengths, feed through the machine and adjust the rollers to the desired thickness. Hang cut pasta on a drying rack as you work.
The most integral ingredient to pasta sauce is, duh, good ripe tomats. Romas or plums are fantastic sauce tomatoes because they are meaty with fewer seeds, but the most important thing is that your tomats are deep red, ripe, and sweet. Good tomatoes can be hard to find in supermarkets out here in the desert; most are pale and mealy inside with no flava, having been picked while green (when they're less prone to bruising during transportation) and "ripened" with ethylene gas. In that case canned tomatoes, especially the imported Italian brands, might be less romantic but more delicious. Best bet: your local farmer's market.

4 pounds ripe, red tomatoes
1 sweet onion (Walla Walla, vidalia or Hawaiian)
5 carrots
20 fresh basil leaves
1 stick butter or 1/2 cup olive oil
{1 pint cream}
1 teaspoon salt or to taste
freshly ground black pepper

1. Melt butter in large sauce pan. Chop onion in food processor but do not puree, then fry in butter until the acids have burned off. Chop carrots in food processor and add to onions in pan, adding a bit of water to help them cook.

2. Meanwhile, dice up your tomats and add to pan. Coarsely shred basil and add to pan. Simmer until thick, stirring occasionally. Add s&p to taste. Add a little water if need be, or, for a creamy sauce, add 1 pint of cream and lower heat.
Cook pasta per usual, add sauce, season with a little salt and pepper and serve with a hearty, crusty bread and good wine. You can really taste the difference between store-bought dry pasta and the spun goodness you've just made by hand. HEAVEN.


  1. You domestic goddess, you. Looks amazing!

  2. can you freeze this stuff so i can have it when i come visit next? my mouth is WATERING like a crazy fool!

  3. this isn't porn at all


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